By Todd E. Brady
Vice president for university ministries, Union University, Jackson
It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s not. Some think that meaning is determined by the one who looks at the picture. It’s not. A picture is worth the number of words intended by the author who painted it. The meaning of a picture is not determined by the viewer. For the written word, meaning is not determined the reader. Instead, the meaning of a sentence is determined by the author. When meaning becomes untethered from the one who originated a particular work, watch out; it will often take on a “meaning” of its own—meaning whatever somebody may want it to mean.
The Order of St. Michael and St. George is personally awarded by the Queen of England to ambassadors, diplomats, and senior Foreign Office officials who have served abroad. The imagery on the award’s badge shows St. Michael trampling on Satan. It evokes biblical reminiscence. In Genesis, we read that God told the serpent, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) For believers, this prophecy of Christ crushing Satan’s head is a cherished and hopeful promise. Paul told the Romans that “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20)
This summer Tracy Reeve began a petition at change.org called “Change the racist image on the KCMG medal” which has garnered over 18,700 signatures. On the petition she says, “This is a highly offensive image, it is also reminiscent of the recent murder of George Floyd by the white policeman in the same manner presented here in this medal. We the undersigned are calling for this medal to be redesigned in a more appropriate way and for an official apology to be given for the offence it has given!”
On the medal, St. Michael is pictured as a white angel. Satan is depicted as a man with darker skin.
Sir Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote said he was appalled by the badge. Speaking about the United Kingdom, Woolley went on to say, “For most black and brown people, there is nothing good about the empire. Most people will see this as an image of George Floyd on a global scale and a symbol of white supremacy.”
Sensitivity to matters of potential offense is certainly warranted, but this seems to be an example of hyper-sensitivity. Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck was wrong and unjust. The horrible image which we all have seared into our minds is an example of police brutality, but a medal given by the Queen of England is probably not a picture of racism or oppression.
One of my favorite pictures hanging on the wall of my study is of four of my sons when they were about 2-5 years old. Three boys have white skin. One has brown skin. They are not wearing their shirts. Each has a bandana wrapped around his head, and three are brandishing plastic swords. One is smiling. Two are grimacing. The other seems confused.
Is this picture offensive?
Someone may say that their not wearing shirts symbolizes exploitation. Their wearing red bandanas on their head may make some think of a motorcycle cult. Some may say that playing with plastic swords promotes violence. One boy with white skin has his arm around his brother with brown skin and seems to be holding him back. Would this be oppression? One boy is holding a remote control. Does this symbolize the vast overreach of technology in our society? There are couches in the background. Will these children be scarred for life because they grew up in a home with adults who may have valued leisure too much?
Someone may say that the picture on my wall symbolizes a host of different things, but for me it’s a cute picture of boys playing pirates.
Before we call for things to be redesigned, removed, or razed, let us make sure that we are not wearing our feelings on our sleeves, and let’s take the time to determine if there is a real cause for offense. B&R