Does the lack of melanin in my skin make me any less black? Does the absence of a darker pigment in my eyes distance me from my cultural roots? Who am I?
I was called a "reverse-oreo" cookie growing up. The kids in my middle school told me that I was white on the outside and black on the inside. Even though I wore urban clothing and cut my hair into a "gumby," I was still ostracized by my black brothers and sisters. I was searching for my identity as a "red-bone" as I was called on the basketball court and in the black community. I felt that the color of my skin made me both intriguing and an outcast in different situations. It was depressing, and I can still clearly remember when the color divide was evident from grade school inclusion to high school segregation. I still sat on both sides of the cafeteria. No one noticed. Especially when I was wearing a hat.
By the time I made it to college I learned to be more political with the color of my skin and the color of my eyes. I felt that getting jobs was easier because I was seen as the "safe" choice. Or better yet, the "lighter face" of diversity. If I went into a marketing department at my internships, I was always chosen as the "racially ambiguous" poster child. Back at my HBCU campus I met more people that looked like me from all over the world. It made me wonder even more about my roots. Jamaican? Italian? German? African? French? Still, there was the ultra "black power" crew that told me I was only 10 percent black. They made it certain that the lack of melanin in my skin made me inferior to them. They said that my lighter skin diluted my intelligence, and their darker skin tied them closer to the Motherland and to black culture.
Today I fully embrace the beauty of my culture and mixed ancestry as well as others'. Furthermore, I feel a deep appreciation for diversity both within my own race and outside of it. My experiences as a youth planted a seed in me, a desire to understand the commonalities of the human experience despite the outward differences of culture, upbringing, appearance, and origin. I am a photo-culturalist who travels the world documenting the pinnacles of joy and the depths of sorrow in people's lives. As I continue to grow as an artist, my professional experiences coupled with my past, help me to understand the complexities surrounding identity formation from a global perspective.
~Ross Oscar Knight
(chapter 3, page 47)
50 Shades of Black Coffee Table Book Vol. 1
Photo by: Yvonne Lin for Ross Oscar Knight Photography