Race, Culture, and Ethnicity in America: Checking Boxes and Switching Codes

In many ways race is about difference and how those differences are codified through language, categories, boxes, segmentation, and even the implicit sorting that goes on in our heads in terms of the way we label others and even ourselves.

—Michele Norris, The Race Card Project

Here’s Proof

The results from the 2010 US Census include six single-race and 57 multiple-race groups.

This month’s issue of National Geographic marks the magazine’s 125th anniversary. That’s quite an accomplishment, and it represents thousands and thousands of pages of amazing photographs and stories. But National Geographic has more to share, and last month it opened up a new avenue: Proof, a blog “launched to engage ongoing conversations about photography, art, and journalism.”

Proof‘s first post is “Visualizing Race, Identity, and Change.” It features photographic portraits by Martin Schoeller (I wouldn’t have recognized that name before writing my last post) and discusses the dilemma faced by so many multi-racial Americans who find it difficult or impossible to check only one box on the census.

The post is a companion piece to a feature article in National Geographic, entitled “Changing Faces.” It’s written by Michele Norris, host and special correspondent for NPR, and curator of The Race Card Project, a site that collects views on the topic of race, all expressed in sentences of only six words. And you thought Tweets were short and to the point.

Of course, quite a few of the boxes were checked in the 2010 Census, and the results show a multi-colored collage of racial diversity across the American landscape. You can see that collage at The Racial Dot Map, created by Dustin Cable of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. With one dot per person, the zoomed-out map shows a blending of colors representing the five categories of White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Other/Multi-Racial. But by zooming in, you can see the distinct contrasts at the neighborhood level, both intermixed and segregated.

Speaking in Code

NPR has started a new blog this year, too. It’s on race, ethnicity, and culture.

“Remember,” write the blog’s authors, “when folks used to talk about being ‘post-racial’?”

Well, we’re definitely not that. We’re a team of journalists fascinated by the overlapping themes of race, ethnicity and culture, how they play out in our lives and communities, and how all of this is shifting.

They call the blog Code Switching. In linguistics, code switching is when a multi-lingual speaker switches between languages within a conversation. More loosely defined, it can also include moving from one dialect, set of vocabulary, accent, or speaking style to another because of a number of factors, such as setting, relationship to the listener, and expectations.

Imagine that the doorbell rings. You answer the door and see that it’s your boss at the ad agency or your grandmother from Mexico or your childhood friend from the city or your ESL student or an acquaintance from the gym or a policeman. How might you talk differently to each of them? We all do it to one extent or another. But it’s an even bigger factor for those who move between races and cultures.

Gene Demby, host of the blog, calls this movement “hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities.” Code Switching goes well beyond just methods of expression. It also covers news, info, and opinions on race relations and cultural interaction within America’s borders.

One of the things I like about Code Switching is its broad range of topics, from pop culture—”Why Black Heroes Make Zombie Stories More Interesting“—to historical—”The History of How a Shogun’s Boat Made Lincoln a ‘Tycoon’“—to current issues—”It Takes a Classroom to Learn the Family Language.” When it comes to race, culture, and ethnicity in America, they’re covering it all.

If only the staff here at Clearing Customs had the resources of NPR.

(Michele Norris, “Visualizing Race, Identity, and Change,” Proof, September 17, 2013)

[photo: “Question#9—Multiracial ID’s,” by Spot.us, used under a Creative Commons license]


Sorry You Weren’t the One to Buy “Afghan Girl”

My apologies.

It’s been more than two months since the National Geographic auction at Christie’s, and I need to set something right.

It’s quite likely that at least one of you, dear readers, saw my post about the sale of Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl at auction, arrived at Christie’s on December 6 with only $12,000 in your pocket, and watched in horror as other bidders immediately left you behind . . . far behind . . . so far behind that you weren’t able to lift your paddle even once.

The pre-auction estimate that I quoted for McCurry’s iconic photo was indeed cited at $8,000 to $12,000 in October, but the estimate listed on Christie’s website, where the photo was displayed, was $30,000 to $50,000. Not that that would have helped a lot anyway, as the print’s winning bid came in at a whopping $178,900 (with the buyer’s premium added to the “hammer price”).

And Afghan Girl wasn’t the only item to bring in an enormous amount of money. N.C. Wyeth’s Duel on the Beach topped the sale at $1,082,500. The entire auction brought in $3,776,587.

I was wondering what would make a print of a photograph worth so much. The anonymous buyer didn’t get the original Kodachrome slide. He didn’t purchase future licensing rights. And he didn’t buy the last copy of the photo ever made.

I think I’ve figured it out, though. The print is signed, of course, and dated. But then comes the really special part. Next to the signature is the marking “1/1.”

That does it for me. Not 1 of 200 or 1 of 10 . . . but 1 of 1.

Afghan Girl truly is an iconic photo. Monica Hess of The Washington Post calls it “the photograph of photographs of photographs” and then describes “the ragged red scarf, the scissors-sharp green eyes, the hungry, hunted, haunted beauty.”

Ah, yes, the eyes.

If you’d like to get a better view of what $178,900 got for one bidder, do this: Go to this link—which will bring you a larger-than-life image of Christie’s “Sale 2603 / Lot 194″—and click on the zoom-in symbol a few times. Re-center the photo and look into those “scissors-sharp green eyes.”

Those eyes. Two of two.

(Monica Hess, “National Geographic’s Auction of Images Fetches $3.8 million,” The Washington Post, December 6, 2012)

[photo: “Steve McCurry: On the Outside Looking In,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license]

Get Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” for $8,000 or More, or How about Much, Much Less?

Most online introductions of Steve McCurry say something like “He’s the guy who took the photo of the Afghan girl.” Yes, his portrait of Sharbat Gula, a girl in a refugee camp, was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985—and became one of the most recognized photographs of all time. But it should also go without saying that McCurry has produced many, many more remarkable photos over his career. He continues to travel the world, capturing the images as they develop before him. As reported in the blog CNN Photos, his philosophy is “travel to a place, work with the locals, and see what emerges.”

If you’d like to own some of McCurry’s photos, including Afghan Girl, there are numerous ways to acquire them, covering a wide range of budgets—from really, really expensive to free. Just in time for Christmas, here are your pricing options, arranged for your convenience from highest to lowest:

$8,000 to $12,000 (estimate)
For the first time, the National Geographic Society is auctioning off some of its vast collection of 11.5 million photographs and illustrations. The sale will take place December 6, at Christie’s, and will include a special print of McCurry’s Afghan Girl. The 240 pieces offered are expected to bring a total of about $3 million, so don’t expect too many bargain-basement prices. (For an update on the auction, see “Sorry You Weren’t the One to Buy ‘Afghan Girl.’“)

Something less than $8,000, I presume
McCurry offers signed fine-art prints of his work at his website. A pdf catalog is available, but prices aren’t included. If you want to find out how much a print costs, you’ll need to contact a lady named Bonnie.

Also available at McCurry’s site. At this price you can get a 20 x 24 inch poster of one of ten McCurry photos. Proceeds go to Imagine Asia.

McCurry has just published a new book, titled Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. It covers his best of the best (165 images) from the last 30 years. Amazon sells the standard hardback at the above price, but if you absolutely have to spend more, there’s the deluxe edition for $248.85 and a signed edition at Phaidon for $79.99.

If you’re like me, then browsing the photos on the Internet will have to do for now. But it’s not a bad alternative. It certainly gives you the best selection. Several of the links above can get you started, but for the most images, go to the galleries at stevemccurry.com. Wow, he definitely has had some amazing things “emerge” in front of his lens.

Hear McCurry tell how he captured the photo Beggar Girl, Bombay, India:

(Elizabeth I. Johnson, “Curiosity Inspires Iconic Photographer,” CNN Photos; Ula Ilnytzky, “National Geographic to Auction Famous Photos, Art,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 2012)

[top photo: “Steve McCurry Exhibit,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license; Bottom photo: “Occhi che scrutano” (Eyes that stare), by Giuseppe Nicoloro, used under a Creative Commons license]

6 Sites for Great Global Photos

If you’re someone who likes good photography from around the world, here are six websites I’ve run across that will give you a daily or weekly fix. All are for your viewing enjoyment, and some are hoping for your contributions:

  1. National Geographic photo of the day
  2. National Geographic travel photo of the week
  3. Smithsonian Magazine photo of the day
  4. CNN travel photo of the day
  5. Condé Nast photo of the day
  6. Lonely Planet photo of the week contest

The accompanying photo is of the Empire State Building, named by Cornell University scientists the most photographed landmark in the most photographed city on earth. Number 2 on the list is London and Trafalgar Square, which, given the drawing power of the Olympics, is probably solidifying its position over San Francisco and Union Square, at number 3.

Go here for Budget Travel’s slideshow of the complete top-25 places, with tips on how to capture the best photographs of them.

[photo: “Sun Falls on New York City,” by Thomas Hawk, used under a Creative Commons license]