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.

Lynching

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 http://www.tylershields.com/ ) 

[1] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/13/a-black-man-hangs-a-white-supremacist-tyler-shields-s-charged-photography.html

Taking a Leap

Oh, the Leap of Faith! So highly spoken of, yet so rarely achieved. The intimidation of challenging oneself can so easily overpower one’s hunger for greatness – or at least, something ‘more’. It doesn’t even have to be a daredevil stunt or something life changing; something as simple as facing your fear of heights by rock climbing would suffice. For me, it was finally gathering enough courage to create and showcase my fashion designs on a runway.

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Towards the beginning of the first semester, I decided I wanted to get more involved in school activities. I attended several orientation club meetings – one of them being a meeting about the university’s biannual fashion show. I dragged my friend Agnes along thinking the meeting was about planning, designing and organizing the fashion show (a.k.a. behind the scenes stuff). To my surprise, the meeting was actually targeted at students interested in designing for the fashion show. I found out midway through the meeting and zoned out for the rest of the meeting. When the meeting ended and I was getting ready to leave, Agnes looked over at me and said, “let’s do it!” For the second time that day, I was shocked. Agnes had never sewn anything in her life, not even a button.

Dumbfounded I naturally asked her if she was serious. She responded with an enthusiastic series of nods and asked “why not?” I clearly had nothing left to do in the situation but comply with her enthusiasm. We put down our names on a spreadsheet titled “Designers” and left the room buzzed with newfound excitement and little knowledge of the commitment we just consigned ourselves to.

The semester came and went and before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving weekend. Ask any college student and they’ll tell you that your academic position is virtually decided pre-Thanksgiving – after that, redemption on pre-Thanksgiving procrastinated work is hard to achieve. That weekend, we discovered the club’s sewing machine we had loaned out with damaged. After much frustration, Agnes and I decided it wasn’t worth dragging out the procrastination. Instead, we committed to the torture (and secret reward) of hand-sewing our garments. Talk about commitment, huh?

Agnes and I slaved away, days on end, running on sleep deprivation and a significant amount of adrenaline. 4am bed times and 12am model fittings became our lives for a straight week prior to the fashion show. But we pushed through the hardship and needle pricks because we knew, with every blistering stitch, that we were creating something we would be proud to showcase come December 2nd, 2015.

And how right we were.
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The night rolled around and with a lot of boob tape, repeated last minute fittings, and stressful sweating, our garments went down the runway just as we had envisioned. We were proud of ourselves and our models, to say the least. Even thinking back on the moment to this day gives me chills. It was surreal seeing our first piece go down the runway – the very first dress I had designed sitting in bed at boarding school one morning in 2013. But like a dance recital, the four-minute duration of the show was all we had to show for ourselves. The hours and hours of stitching and stencilling happened behind the scenes, efforts hidden and disguised between the semi-opaque chiffon and jersey fabrics. Or was it? All we hoped for when we began our creative process was for appreciation of the final product, and we truly hope we achieved this. We know we did for ourselves at least. In fact, we felt so rewarded that we already have potential designs for the next fashion show. Let’s see what 2016 has to bring.

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Trans-generational

Identity is something that we all struggle with at some point in our lives. ‘That’s what our teenage years are for’, they say. But I don’t think we ever stop trying to find ourselves – or find a way to portray what we believe to be our true selves.

I did not recognize her.

I remember scrolling through my Instagram feed, as I do every morning. My dazed morning state acknowledged the all-famous ‘Jenner’ surname, but against the backdrop of a Jessica Lange look-a-like, the name ‘Caitlyn Jenner’ triggered no familiarity. It was only until later that night when I was asked ‘who is Caitlyn Jenner?’ that I was prompted to type The Name into my search bar. And it clicked. She had done it and she looked beautiful.

From a young age, we’re told ‘be yourself’, yet many of us are still shackled by the constraints of society. There is nothing worse than enduring the words ‘why are you doing that?’, accompanied with a face of bafflement and/or disgust. Sometimes, it makes you angry for having to explain yourself, sometimes it makes you doubt yourself, your identity.

Caitlyn JennerPhotograph by: Annie Leibovitz

Yes, the teenage years are full of identity experimentation, fashion fads and punk rock phases – a time when experimentation can be an extension of your identity. But to those trying to hide their true identities, experimentation must seem like a privilege. I relish in the embrace of uniqueness and am nothing if not a devoted believer of self-expression. So when I saw Caitlyn Jenner cladded up in old Hollywood glam, beautifully decked in coral lipstick and effortlessly elegant on the cover of Vanity Fair, I knew a new generation of self-expression was born – and she looked beautiful.

Bruce Jenner was a great athlete, he was an inspiration, and from the perspective of an on-looker, he was a great father. Bruce Jenner is a legacy to the world. Caitlyn Jenner is, and will be, a legacy to the generations ahead.

* Caitlyn Jenner’s cover for Vanity Fair hits stands June 9th, 2015