photography and poetry project “blackmatter” highlights the blatant and subtle practices of anti-blackness

May 18, 2017

Ash (The Spoken) Williams is a 20-year-old artist studying at Ithaca College in upstate NY. His goal is “to spread [Black peoples’] story and history as much as I can, and educate and to build solidarity for all people of different races in America and beyond.” Williams’ latest project is a photography and poetry series called “blackmatter” that aims to reveal both the outright and subtle practices and events that have helped to evolve and maintain systematic racism toward Black people. Check it out below! (Content Warning: vivid anti-Black violence):

noosance (Lynch-min)

many faces blurred
under the moonlight white
and gleaming like the eyes that
come to watch their majestic
art swing in the summer night breeze
to watch the way the rope—
coarse and splintered—dug into the neck
rough and tight and pulled tighter
when begged to be released
it was almost like music
how one cries
how one begs when so close to death
groveling with salt water in their eyes
how their voice–strained
high pitched
squeezed through a compressed throat
like a dog squeals when hungry or beaten
or left outside in the rain to soak and become heavy
almost like music to hear the wood snap
and lever drop
like the beating of a drum
the last breath wrenched from the body
the thump of a rope catching an angel
from falling out of the clouds onto the ground
a slaving grace
the flag of a great country
draped and adorned on his shoulders
like this was his land too
like in death maybe he finally had a place
red white and blue—
printed into every blood cell in our veins
dripping onto the forest floor
this is a show for the masses
a public viewing
open to point and gawk
and smile from ear to ear
at what you’ve done
what you’ve created for yourself
how you’ve lined the trees
decorated the branches
with rotten ornaments
that bake in stench under the heat
lowered just enough
so their toes barely touch the ground
as if to offer them a second chance at life

red lines (RedLine)

red line through liberty
split like the bell that stands for it
but sometimes if you’re unlucky
and close your eyes under the dark starless skies
you can hear for a second
the metallic ringing
growing louder and louder
until your brain collides with your skull
and the ringing continues
until you go from clawing your ears
to humming the same tune
echoed in every american street
that’s when they’ve got you
chained to it like negroes in the filth
steered into ghettos by an invisible fear
blockbusting whites from their homes
a flight made easy when handed wings
with somewhere better to land
so there’s nothing left but black bodies
blacker than the water that runs through the pipes
broken like their creaky homes with boarded windows
choked by the monoxide in the air or a colorblind badge
stripped of a ladder to climb and told to reach as high
here nigga sell this crack rock
nigga shoot this ball while we watch from the side
turn your poetry into something we can vibe to
your life into something that leaves heads rocking
go to school even though momma needs help with the bills
and they told you that you weren’t shit anyways
that you weren’t ever gonna be nothing
just some more melanin on the brush for broad strokes
just another monkey in a cage you ain’t create
beat down when you can’t escape
just another red line uncrossed
burned into the earth
burned into the skin

skin deep (Whipfinal)

how does it feel to be
to be less than human?
born with bronze skin
your hands scarred as boy
now callous as a man
in a field where sister and brother
once breathed rapid and dry under the sun
now—lay decrepit and carcassed like a
smoldering raisin with organs disembowel
by maggots and crows
how it feels
to walk bare when every step is a needle
heated over stove-top
the weight of your arms heavy
dragging in the dirt at your side
your fingertips made to compose—
pick at the plants until your hands are
bulbous and bloody
and the nails on your fingers are too
dull to scratch at your skin until it is gone
you know this black is why you’re here
you know that is why your mother was raped
owned and used like a rag that one wipes sweat
you know that is why your father—
lay bound by wrists
the rope twisting and pulling
as the beast drags his body
leaving his flesh on the ground as sport
the hooves stomping his body repeatedly
you know that is why the boy
with the bag half full when the sun sets is left
with one ear
the other—sliced and fed to dogs
with their mouths foaming at the lips
the boy who still hears himself called nigger
under snickering from the porch
the boy who still hears the crackling in the air
and the sound of skin splitting on a crimson back
the howl of true fear
the shriek of a pain that pierces you internally
ringing back and forth with each stroke of the arm
and the whip coming down
how does it feel to know
that even though they are disfigured and torn
and marked
they are still beyond beautiful?

everything you got girl (BlackBeautyv1)

you got the earth in that baby skin
the way it molds together
brown-dipped and grace
running from your toes to every
and braid draping your beaten
scalped head like a crown
made from a jujube branch
with its thorns slicing at the flesh
you got the mountains of kenya–
ethiopian cliffsides broadening your shoulders
the 5 borrows
west englewood
the strength in your palms
hardened down your arms
you carry the world
the baby
the father whose eyes lay elsewhere
the household with the burning roof
the fist that beats with no end
the black man’s struggles and your own
with no support but your sister’s hands
you carry the weight of beauty
of both black and white
being told no
you’re not enough
primp and weave that natural hair
make it golden if you can
scorch that scalp
suffocate the strands until they are withered
dead like black girl magic
dead like black girls
dead like black women
when we don’t hold them in the light
when we push them down
stand on their strong shoulders to reach
for the same thing we’ve all wanted for so long
but still
still somehow you got that pride in your eyes
that air in your lungs
that fortitude in your step
even when it scrapes against sharp gravel
that nerve that boils your blood in the cold
that will to hold the world above you
those dreams in your future
wanting something better
to be recognized
to be loved just like the rest
you got that everything
you got that everything

sambo (BlackfaceClose)

i love the way my sambo dances
flushed with green and white plaid
pegged trousers buttoned and blue
stepping and skipping with his eyes bulged
squeezed out from the bowtie pulled on his neck
polkadotted and red-stained like his big meaty lips
oh i love his style
his rhythm
the way he never misses a beat
unless from a bat made of oak wood or aluminum
a fist made of white pride or something not sewn into the genes
something born and nurtured like hate for another
when the black is too black even laughter isn’t enough
I love the way he smiles
how the pigment has reached the gums
how they must shine and glisten to cut against the night
the way it’s always grinning
whether three steps back or two steps forwards
whether a hop or a slide
whether it rains or he bleeds from his wounds
or i wear his mask myself if even for a little
just for a taste
even when I always give it back
before things get too real
so that I am not made to boogie
so that I am not made to remember that swinging
was once dancing with death
before it was with a partner
and you were told to shake it until the morning
to shake the dust from the history books
built with white pages and fading black ink
my dear sambo you are my model minority
my black aspiration
the one unlike the others who stick their own feet in the mud
who play with black cards in poker
who swipe access and ebt
who ride for piru or crips
who riot through the streets
for a downed boy or girl that earned their sentence
you are everything i ever wanted them to be
obedient and entertaining
goes on their knees when i request
sits quite so only my voice is heard
dances when i throw bread and freedom at their feet

we new crows (Mass-Incar)

we are only what our strings determine us to be
puppets dancing the same routines
hamsters on wheels
always ending in the same place we began
or never ending at all
keep running they say
they tell me mess up and you’ll remain in that cage
don’t think for a second that when you’re out that you’ll be free
that is only your breath of fresh air
look at me
i’m the new jim crow
i’m your only god
i will erase your stories
group you with the rest
you are only one number
etched on the orange suit
an animal of a different zoo
you’re gonna stay in your place
from the bottom rung of the latter
you are going to watch the world marvel at how you’ve grown
you are going to hear them tell you to keep growing
to never stop
but who are they talking to?
most of us have and always will be seeds
plotted in arid land
told to produce for less than we’re worth
this is gross domestic poverty
where masters have and always will be trees
producing strange fruits that never fall to the ground
growing taller until our view of the earth has dissipated
and they just keep growing
we keep waiting for the trees to fall
to waiver under the weight of black bodies
and when they do, the biggest ones will make the loudest noise
cracking of bark
rustling of leaves
falling to the ground and breaking the whitewashed walls
but the rest of us are still seeping deeper into our holes
the light becoming dim
our voices becoming muffled
banging on our prison cells made of dirt
yelling to let us be free
let us rise!
let us be known!

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