Visualizing a US White Racial Identity

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Photo by Chris Arnade from The Guardian

Chris Arnade‘s piece in today’s Guardian  is interesting for what this New York-based photojournalist writes and who he photographs in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. In a town that proclaims its ethno-racial homogeneity–an adjective often summoned to characterize Iceland and Japan–and its socio-economic ethos as well, we have to wonder who wasn’t interviewed, photographed, or seen. Who doesn’t make it into the final account?

Who owns the Hardee’s franchise, the now-closed mine, and the strip mall? Where do these proprietors live and where do their children go to school? How do they identify socially, ethnically, racially, and class-wise? How do they look and how do they present their looks? The Petersboro resident quoted in the story’s last paragraphy seems confident in knowing how he and his neighbors will be presented.

Life in Appalachia: Walmart, church, politics and a tight community – in pictures

Arnade’s essay and its photos prompt me to think about “then-and-now” issues: they follow on the heels of my visit to a University of San Francisco colleague’s “Black US Cinema” class last night. She screened The Blood of Jesus and Within Our Gates for her students. We had a good discussion that touched on Doris Ulmann’s photos of the rural South and Appalachia, Cabin in the Sky, and The Green Pastures. Has the lens trained on rural America changed much since the first half of the twentieth century?

 

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Author: Jacqueline Francis

Writer, teacher, curator, and arts consultant in San Francisco, California. Follow me on Twitter @JackieFrancisSF

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