~ Bayeté Ross Smith for The New York Times and POV ~
The portraits above show me in a variety of different clothing, all of it my own. On any given day, you might encounter me in one form or another.
It’s all part of a larger series I created, which also involved people of different backgrounds and genders. In every case, the facial expressions and lighting stay the same; all that changes is the subject’s clothing.
So the question is: What personal preconceptions do you, or any viewer, project onto me? Or others?
As an artist – now embedded at The New York Times with Race/Related in a collaboration with the independent documentary showcase POV – I’ve often tried to explore issues of identity and why we are drawn to certain visual cues, and repelled or confused by others.
Our Kind of People, which included these self-portraits, was an effort to explore perception and allow viewers to reflect on their own preconceptions. Sometimes we project our own personal notions onto individuals; sometimes onto entire communities.
Black Americans in particular tend to be defined by those among us who are struggling the most, as opposed to those of us who are doing well. Donald J. Trump, for example, has drawn scrutiny recently for reducing the black experience to poverty, lack of education and violence.
But this issue transcends Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or any other politician. It also transcends black Americans. In media, in marketing and in life, it’s all too common to see large, multifaceted groups of people defined by a single narrative.
#HereIsMyAmerica — a project we’re launching here and on Instagram — is an attempt to counter that simplistic approach. And we need your help.
We’re inviting you to help build a more nuanced national portrait. What do you want to show us or tell us about your America that politicians and much of the public do not fully see or grasp?
Please post your photos and videos to Instagram (and Twitter or Facebook) with the tag #HereIsMyAmerica. We’ll be in touch if your contribution is selected for our gallery of the strongest imagery that broadens the national conversation about race and ethnicity. (It may end up looking a little like this.)
To get the project started, I also photographed and interviewed a range of black Americans who live what might be considered “prominent” lives.
These people are not proverbial unicorns. They are a small selection of people from different backgrounds, drawn from a larger percentage of black Americans who are intellectual, excelling, productive, contributing members of our society.
These are their portraits and comments, lightly edited and condensed, about their lives and how we can progress together toward a country of more mutual understanding and prosperity. We hope you’ll join in.
- Get involved here.