Exploring Racism through Photography

By Fey, Cass; Shin, Ryan et al. | Art Education, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Exploring Racism through Photography


Fey, Cass, Shin, Ryan, Cinquemani, Shana, Marino, Catherine, Art Education


Recommended for Grades 9-12

Race, Representation, Social Justice, and che Classroom

According to Apple ( 1 993) race is not a stable category. It intersects with culture, ethnicity gender, and sexuality and is enacted in society in different ways. Representations such as photographs shape how we view people and the world and can also be used to enable students to think about race and race relations. Since the political struggles of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the gay and lesbian rights movement, many educators have changed their notions about curriculum to include discussion of representations and their ability to shape understandings. They fee/ that education can be used to remake society and challenge power structures to foster social and political equity. This Instructional Resource for high school teachers was forged as part of this larger discussion through a collaboration with a museum educator, a university professor and graduate students.

Objectives

Students who are involved in these instructional activities will be able to:

* Understand that photography is a medium through which to expose and encourage discussion about racism, social justice. and inequality.

* Discuss and investigate societal and institutional racism in the US through photographs by Marion PaITi, Ansel Adams, and David Levinthal.

* Develop an awareness of social justice by discussing issues seen within the photographs such as discrimination, stereotyping, disrespect, and oppression of racial and ethnic minority groups.

* Create expressive artworks concerning diversity and social justice in historical and contemporary contexts.

Marion Palfi.

Born in Germany to a Jewish family, photographer Marion PaIfI ( 1 907- 1 978) fled Hitler's army in Europe and settled in New York City just prior to the outbreak of World War II. As she traveled through many parts of the United States, she was troubled by situations she encountered such as racial intolerance and poverty in urban centers. She also was disturbed by the unwillingness or inability of Americans to recognize and address these problems. Using her camera as a tool to record and address her concerns, she brought a fresh perspective to the topic of racism and injustice in America. Palfi described herself as a "social research photographer" and believed that art could and should effect social change. However, she had difficulty getting her work exhibited and published, largely because many Americans were not interested in seeing and hearing about their country's social inequities. Palfi produced several large documentary studies that included subjects such as discrimination against African Americans, poverty in urban areas, and racist treatment of Native Americans.

Palfi 's photographs document aspects of U.S. government-sanctioned practices that organized, invited, and sometimes· forced the relocation of Native American children from reservations to boarding schools sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or to Anglo schools and homes.This treatment was spearheaded by a movement at the end of the 1 9th century to assimilate Native Americans to AngloCaucasian culture in the name of Americanization, which ultimately led to the loss of Native language, identity, rituals, and traditional values (Moore, 2005). Boarding schools funded by the federal government and Christian missionary involvement grew in number and by the 1 970s reached an enrollment of approximately 60,000 Native American children (Co imant, 2000). Th is. practice continued until the 1980s.

Native children in boarding schools were required to speak and use only English.They were prohibited from using their native languages even amongst themselves, or face strict disciplinary measures, They were also required to wear non-native clothing, and to cut their hair; which according to native beliefs is only done when mourning. Testimonials of many Native Americans who survived these schools affirm harsh conditions and culturally hostile environments intended to strip them of their identities (Adams, 1 997). …

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