Roles Reversed

Deean Yeoh, Staff Writer


The 21st century is a beautiful time filled with the promise of change for the future. But while society has experienced a great deal of change in the past century, the presence of stereotypes and racism still permeate 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-Americans in the ‘20s and ‘30s such as lynching and police brutality, of which the latter still exists today. In the photo above, a member of the Ku Klux Klan is hanging lifelessly from a rope pulled 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.” Each aspect of the photograph brings the stark contrast of black and white into view – everything from the image’s colors to its potent message resonates with the black and white juxtaposition. I remember seeing this image for the first time and being stunned. Behind Shields’ poignant photography lies eye-opening messages and questions that our society must answer today. How different would society be had the roles of race been reversed? How much have we truly changed?

Recording artists like Kanye West and Jay Z have also been known to showcase racial struggles endured by African-Americans during slavery through their music and other contributions to popular culture. The artists’ respective songs, Blood on the Leaves and Oceans, speak directly to this history and convey a degree of accuracy in racism in the United States.

Through art, West, Jay Z, and Shields have shown the importance of racial equality to today’s society. With the recent controversial deaths of Walter Scott and Michael Brown, it is especially important that society is educated on racial equality. Sometimes it is not so much the presence of ‘racism’ that’s prevalent in society but an undercurrent of ignorance.

As Carmen Zheng, a Boston University student, puts it, “People tend to generalize and stereotype minorities into racial categories. They feel a tendency to clump up individuals into groups and appear surprised when I do not fit into the mold 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.”