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June 12, 2007

Black Boys With Guns: Fleet Week #2

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    Ninaberman-Fleet-Recruit-1 Ninaberman-Fleet-Enlisted-12, 3

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(click for full size)

Yesterday, I posted the first of a three-part series from Fleet Week.  Photographer Nina Berman's images record the week-long festivities in New York involving the presence of naval ships, sailors, and military demonstrations and exhibitions all over the city.

In yesterday's post, I noted the lack of irony in the photos, wondering if the display of militarism and weaponry has simply become matter-of-fact in post-9/11 New York, and perhaps, in America, in general now.

The young men in #1 and 3 are both new Marine recruits who just recently signed up and are heading off to boot camp.  The kid in #2 is a 14-year-old who is part of a  youth cadet group.  In #5, a group of white NYPD officers watching over an African-American kid letting loose his imagination on a fixed machine gun.

In this middle set of pictures, besides the message of how deep war has permeated the American psyche, I'm interested in questions, and perceptions, of race.

Overlaid in these images, we have the documentation of the military's luring of urban black males.  We have the "disconnect" of knowing these kids are safe (to us, as well as to and among themselves) because they are under the supervision of an officially-sanctioned killing machine, or have already been conscripted.  And, with the guns and face paint (#3), or the guns; no shirt;  and gung-ho expression juxtaposed with "the man" looking down (#5), we have allusions to something I'm sure is commonly felt but rarely openly discussed (at least, not across "tribes" or beyond academia), which is the sense and fear of the (urban) black man as savage.

>>As before, if you have questions or comments for Nina, she'll be available to answer in the discussion thread<<

Other Fleet Week posts:

Asking Questions About America: Fleet Week #1

It's Not A Hand Gun, It's Military:
Fleet Week #3

Nina Berman website.

Nina's Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq
website/purchase

(image: Nina Berman/Redux. NYC, New York, May 25, 2007.  Used by permission)

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for BagNews here.

  • paulimorph

    (snip)e

  • Brooks Foe

    Actually, when I saw the first photo on another site and clicked through to yours, my assumption was: Sierra Leone. Child soldier.
    Just goes to show you.

  • PTate in FR

    When we look at a image, it is always easy to forget what isn’t pictured. In that context, your comment is telling: “Overlaid in these images, we have the documentation of the military’s luring of urban black males.” …”documentation???” That statement strikes me as based on a lingering liberal assumption is that the US military is targeting young black males, unfairly, and that the war in Iraq is being fought primarily by these young black urban conscripts. In fact, evidence suggests that white soldiers are disproportiately likely to face combat.
    I remember a Toni Morrison essay that proposed that the ONLY reason that white Americans thought OJ Simpson was guilty was because of the Myth of the Savage Black Man. The ONLY reason! It is easy to get carried away with that idea.
    Like Brooks Foe, my first reaction to the picture #1 was Sierra Leone child soldier. But when I looked again, past the military props, I saw a rather sweet kid. He just looks 11, I’m guessing. Pics 2, 3 & 4 are taken at odd angles, and I am suspicious of the photographer’s intention. There is something creepy about the last pic–the young man on the ground, half naked, the machine gun, the armed police standing over him. I wonder how my reaction would be different if these images were of white recruits? Young white guy on the ground, half naked, a machine gun, armed police standing over him…

  • PTate in FR

    …Not that there isn’t something to the claim that we fear black men with guns. A classic psych experiment had a video game with four images, a white guy with a gun, a white guy with a cell phone, a black guy with a gun and a black guy with a cell phone. This sounds like the setup for a joke, but it isn’t.
    The participants task was to “shoot” the guys with the guns and “not shoot” the guys with the cells phones. The results were what you would suspect: The black guys were shot more quickly, black guys with cell phones were shot in error more often and more time was taken to respond to “guy with cell phone, don’t shoot.” These findings were taken as support for the claim that black men are feared more than white men.

  • arty

    What’s also interesting is a study suggesting that decently trained cops are much better at ignoring race in such cases than the average person: http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F70611F638540C718CDDAF0894DF404482
    It might not fit with the stereotype of crazed policemen gunning down any black person who crosses their paths, but it’s something to think about before pulling the verbal trigger.

  • http://www.reciprocity-failure.com Stan Banos

    To paraphrase Bill Clinton, I guess it all depends on what the word “decently” means. Were those cops who fired 41 shots into an apartment building vestibule “decently” trained?

  • lytom

    Their blank expressions on faces are scarry! Starring without a blink…without being able to make a connection other than that to a gun and the trigger.
    Unreachable.
    Damaged.
    Dangerous.
    Out of control.
    Great followers to be exploited.
    Children with real guns without the experience of normal childhood.

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    Bad boys, bad boys
    Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do
    When they come for you
    (Repeat)
    Bad boys
    Whatcha want, watcha want
    Whatcha gonna do
    When sheriff John Brown come for you
    Tell me
    Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna dooo
    Yeaheah

  • Gahso

    I’m sorry, but any “kids with guns” promotion is WRONG. I understand that the USA loves it’s guns and the 2nd amendment. I understand that we’re breaking our Army and that our Army is trying to attract anyone it can dupe into joining. I understand that legal-age soldiers (what, 18?) LOOK like little kids anyway. I get all that, but I still say – STOP. Think. Don’t give guns to kids.
    When will we put well-being, prosperity, happiness, and the joy of creativity above warfare, winning at all costs, fearmongering, and power dynamics?
    The US population, it is said, hasn’t mustered much opposition to the war because we haven’t been asked to pay a price. We aren’t being drafted, and we’re paying with credit, not taxes. The war does have it’s cost, though, and these images are prime examples of how we are really paying–we’ve sold our children, we’ve bartered our better-selves, we’ve sold out.
    Look at these kids… they are being moulded in a world where extreme violence is not only “ok”, but it’s the upright, responsible thing to do in their eyes. The white kid in #4 saluting?? He looks resigned to his “duty”. He thinks (?) he’s playing, but the 3 soldiers behind him know differently. His friend, Rambo, with the 2 assault rifles has that same “playful” smirk, but he’ll be in a uniform in no time.
    The kid in #1 looks like a fish who’s totally been hooked. You can see the adrenaline rush in his face – his life has been ‘whateve’r for years (school, parents, homework, whatever..), but THIS is different. This is a taste of power. This is the WAY to be a real man, real important, and secure in his future. Too bad his future just became laden with IEDs, ambiguous enemys, brain damage, PTSD, a lifetime of nightmares and the karma of a killer.
    Note to the grownups involved: Don’t push guns on kids. They’re kids. And they are the price we are paying for this aweful, shameful, illegal war.

  • http://www.topplebush.com Blake Incarnate

    “documentation of the military’s luring of urban black males.” Don’t they call this “fodder?” And what is wrong with fodder. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it.
    That might be the only thing in favor of the violent video games and rap video’s. Subliminal killer instinct. Channeling these getto youths into the military is, in fact, the perfect male initiation experience. Yes, the majority of them are black, and mexican. But given the the actual state of society, with 70% unemployment for urban minority males, what is better than military service? You would leave these thugs to roam the streets, needing money, bored and agitated. Again, this is taking the current state of world affairs at face value. It is what it it! We are at war. Recruiters ARE issing their goals. We do have a huge surplus of hostile, angry youths who have nothing to do. Facts are facts.

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    The recruiters here hang out at the local computing and gaming place and try to recruit the kids playing HALO….
    And Blake, your attitude towards urban youth is abysmal.

  • ummabdulla

    Who’s the violent nation? The one who only understands force?
    I just read that global military spending hit $1.2 TRILLION last year, and the U.S. alone accounted for about half of that ($529 billion).
    (China spent less than one-tenth of that – about $50 billion – but we’re supposed to believe that their military is huge and threatening.)

  • http://www.reciprocity-failure.com Stan Banos

    You go Blake! These ghetto youths grow up with the worst health care, housing and education in the country. And with no job prospects other than crime or the military- the latter definitely wins hands down. Let’s hope upon their return that these young, well trained freedom fighters (most of them black and latino, as you point out) then set out to right history and eliminate those who enslaved them on these haloowed shores and stole them of their lands, respectively. Facts are facts; it is what it is!

  • Cactus

    paulimorph’s comment about child soldiers is not so off-the-wall. Does anyone else sense a panic among our leaders about recruitment? Are they strictly enforcing age regulations on their recruitment forays into SA? We know from anecdotal evidence that recruiters are in grammar schools all over this country. I tend to agree with PTateinFR that the troops, from what I see, are more white and the early recruits were from small depressed towns where factories have closed and there are no jobs around and rampant patriotism. And in that first shot, the kid is not only holding the rifle, he’s all suited up and ready to go.

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