1994 – 1997
When I began working in Durham’s inner city, more and more of the white population had moved to the suburbs and the public schools became segregated along city-county lines. Proposals to merge the school systems were stymied by objections from both sides.
In 1994, after the Durham school systems were finally merged, I designed a collaborative project that looked directly at the issue of race. I asked children to write about themselves, then to write another version, this time imagining themselves as members of another race.
This was greeted first with silence, then laughter, and finally with an enthusiastic barrage of questions.
Once the children had completed their written portraits, I photographed them posing as their “black” and “white” selves, using props they had brought from home. I gave them the large-format negatives to alter or write on, in keeping with ideas from their written portraits, so they could further describe the characters they had imagined themselves to be.
If I was white, 1) I will change my name to Jonathan on Family Matters. 2) People will call me a Saltine. 3) I will be a rock star on stage. 4) I will stay in school. 5) Going to funerals will be different. 6) I would like going to Greek restaurants.
I am 1) Silly 2) Have dark brown hair. 3) I’m scared of snakes. 4) I like dancing and singing. 5) I like to swim. 6) I like track and field. 7) I like to talk on the phone. 8) I like to play with my dog. 9) My favorite team is North Carolina. 10) My favorite food is pizza.