We are drawn to the visual. When we look at images we witness and experience many collisions: public and private, past and present, real and staged, Black and white, “I” and “Not I”. Our relationship to the world is often mediated through images. Our response to images situates our relationship to the world. Images can create a shock of discontinuity. They make difference plain. Images remind us if our versions of reality match. Images carry a weight.
Images do not preserve meaning. Meaning is determined by one’s response to the image. This response, this space, which can be either an abyss or an attachment, defines the moment where the simple act of looking confirms or denies one’s sense of being in the world.
The May 2019 Buffalo News edition of their Buffalo Magazine issue titled, “The Food Issue” is a concrete example of the “I” is white. From cover to back page all of the articles feature white individuals and their stories. The neighborhoods identified in the article are either white suburban neighborhoods [East Aurora, Elma] ,upscale and gentrified white neighborhoods [Hertel Avenue, Downtown], or up and coming working class neighborhoods [Allentown].
From back to front there is only one image — one image — of a person of color. And, that image is of a child in an ad for summer camps.
Readers, especially those who are from out of town, would never know that a Black or brown or any non-white person lives in Western New York.
At the 2010 census, the racial composition of Buffalo was:
- White: 50.4% (non-Hispanic: 45.8%)
- Black or African American: 38.6% (up from 20.4% in 1970)
- Asian: 3.2% (up from 0.2% in 1970)
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.8%
- Other race: 3.9%
- Two or more races: 3.1%
- Hispanic or Latino of any race: 10.5% (up from 1.6% in 1970)
Why is it acceptable for The Buffalo News to print a seventy-page magazine about eating, fine-dining, and picnicing in metropolitan Buffalo and only write about white Buffalo and show white Buffalo?
Especially when the editor wrote in her “From the Editor” section in the magazine that her intro to the Buffalo restaurant scene was the “West Side Bazaar”.
Images substantiate culture. When images are produced by those who politically control the cultural production, they become easily accepted and consumed. It is a more than a misfortune if our eyes have grown accustomed to images that reflect only white America. It is the simultaneous danger of the invisbility and the hyper-visibility of whiteness.
The image is always white. The “I” is always white.