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2001.0017.0031, [Photograph of an unidentified woman and an unidentified child on a porch], “The Baltimore Collection,” 1915-1925. Image courtesy of Museums Collections, University of Delaware Library, Museums, and Press.

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If you take a glance at this photo, many potential scenarios come to mind. Are they related? Is she his caretaker? Are they neighbors? Does he know that she’s black? Do they love each other?

One critique of the archives historically has been the erasure of Blackness within the metadata. In situations when there’s a photo of a white child with a black person, the child is often acknowledged with the black person remaining “unidentified” or outright ignored within the description, either intentionally or unintentionally. This is a tradition among “archivist” where they try not to see color, the person may not have been mentioned in the original description, or they don’t see the black person, as a person.

 These poems are a response to the historical erasure of Blackness within photographs and distribution of power that whiteness holds onto mercilessly within the world. A power so strong that it can erase people out of photographs. A power so terrifying that Black mothers text their sons every hour on the hour to make sure they haven’t been murdered by the police. A power that is so deeply embedded in the history of the United States that all you can do to stay sane is spend your life fighting it.   

This series of poems is dedicated to and in dialogue with the “unidentified” woman in [Photograph of an unidentified woman and an unidentified child on a porch].

Dear, “Unidentified” woman in photo 31
If you were here
I would let you know
I would tell                   you
I’m happy to see you
Dear, “Unidentified” woman in photo 31
I’ve memorized your sly smile
Your dapper threads
And
gentle touch
Did you craft the teddy yourself?
Dear, “Unidentified” woman in photo 31
I see you on the street
Making your way
to work? to school? to the store?
in the morning?
Back straight and neck high
pride intact
I see you
Dear, “Unidentified” woman in photo 31
How hav u been?
Is the family gu’d?
Did yuh make it thrua the wintur?
Tell ma, I say hi
Tell the fam, I love em
What’s with all this Dear, “Unidentified” women business?
We family ain’t we?

Sorry ma’m
ma’m you here what happen in East, St. Louis?
White people done los their minds
A massacre
6,000 negros running for their lives
Houses gon. Shops gon. Lives gon.
what we gon do?
Miss ma,

Can Marcus come over later?
Can I borrow a dime?
You got any wa’ta?
Grammy

Madame Walkers products are tha best
You see them in them stores?
All the beauticians are use’n em
Whoda thot, are own products!
Things are changin’
I’m tired

Sally Mae,
You would not believe
Wat’s been going on!
You remember how you was always fightin for more?
Well now, we got this Rosa Parks
She’s a wild one
Saw her on the bus
And she would not get up for no white man
Mhmm
Next thing you know
The police is there
And then she’s in jail
They don’t know she worked on the Scottsboro case
She means business
tha whole town starts organizing
And now we boycotting the bus company
Change gon come

HAAY, IT’S ME!
HOW YOU BEEN GIRL?
YOU STILL WITH SANDRA?
YOU SEEEEN RUFUS?
YOU STILL LIVING ON NORTH GAY?
CALL ME BACK WHEN YOU GET A CHANCE

Ma’m
I’m tired
I know you tired
In 2012
we lost Rekia and Trayvon
2014
we lost Mike Brown
2015
we lost Sandra
2016
we lost Philando and Alton
but you know who really broke my heart
Aiyana Jones, in 2010, she was 7
imagine that

7 years old and being murdered by the police.
At least they were identified,
at least we know their names
miss you

*Enter Black Nod Here*

 

To read about the conservation of this photograph and others in the Baltimore Collection, click here.

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