Conclusion of Lit Review
The most outstanding characteristic between all of the collective reaserch in this lit review is the historical impression made upone the racial world of today. Though the timeline does not exist in an easily recognizable form there are definite links that can be drawn from the historical social and racial relm of yesteryear and its influence on the media. Both Lemire and Williams as well as others show the hierarchy of class and race outlined in the first section, which makes clearer our understanding of the possition of biracial and multiracial peoples of today. It is understandable that biracials and multiracials are still a mostly unseen group of people. This is because social norms have been controlled by the white upper classes whose dissaproval has kept our identity unseen in the public relm. This is, as Dyer points out, because of thewhite agenda, which has steered media to ignored not only biracial and multiracal individuals but all other non white-Anglo ethnicities. However, the shift during the 80s written in Wytes book, which allowed for the a gradual inclussion of non white monoracial ethnicities still did not change the position of bi/multiracials from their unseen status in our society. If media is our main tool of communication the lack of depictions of biracials and multiracials is paramount in our lack of acceptence in society, and in relation our racial identity. This is a problem that has finally resulted in the Multiracial movement who look toward the government to right these ills, instead of devling toward the source of racial identity in this culture that is tied up in the represntation of historical and cultural norms propogated by the media.
The impetus for this project was long in coming. It has been with me ever since I became aware of the connections between media, identity, and race, and I have been aware for quite some time. My first step toward the massive research process I was to undertake began in 8th grade when my councilor dropped (what seemed then) a large stack of paper stapled half hazardly together. I, like most teens, was deep in the muck and mire of my teen angst, which among other things was focused on my racial identity and how to feel comfortable in a world that asked too often of me to identify with something other than how I felt. The large stack of papers was an essay by Adrian Piper titled, Passing for White, Passing for Black, autobiographical, dryly witty and oh so true, are the words that come to mind when reminiscing on my first read. Nothing and no one had made so clear the issues of race and more importantly the effects of a social culture, in terms of conduct, on people of ambiguous racial appearance. I forgot Adrian Pipers name, Im not sure if I ever took the time to remember it, but the words stuck, their intentions stuck and it was then that I began to feel confident in who I knew myself to be, a biracial.
It wasnt until my junior year of college, just on the cusp of coming up with a senior project worth investing in, when Adrian Piper influenced my path once again with her video art instillation Cornered. Her blunt, darkly humorous, and succinct unfussy statements, about the shared problem our society is faced with when she, a light skinned highly educated woman, identifies as black, rang true. The message of constructs and flawed societies that have flawed perceptions was the same as in her essay. The idea that race is profoundly affected by lingering concepts based from historical, social and economical circumstances became clear. The questions she asked of her invisible audience were questions that I wanted answer to. I wanted to know if people felt she was making a fuss about identifying as black because I knew people had felt I similarly had made a fuss in asserting my identity. I found this to be a theme when reading the testimonials of Gaskins subjects, who on more than one occasion spoke about classmates and even friends who became agitated, upset, and even angry at their choice of personal identification. (Gaskins, 1999) So often what biracial and multiracial people lament is a social pressure to choose, or in another word used to describe taking on a false identity, to pass. Adrian Piper in her video Cornered impressed upon me this sentiment. That if her audience, and our community, feel that her and in relation our need to publicly identify as something other than what they believe us to be, then their outlook must be that the proper course of action is to pass. And if this is their outlook than our society, and in relation the cultural norm of racial identity, has a problem because our racial identity should be on par with any other personal information such as place of birth, name, and age, and should be of no cause for agitation. (Piper, 1988)
Adrian Pipers work began to put thoughts that I had long had and felt into structured questions, such as, why do people make assumptions of a persons race, and why do they when assuming, generally not guess a combination of ethnicities? Her video, more than anything, inspired me to do as she had done, using the mode of artistic expression to open up a dialogue on these types of questions between the viewer and myself.
I always intended for my subjects to be biracial and multiracial individuals. I have long held the belief, backed my personal experiences as well as from some of the research I have now done, that people of multiple racial backgrounds inhabit a special position in the situation of race identity in America. I thought that their opinions on the matter of media and its influence on race in this country could be illuminating because of this position.
I wanted to use a qualitative method with one on one interviews. I felt this was important to get a more in-depth understanding of my subjects and their point of view, because so much information is recorded in, say a pause before a question is answered, or how it is answered, that is important to record such moments, and is impossible to do with just surveys. This is why I also ended up video taping the interviews so as to be able to go back and take note of a gesture or inflection that I would have otherwise missed with a tape recording.
Adrian Piper and later White with his outline of media history as the representation of the dominant white order created a framework of questions for my interest in medias affects on society, but I felt this was not enough to create a full understanding of the complexity of race identity in America. I began to think about the interview as two interviews focused on two themes. First to ascertain if there actually is a commonality between biracials and multiracials I asked broad questions about their early development years and memories concerning race and race identity. I found their histories and experiences with race in their early years informed our later discussion on medias influence.
My first idea on possible methods of gathering data was to use photography as a means to record the personal relationships between media and race identity. Because issues of racial identity rely so heavily on the visual I felt it important to engage the viewer as well as my subjects in a visual manner. Photography, my choice of medium, is first and foremost the artistic tool I am most comfortable with. It is also one of the most important discoveries in the field of media entertainment, art, and science. The average American is bombarded with a multitude of images a day.,It is therefore difficult to ignore their inherent message, and possibly even more difficult to ignore less obvious messages that steer our cultural and individual identity. Warren, who describes the use of photography as a scientific tool, acknowledges that the every day life on an individual is within a culture steered by popular media. (Warren, 2005). Our concept of the visual has infiltrated into our society as something more than entertainment without symbolic meaning. Anthropologists and sociologists alike have taken notice of this and have begun to use media, specifically the still and moving image, as a research tool that will inevitably lead us to read them as text that will give clues about the cultures that produce it. (Warren, 2005).
The main objective of my own study is to create a work of portraits, with the methods of still and moving image to give clues to why monoracial identities are so readily assumed and if media has any hand in racial identity in America. Though photography has historically been used in the sciences to document foreign and non-Western cultures in an effort to gather more understanding it has been criticized as being subjective rather than objective. Harper argues that such research documents not the culture of interest but the culture through the researchers eyes who like any photographer chooses and cuts off information where he or she sees fit, in other words what they find is worthy and not worthy of attention. (Harper, 1998) In this project my objective is to get as much of a native-image as is possible. Meaning that in my image making process the concept, clothes, locations are all dictated by the subjects perception of the questions I ask them. It is important that they be in control of the image that is made because it is affectively their visual belief of how the American media showcases their monoracial ethnicities, whether it is favorably or unfavorably. The only part of the process that I control, other than the possible collaboration of props they may ask me to find is the framing. Yet still these images are not objective for the simple reason that no image is made without the mark of the photographer. In my project however, unlike the anthropological research photographer, I am not a foreigner but apart of the discussion as a biracial women.
Though my position was always to let the subject control the making of their image, I did find later on a book of photographs by Taryn Simon that successfully used this particular brand of native-image making. The Innocents a book on wrongfully accused and incarcerated individuals has become my ultimate guide in creating these images. Taryn Simon in collaboration with the Innocents Project found individuals incarcerated on the bases of recall memory and photographs taken by police. She later photographed them as free men, thanks to the use of DNA evidence. The locations of the photographs were either in the space of the subjects choice or the place in which the alleged crime took place. Simon both documented these subjects by video camera and with a still camera, clips of their video testimonial were then transcribed and used as text to accompany the environmental portraits. (Simons, 2003) I based my process of off this model in asking my subjects to choose their locations, their style of dress, and presentation, so as to ascertain the relationship between social truths, fiction, identity, and visual media. In The Innocents, Simons photography restores to the individual their sense of self and self-identity, which had been marred by the use of derogatory representation used to incriminate them. It is a case of mistaken identity and I hope to in my own work restore, make known, and demystify the taboo of biracial and multiracials in our country so that we may be known as who we are, complicated, beautiful, and full individuals.