In 1955, a mourning mother held an open-casket funeral for her son Emmett Till, a young African American man brutally beaten to death for whistling at a white woman. The gruesome image was published in Jet and was a major catalyst of the civil rights movement.[1] In 2009, Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States, fought against the release of photos depicting the savage abuse, including rape, of Iraqi prisoners by US troops.[2] In 2010, a student viewed one of those images anyway and learned that disgust and awareness can be more valuable than comfort and safety.

She wrote a poem.



Pen and Paper


Liability

is a chunk
of undereducated, pardoned
youth lacking opportunities sitting
in someone else’s country
waiting
for shit.

An elitist thought I should
squeeze
out?

But that’s so easy when I can drive
fifteen, twenty minutes and be
out
of Oceanside.

Even in Oceanside, I should be alright if I choose
carefully which café I breakfast in, even if
I choose, the wrong café, I have the choice
not to look
at the aircraft shooting missiles
at the supple, winding landscape that is also
a woman’s
naked body on the back of a Marine’s
t-shirt under the words
“Shit Her Brigade.”

Okay, I saw it,
but I can also choose not to take that personally.
He just threw that T-shirt on;
It has missiles, it has titties,
it looks cool.
He can’t even see it. The image
is behind him.

Am I grateful for the choice to click
and see
the woman’s dull black dress flapping
in the air
above her shoulders as the soldier
folded her will
nearly as flat as nonexistence?

As the wing men waited their turn on
each corner of the rectangled formation
like old pros, gently cupping her breasts
and holding her head still.

Viewing the very same stance in which I had helped
a den of cub scouts learn to fold our flag
burned
me but I was already angry
and looking for something to drop
and sully.

“Sacred,” I am sorry
your existence requires
opposition.

I have a mantra prepared
for this panic: some men hate women.

This isn’t personal.

There are certain lies only a very naive 17-year-old
can believe
like that your boyfriend was passed out
when that girl
unzipped his pants and sucked his magically awake cock.

Because she was someone else’s girl, because the boys
in his crew were talking he decided
to skip town

with you.

Back then you had the choice
to not lie there
awake while he slept,
the choice not to stare at the brown
porous skin on his face,
the only piece of him peaking
out of the covers so vulnerably, and at his wide
Asian eyes resting so
peacefully. This is how he looked
when he was violated.

You could kill her.
Better yet, you could rape her
with — what, an object? Well,
you could certainly condone
a rape of her.

There is no choice that could be more
NON-CHOICE
that could be more
personal.

Copyright 2010 Jane Sim

[1] Marita Sturken, and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 11.
[2] Daya Gamage, “Rape of Iraqi Women by US Forces as Weapon of War,” Asian Tribune (2009),http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2009/10/03/rape-iraqi-women-us-forces-weapon-war-photos-and-data-emerge (accessed October 5, 2010).

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