Last post I wrote about Bettina Love’s “No Black Child Left Behind: Schools Policing Students of Color” and education. Today, I want to look at another piece in Bill Campbell, Jason Rodriguez, and John Ira Jennings’ APB: Artist Against Police Brutality. In “Profile,” Jennings, along with Damian Duffy and Robert Love, highlight the ways that society labels Black individuals, specifically men in this case, as threatening, dangerous, and violent. We need to look at “Profile” in connection with Love’s essay and other works. Specifically, when I read “Profile,” I thought about Jefferson in Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson before Dying and Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright’s Native Son.
“Profile” only encompasses six pages, and it focuses on Marion and Atticus Crisp visiting the doctor for a sonogram of their baby. Over the course of the opening three pages, Atticus’ expression moves from apprehension and fear to joy and back again. The nurse tells the couple that the Ultrasound4D will help them “Make sure everything’s the way it’s supposed to be.” In this panel, we see Marion in the bed getting ready and Atticus, shoulders slouched, sitting next to her. MArion says, “W-We thought that was important . . .”, and Atticus finishes Marion’s sentence with, “considering.”
The ultrasound does not show any deformities, and both Atticus and Marion gaze at their unborn son in joy and awe. We see the ultrasound image, and we see the parents’ joyous expressions. However, the nurse tries to get a look at the baby’s spinal cord, and she notices a “development.” At this, Marion’s and Atticus’ expressions change. Marion’s eyes dart from the screen to the nurse, and Atticus closes his eyes in despair.
A target appears on the baby’s spinal cord, and the nurse informs the Crisps that there are options such as “the Garvey treatment” or “some international relative.” Essentially, she suggests removing the baby, once born, from America. Monica says they can’t afford such treatments, and Atticus covers his eyes, dropping further into despair. While Marion goes to the restroom, Atticus steps outside for some air. His eyes remained closed as he hears his wife’s voice in his head telling him everything will be ok.
In one panel, we see a closeup of Atticus’ face, tears running down his cheeks, as he reassures himself that everything will be alright. He says, “My
son!” The next panel shows Atticus with his hand over his mouth as he gasps, “My beautiful son. My beautiful son. My poor beautiful son.” Even though Atticus views the unborn child as his son and beautiful, the strikethrough for each word indicates that others do not view the baby in the same manner. The connection to Atticus and the child’s beauty and innocence gets negated. In this manner, the textual cues point to the dehumanization of the Crisp’s son before he even arrives in the world.
Visually, Atticus’ facial expressions run the gamut of emotions over the course of three panels. The first two, which depict Atticus crying, illuminate the pain that Atticus feels for his unborn child. The pain he feels because he knows how society will view him, as a beast, an animal with a target squarely on his back. The next panel, with Atticus’ hand over his mouth, culminates this thought as he laments for his son. He knows the ramifications. He knows the perceptions. He knows that his son will not be able to be a boy as white boys are.
Brandon Hankins points this out in his piece “Spilt” which contains eight panels split in half. The left side of the page shows a Black boy through the years growing into a man and a white boy growing into a man on the right. When the Black boy goes outside at age 4, his mom tells him to stay close to the house. When he has a slingshot at age 9, she tells him to be be careful about who sees him with it. When he has a toy gun at age 12, she tells him, “Never play outside with toy guns.” At 23, he watches the news as the newscaster says, “12-year old Tamir Rice was shot.”
The white boy, with the same age progression, does not receive any of these warnings. Instead, at 4, his mom tells him, “Aww, show ’em who’s boss son!” With the slingshot, we hear the mother saying his “aim is getting better.” At age 12, he wears a police hat and carries a toy gun, pointing it at an invisible target. No one tells him anything. At 23, he a wears a police uniform and fires the gun out of the frame to the left. Again, no words appear. However, the muzzle flash breaks the frame, extending across the gutter into the frame of the 23-year-old Black man watching the news about Tamir Rice. This aspect points to the man having a target as well.
In “Profile,” after Atticus reflects on the target on his son’s back, he gets accosted by police, in militarized tactical gear and an APC vehicle. They tell him that he fits a description and that they received a complaint. The story ends with an image of Atticus holding his hands in the air, with the sonogram picture in his right hand. A target serves as the backdrop. In the sonogram picture, his son has his back turned, and the target is distinctly visible on his back. An identical target is on Atticus’ left cheek. This is where “Profile” ends, with an image of police aiming their weapons at a Black man with a target on his body as he holds a picture of his unborn son.
This profiling of Atticus reminds me of a lot of real life and fictional narratives. I keep thinking specifically about Jefferson in Gaines’ novel because the police catch him taking money out of the register after his friends and the store clerk kill one another. He did not have anything to do with the murder, but he gets charged and sentenced to death. His lawyer, who is supposed to defend him, bases his entire defense around the claim that Jefferson isn’t “civilized.” He asks the jury if Jefferson shows any intelligence to plan a robbery or do they see merely “[a] cornered animal to strike quickly out of fear.”
He ends his argument by comparing Jefferson to a hog, turning him into an animal. This statement rests at the core of the novel, a novel that focuses on Jefferson’s confronting this assertion and walking to the electric chair as a man, not as the hog that the defender claimed him to be. However, everyone viewed Jefferson and other Blacks in Bayonne as uncivilized animals, much the same way that Atticus and his unborn son have targets on their back. If they “got out of line,” the target provided an excuse to murder them without any repercussions. By comparing Jefferson to a hog, the defender eliminates any discussion of his humanity.
In each of these cases, the Black men become dehumanized in the face of the law. This is nothing new, as I discussed in the previous post when looking at the comments Michael Brown’s murder made about the events that led to Brown’s killing. When a system views individuals as a threat, even from birth, then that view maintains itself throughout. That view is based in stereotypes, constructed narratives meant to divide and create false superiority. We need to eliminate these narratives. Destroy them. Because these narratives kill people. That’s what “Profile” shows. That’s what Love shows. That what “Split” shows. That’s what A Lesson Before Dying shows.
What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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