Roles Reversed (an online article for Off The Cuff)

The 21st century is a beautiful time filled with the promise of change for the future and the effects of changes from the past. But while society has experienced a great deal of change throughout the ages, the presence of stereotypes and racism still pertain to our society today.


In May 2015, photographer Tyler Shields released controversial photos portraying reenactments of racism in history with an ironic twist. The photos are symbolic of the physical abuse suffered by African-American in the 20s and 30s through lynching and police brutality, the latter of which still exists today. In the photo above, a member of the Ku Klux Klan is showcased hanging lifelessly from a rope pulled from the other end by a black man. While the image of reversed roles is ironic enough, reporter Justin Jones adds to this irony but rightfully questioning, “Is he [the black man] the culprit or the saviour? We do not know.” Regardless, every aspect of the photograph brings to light the stark contrast of black and white – everything from the photo’s coloring to its potent message. I remember seeing this image for the first time and being stunned. Behind Shields’ poignant photography lies eye-opening messages and questions posed to our society, today. How different would society be had the roles of race been reversed? How much have we truly changed?


Police Brutality

Recording artists like Kanye West and Jay Z have also been known to showcase racial struggles endured by African-Americans throughout the ages of slavery through music in popular culture. The artists’ respective songs, Blood on the Leave and Oceans, speak directly to this history and succeed in conveying a degree of accuracy in historical racism in the US. It is through art that West, Jay Z and Shields have communicated the important of racial equality to our present day society. It is especially so with the recent controversial deaths of Walter Scott and Michael Brown that the education of racial equality becomes so much more pertinent today. Sometimes, it is not so much so the presence of ‘racism’ that prevails in society, but an undercurrent of ignorance. As Carmen Zheng, a BU student puts it, “People tend to generalize and stereotype minorities into racial categories. They feel a tendency, or need, to clump up individuals into groups and appear surprised when I do not fit into the mould of the stereotype that they have generalized me to be. It’s frustrating.”

“Right now we are going through a real racial issue in our country,” Tyler Shields stated in an interview for The Daily Beast. “And, to me, these things that happened in the 20s and 30s, they’re just as poignant today as they were back then.” [1]

* all images by Tyler Shields from his Historical Fiction portfolio (link to ) 



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