Lauren, my fourth subject, is a childhood friend. In our older age we however had lost touch. The last time I had seen Lauren was a few years ago at an Island barbecue. Knowing that she was of multiple ethnicities I contacted her through Facebook describing the project and if she would like to be apart of it. She obliged and met me at my family home for her interview.
Lauren, when asked what her first notions of race were found that it was the immediate visual difference between her fathers dark skin and her mothers light skin. She noticed that all her friends had same race parents. She didnt think seriously on it until she was in fourth grade. She found that before then no one really felt the need to bring it up, but at that point it was more like what are you more often. When she would reply that she was multiracial they would reply but you cant be and asked instead are you black or white? You had to fit in to one group or the other, but I didnt understand because I didnt understand what being white or what being black was. When asked how she felt about these incidents she gave an emphatic, weird.
She told me how, as a younger kid, she had what, she described as an attitude. Because of this people would react to her saying why you trying to act black. In response she said that, I didnt know having an attitude meant being black. Conversely she found that when she acted ditzy they would say oh shes being white.
She reasoned that these questions and reactions happened because of people who were not biracial, and therefore didnt understand that it is just a race too (that) youre both and they feel like you have to be one, pick one, and to choose to identify with one race. When looking back at childhood memories that affected her sense of self racially she said that I had a lot more black friends (when I was younger), as I got older (my race) it didnt seem to matter but it was always I was the white girl because my skin is white but my features, Ive always said I have a black nose. It was kind of weird when I felt like I had to choose (a race) when I felt like I was being myself. Lauren felt that if those awkward situations about her race hadnt occurred then she wouldnt have to pick parts of myself that I think is from what. Im very secure now but I think growing up if that hadnt happened I wouldnt pick apart myself, like my body and my features and put it with each race.
When asked how she came to her own self identification as multiracial she couldnt really remember any one instance. She couldnt recollect her parents ever sitting down and discussing it, it was something she just figured out. Instead it seemed a sum of accepting parties and those not so accepting that lead her to a strong sense of self. My aunt on my mothers side, I wouldnt call her a racist but she used to straighten out my hair a lot and she used to make me wear certain things to make me look a certain way, because she did like in fact that I looked more white. She didnt accept curly hair and she has said to my father that she doesnt like whatever picture because I look more ethnic in it. While that was a negative factor in her relation to her racial identity she said that though her parents didnt talk about it they made me feel secure. Youre both you shouldnt feel like you should have to pick one. My father was more about that because of that opposition from my white side he felt it was important (to say) that youre both and you should never deny one part or the other. Youre both equally both (and) never feel like you have to be white or you have to be black
When I asked her what she thought were some of the upsides to being multiracial she couldnt say at first but began to talk about the growing presence of more ethnic looks becoming more the cool thing and that we have that and are included in this movement. I asked her when she thought this trend began, but she couldnt really say, though she felt it wasnt too long ago, I feel like Im beginning to see people who youre not sure what they are but they have more of an ethnic look. Its not just the blue eyes and blond hair. She said however, that though this seems to be the trend she feels like these more ethnic people are shown and not actually represented as biracial and multiracial. Instead she got the impression that the media is using us in a way just because we have that kind of exotic look, and that kind of mystery of you dont know what we are. I asked her if she felt that it was important to talk about it and she replied, yeah, I feel like people should say what they are. I feel like we are used for the physical. I dont necessarily think they are trying to bring the multiracial into the spotlight
We moved on and I asked her if she ever felt pressured by the media. She responded with, Definitely. I have an idol, Mariah Carey, she was my idol, she is also multiracial. Shes Irish and Venezuelan and whatever, her father is dark skinned and her mother is light. (When) she first came into the spotlight she was with her curly hair, she didnt look so all American and as she got bigger she got blond and straight hair. Everyone transformed her. (in the industry) You have to go by what you look like more. If I were to be in the media spotlight they would probably give me blond hair, blond straight long hair. If I had more darker features they would give me curly dark brunet hair. This prompted me to ask her why she thought they felt a need to make it an either or situation. She shrugged and said, Its easier, maybe and thats what America wants to be seen as, even though we are so diverse, which is crazy. she inwardly laughs for a moment and goes on, but I feel like they just want one face of America to be shown and thats the all American cooky cutter look. I feel like its starting to change a little now. I think their still presenting a monoracial look though. No one is expressing who they are. I feel like if they were able to speak out and celebrate who they are this would change.
For Lauren when asked about what she thought race was she considers for a moment, People see race as a color. If somebody is like whats your race to me I say well Im black and white. I guess I consider it a color she shakes her head maybe not that. Cause its like whats your ethnicity whats your race? I dont know? Am I tan? Am I creme colored? she laughed. We return to the media and its affects on her as a kid, I think in younger days I felt like I had to look a certain way and it was acceptable to look a certain way. You wanna make it big you wanna have a lot of money you have to look a certain way to do that Lauren is very mindful of such things since she aspires to be a singer and has from a very young age wanted to be apart of that specific media world. Its a way of being accepted or being respected and the American media has made it to look like youre one race. She remembered how she began to take notice of this trend. When I entered into the fourth grade I came from a private school so I was used to wearing uniforms all the time so the first day I had (on) these spandex (pants) and a flower top, but all the kids I knew from camp they all had on baggy jeans and sneakers. I felt like I had to conform to that because I wasnt cool really. I know a lot of people used to say I dressed very white. In that way I felt like I had to change my style, and then I started to! I started to conform to these standards with my friends. When I asked her what the exact correlation between this race style of dress and medias hand in it she reacted immediately, This is not just me saying this but this is how I feel about the media. They will make African Americans in Timberlands, baggy jeans, sneakers all this stuff and then white is very preppy (in clothing) looks (like), Polos and Abercrombie and Fitch. I dont understand (it) because its clothing, so I dont understand how you can separate it into race. She felt that people are buying into this race dress and finds it Ridiculous especially because I know some African American people who dress preppy and I know some Caucasian people who dress hood and I think its crazy how media can make it seem like an outfit can apply to one race.
When questioned about the possibilities of the media treating race differently she emphatically said I hope so, I think if they let more people up in the media show their biracial multiracial (selves) it would really show the true definition of America because were so diverse. I begin to ask her if she felt media affected us on a day to day bases. She began nodding her head before I finish my questions, It affects everything that we do, everything no matter what we do, sexual orientation, race, we are so used to it, (we are) exposed to the radio, TV, people spend time on these things and because people give it so much attention we feel thats the way of life, like its crazy but even (when we look at ) music videos we look at that like its the guidebook for life. People feel like thats my idol I relate to her I have to look that way. I think they will continue to stereotype us, we created them, we use them today. Even if we change it now people will still have stereotypes in their heads. The younger generation is still going to grow up having these stereotypes and racist feelings towards certain people.
When I asked her if she ever felt pressured to re-appropriate the images she had seen propagated by the media she laughed and nodded her head, oh yeah oh yeah I did that, up dying the whole hair blond buying certain sneakers hanging out with certain friends. It made me more ethnic and less white, and then when I got to high school I felt like had to be more white and then I started changing that up and yeah its kind of crazy but thats what happens thats what media does to you subconsciously. I ask her if she still feels this pressure still, Maybe sometimes a little bit but not so much anymore because I take notice to it now but when youre not really aware of it you do it without even knowing.
After I asked if she had ever felt like she wanted to look one way or the other to which she said that, When I was younger I did feel like I wanted to look more white more a less because of some of my family. It was annoying and I just always felt that, but the later years I just wished that I could be either one and that I was pointed at by people like choose one you cant be both. She paused for a moment looking a little surprised and said, Wow that is so sad thats like really horrible. She laughed in amazement having realized it for what seemed like the first time.
After we had a laugh I asked her if people made assumption about her race, she replied that they did, that people actually assume that Im full blown spanish and when she tells them she is not their like okay then you have to be white. for a moment she enacted a standard conversation oh really you dont really look like that okay but I am I dont feel like I need to look a certain way, I am, so Im sorry if youre so amazing that Im not white or spanish but this is who I am.
Lauren felt that because of the stereotypes that are used people are used to thinking that a person is one race or another, and not a combination. I mean I feel like its accepted but not fully, which is weird because a lot of people in the world are mixed with things, you are not one thing. Its funny how everyone wants to claim that their mixed with something (now) but before nobody wanted to say anything.
I ask her what her position is on identity and whether it should come from an external source, I give the example of Hale Barry and President Obama professing they are black because that had been their experience to which she replied, You choose what you want and what you want to be. I think (if I was raised) without my mother and I was raised by a black father and in African American ways Id identity with black only. But I think its important to embrace both and I dont think its fair for them to just to identify as one. In Obamas case I feel like people just think of him as the first black president at least skin wise but I do feel that they should say that theyre both and should explore being both because people look at them as being black. They shouldnt just stick to being black.
We continue on the discussion of medias portrayal of race to which Lauren feels that their portrayal isnt a very good one. I think they makes it solid into what they believe it is right for the race. Black and white even though there are a lot of kinds of (races) but black and white is the most important and they just have certain ways for each. I asked her for examples, to which she replied they show black males aggressive, dangerous, (and) hood, which is weird because there are a lot of black males who are intellectual who have grown up in these rich neighborhoods who have never been to the ghetto or anything. And they show white people as smart rich proper beings when I know some that are total opposites. I asked her if she knew of any actors who are not used in this norm. She paused to think then said, Taye Diggs usually doesnt play parts of a normal black male in his parts hes very smart and nicely dressed, but n real like hes very proper. In most of his work hes not portrayed as someone rolling around with a gun in baggy jeans. When I asked her if she felt biracials or multiracials were used in the media she felt that they werent used as biracials and multiracials instead she felt that When they are used they are used as one race. In movies you wont see her playing a biracial women shes playing a black women or a white women or like Jessica Alba is Spanish. I think it is ridiculous because you could use (them) as what they and make it into an important part of the movie, song, or whatever. I asked her if she felt it was important for there to some visibility with biracial and multiracial characters. I definitely do I think that the multiracial children would have people to look up to and wouldnt feel like they have to be a certain way or certain color or act or being a certain type.
Laurens general feeling was that the media did affect the American people and not only that but that they (the media) know what theyre doing I dont think they are dumb at all and they know exactly what theyre doing and their proud and they feel like this is America and this is how its going to be (depicted). They know they have such a strong impact on what we do that they believe what they put out their is what well conform to. When asked why she, with a little bit of frustration replied that, I literally believe they want America to be one way. Maybe to show wealth and respect I dont know. I feel America is white male and thats how i look at it as and thats how I think American is to be seen, as a wealthy white male, thats a bad thing but thats how i feel.
Before finishing the interview I wanted to hear if there were any comparisons between what my brother had said about living on Roosevelt Island or if Lauren had had a more similar experience to my own. She however seemed to agree with Morgans description. I think Rosie (Roosevelt Island) is pretty diverse. There are a lot of mixed people here. she did add that the demographics of the neighborhood were slightly odd. Its weird though how they island is set up, like very separate white and black which it kind of is but I know that it was a very good place to have grown up cause I got to mingle with all different types of people. If I had grown up in a solely white neighborhood I wouldve been completely different. She then descried how different the Island is from her childhood Now its a little different. This island has changed (there are) a lot of new rich buildings, old people are being kicked off, its not so diverse anymore. It was easier to, I feel, be okay with being biracial (when growing up). People didnt look at race as anything. A black and a white child could be friends and it would be okay. We wrapped up the interview shortly after this last remark. I discussed with her the photo shoot half of this project, which see seemed excited for. She wanted to have all three of her races portrayed so we went about discussing what she wanted to wear and what locations she felt would be appropriate.
The first portrait we did was her as an African American ghetto hood boy. She felt that the media specifically chose to portray males as overly hood so she wanted to portray herself as a boy playing video games, who was smoking and drinking in the middle of the day. She felt that the media stereotyped black males as lazy, and thought that would be a good set up. Her location was her apartment where in front of the television she posed with a bottle of vodka and a stony look for her expression. She had borrowed clothes from her brother and her boyfriend, who sat next to her pretending to play video games. She wanted to have an extra person in this photograph because she felt that the media depicted them as hanging out together during the day, messing around with drugs and having no drive to do little else.
Because we were in her house we did the portrait as self after. She changed into her regular clothes and told me shed like to be photographed in her room as if she was writing a song. We had previously talked about doing this portrait in the studio where she records her music, but she was unable to book it at the time. Because music is important to her and her identity she did want to be depicted in some manner where that was communicated. She decided to create a familiar scene to herself, where when writing music she lies on her bed with her heavy headphones on half writes, half sings to herself. This was a relaxed shoot. We tried some of her pretending as if she was singing to herself, and some where she is smiling directly into the camera.
For her Jewish character she voiced her nervousness at depicting how she felt the media described Jewish women. When we had discussed it before she had told me she wanted to dress up like a Hasidic Jew but to comment on the medias portrayal by taping a dollar bill to her mouth. She told me that when discussing this with her mother, she had been chastised by her. She instead decided that there were other ways of portraying the consumerist nature that she felt was depicted. She told me how if she had a bunch of Macys bags that might work, so on the day of our photo shoot I went to the department store. I was surprised to find that they would not give me a single bag without purchasing something. I instead managed to procure one by asking a man who having just come from the store had an extra, because they double bag everything. I then found other bags at home and brought them to Lauren to choose from. We then went to a new building complex on the island called the Octagon, which to her symbolized money. Her outfit consisted of a long dark colored skirt, long sleeved white shirt, a shawl and a medium in length brown wig. Because the day was warm she her head began to itch underneath the wig. We discussed how the wig was worn by Hasidic Jewish women, and she having only worn the wig for a few minutes, couldnt understand how they could wear them all the time.
For our final photo shoot Lauren, wanting to do a traditional interpretation of Native Americans in media, borrowed a Pocahontas costume and tied feathers in her hair. We drove out to Queens where she had told me there was a bunch of high grass that she felt would be perfect. However when we got there the high grass had been cut so we improvised. We decided to put her in front of bushes so as to keep the natural look she was going for. She in her posing gave me the usual proud gaze and when trying to come up with other poses had her boyfriend check google on his Iphone for images to look at.