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Why balaclavas? My intention is to strip the perpetrators of their symbolic power, by transferring it to the people who suffered from their acts. I don’t want to present the people I photograph as victims to be gawked at, yet I want to give their experience representation. I want to give the people a confrontational presence, not a pitiful one. I don’t want their faces and identity framed as external objects separated from the reality of the viewer. I want the photographed to possess an outward force and I believe the anonymity and symbolism of a balaclava provides such directness.

Why pink? The colour has been intertwined with identity and violence for decades. It was a colour for boys, now it’s regarded as girly. Homosexuals in Nazi Germany were branded with pink triangles. In the late 70’s, the colour was meant to tame the aggressiveness of inmates (further studies debunked the myth and researchers suggested the psychological effect of pink prison cells came from humiliation). Pink is a colour rooted in violence and dominance.

Why identity elements? People who use violence, in their minds, are doing so justly. That means certain identity elements expressed by the photographed people, were conflicting with the perpetrators view of normative behaviour. The pictures of the items are meant to pinpoint the identity elements that were rejected and enabled a psychological excuse to resort to violence. By stating which identity elements are not desirable, through juxtaposition, an illustration of harmful societal norms will emerge.

introduction

the abcs of hate

reframing the WEIRD gaze

I was persecuted in primary school. I was beaten and humiliated. I was called a “chimney sweep” as to refer to “pipe cleaning”. I felt persecuted and anxious all the time. The teachers weren’t able to handle it. I was told many times that it is I who should change, but I wasn’t the one hurting anyone. I heard that if I conform, it’ll get easier. I was different, too colorful and expressive, I had specific manners, which I now consider an advantage, but back then I tried to hide them, I tried to adjust myself. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to lose my identity. This is how my body is built, this is how I move, that is what I was beaten for. I’ve spent more time with girls, but never felt sexually attracted to them. I told myself as a child, that one day I would have a wife. I came to terms with who I am as an adult. I was taught a distinct line between what is male and female. I never understood such divisions, for example when it comes to clothing. I always thought that if something fit and I liked it, I will wear it. Wear what you like, that’s what I think. There is no distinction between male and female in my world. During my childhood I frequently was told by my parents or in school, “do not wear that, that’s girly”. I never understood why I couldn’t wear something, just because it’s pink and considered feminine. I like pink.

I encounter hate all the time. Most recently while I was leaving my car in the underground parking lot of a mall. I thought it would be safer if I drive but… I imagine that everything bad happens after 8PM and it was around 5PM. A man approached me and told me to “fuck off back where I came from”. That was relatively harmless, because it happened in a mall where there were a lot of people, so in this case I didn’t feel threatened. Once, after a soccer game I went for a beer with my friend. It was around 1AM when I was getting back home. I saw three or four men outside my building and one of them approached me and said “we’ll kill you and Allah”. I have nothing to do with Allah. I was born in Poland, I’m Christian. Absurd. I felt threatened. I did not want to call the police, because I have a disabled brother and I feared retaliation. Fortunately, they behaved loud enough for someone else to call the police and disperse them.

I am often being called out on the street: “brownie”, “Arab”, “go back” or “you have it too good in Poland”, but these are situations to which I developed immunity, or even gotten used to, because they happen a couple times a month. They call me “brownie” without thinking if the slur references someone from China, Vietnam, Africa or Poland. To them, whoever has a different skin color is a different person. I tried showing my ID, saying I’m from Poland. They replied that it doesn’t matter, because I have a different skin color, so I can’t be Polish. My father is from Ghana, he lives in the US, my mom is Polish. How can someone judge me not Polish? I am and feel Polish.

Some guy started commenting on my instagram posts. He wrote things like “cripple”, “something happened to your skinny legs”, “I don’t think you’ll stand”, “you don’t know how to walk”. Then he started writing private messages with humiliating comments concerning my disability. He wrote asking why is my boyfriend with me. He also wrote that “I should stop pretending with that wheelchair and get up” and “you’ll be a cripple forever”. There were worse comments. He was very aggressive. I don’t know what motivates people to write such messages. I don’t know what they get from it. Satisfaction? Fortunately, other users helped me and reported the account and it got shut down.

Sometimes people approach me on the street and ask “what happened?”. That’s irritating. I reply that’s my business and don’t engage. I move on. I constantly hear “what happened to you?” or “you’re so pretty, yet on a wheelchair”. I never know how to react. I also had problems getting a job. I noticed employers are scared of hiring disabled people. Some think of us stereotypically. They consider us uneducated and treat us like we’re mentally incapable.