A series of photos published in the May 2017 issue of “O, the Oprah Magazine” is tackling race in a unique way and sparking some heated discussions online.
In the now viral images featured in the photo essay titled “Let’s Talk About Race”, American photographer Chris Buck illustrated the importance of representation by reversing stereotypical roles held by women of color to those of White women, Mic reports.
One photo showed White women performing pedicures for Asian women at a nail salon, an illustrative reversal of the “Asians at nail salons” stereotype.
In the second photo, a young White girl stands inside a toy store staring at a shelf of only black dolls, the opposite of the typical sight in malls of yesteryear when Caucasian Barbie dolls ruled the aisles.
Another image features an obviously well-off young Latina woman who is being served by a White maid, whose presence seems not to be acknowledged at all.
The images, though presented in a straightforward manner, are bound to evoke complex emotions depending on their viewer due to the weight of the subject. Discussions about race, class, and power among women are always complex, and Buck acknowledged that interpretations of the photos may vary.
Buck, who lives in Chinatown, Manhattan, told NextShark that he mainly intended to flip race expectations on their heads.
“I feel like whenever I photograph someone of color, I have some awareness of the fact that they have a different background than me. One thing I try to do is to treat people to same. If you look at my book of portraits, you see people of color. You’ll see they look just as awkward as my pictures of White people. My portraits are about the vulnerability and humanity of individual people. I want to see that in people of all different backgrounds.”
According to O editor-in-chief Lucy Kaylin, the concept was hatched after her meeting with Oprah Winfrey herself. Kaylin told Mic that they came up with the idea in hopes of encouraging an “honest and passionate dialogue” about race.
Buck, a White male photographer who was commissioned by O for the job, said engaging in conversations about race and social justice is a part of his role as a photographer.
“It’s important for me to be involved in stories like this, and help them become more nuanced and interesting. This is my job,” Buck told Mic.
The photo essay immediately struck a chord with many women of color when the images emerged online. Many found the images powerful in conveying an unspoken struggle between races that still exists to this day.
Flipped and switched – perspectives on race (photos from O Magazine) pic.twitter.com/i7e5vPH6T8
— Jae (@jaeralde) May 14, 2017
— Tokyo Outsider 🌏 (@tokyo_0) May 16, 2017
There are, however, those who accused the magazine as perpetuating “reverse-racism” and blaming White people for the status of women of color in society.
@jaeralde Don’t fight racism with racism, rise above it and create a common ground to where you educate people on how to actually be equal
— Jmon$ (@fuckjxck) May 15, 2017
— ♡ ジェリー @AQOURS AX (@xAmaiiJelli) May 15, 2017
— Tania Hernandez (@tantangerine_) May 15, 2017
However, Buck also gave NextShark his two cents when it comes to things like White privilege:
“I personally don’t like the term privilege when it’s directed at White people. I find it a bit dehumanizing. I wouldn’t want to direct that at other people, so I don’t like that term ‘White privilege’. I think talking about race and talking about different experiences is good and certainly I’ve recognized that I’ve had some advantages while other people haven’t. I don’t want White people, including myself, to be where our voices are inherently diminished because we have less of a moral authority.
“These pictures should have a dialogue happen between people of color and White people so White people can understand better the experience of people of color and that everyone then can feel like they can express themselves.”
Despite the controversy, Buck sees the photo essay as a good thing because, in the very least, it gets the conversation going:
“If someone’s feelings are hurt, and this is like pointing a finger at them, then great, let’s talk about it.
“If this begins a conversation, then that’s great – that’s my take on it. It’s fine if [the conversation] begins online, but more importantly, they should be carried out in the real world.”
You can check out more of Chris Buck’s work through his portrait book “Uneasy“.