Book Review: Some of My Best Friends: A White Woman’s Journey into Racial Profiling
Book Reviewed by Kam Williams
“This project grew out of my realization that I was negatively profiling young African-American men. As a strident liberal who prides herself on her racial awareness, I was quick to denounce this practice by others.
I decided to confront my hypocrisy by… stopping young black men [to] ask if I could take their portraits… I would [also] ask if we could pose together…
The smart phone has popularized the ‘best friends’ photo format, or ‘bestie.’ Two subjects reflexively move close together and smile, while one of them holds the camera at arm’s length and takes the picture.
By using this format, I created the illusion that these young black men and I were friends. This visual lie brought to mind the expression, ‘Some of my best friends are black,’ an expression occasionally spoken as if it reveals a wish.
When I look at my photographs, I remember how I felt in those moments when I stood close to those young men, and I know that this journey led me where I’d hoped.
—Excerpted from the Postscript (pg. 103)
Jane Critchlow is a gray-haired, white woman who was affected enough by the Trayvon Martin shooting to want to do something about it. As a photography professor, her most effective tool would naturally be a camera.
But despite being very liberal, she had to admit to herself that she had developed a certain fear of young black men. To challenge herself, she decided to roam around the streets of her native Cleveland and approach African-American males wearing hoodies for permission to take their portraits. If they agreed, she would also ask afterwards if she could snap a selfie of the two of them together.
The upshot of that effort is “Some of My Best Friends,” as evocative a photo essay as you could ever hope to find. What makes the pictorial particularly poignant is the contrast between the “before” and “after” countenances of Ms. Critchlow’s subjects.
For, when first posing alone, most of the brothers instinctively put up an emotional wall between themselves and the solicitous stranger, which was understandable given her unexplained agenda. Yet, they just as easily broke into grins and smiles revealing a warmth and ingratiating vulnerability once the same white lady behind the camera sidled up to them for an intimate selfie.
Jane confesses to having been apprehensive prior to the undertaking, but her fears were allayed as what emerged from the shadows was a diversity of ordinary and extraordinary fellows, each with his own dream whether a student, an artist, a soldier, or pursuing another walk in life. A novel and moving project humanizing black men which deserves to be replicated in every city across the country.