“Let’s Talk About Race” is a powerful photo essay published in the latest issue of O, The Oprah Magazine that challenges the ways we view race in a masterful way.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief Lucy Kaylin, who oversaw all production of the publication’s “Race Issue,” commissioned photographer Chris Buck to help bring Oprah’s vision for the feature to life. Each of the three photos in the essay shows women or girls of color in a role reversal from the ways in which they are stereotypically seen ― or not seen ― compared to white women or girls.
One image shows several East Asian women at a nail salon being pampered by white female beauticians. Another shows a young white girl at a toy store standing before a row of shelves stocked only with black dolls, and the last image shows a posh Hispanic woman on the phone as her white maid tends to her.
“The story grew out of a big ideas meeting we had with Oprah; it was a topic on all of our minds and she was eager for us to tackle it,” Kaylin said in a statement to HuffPost. “The main thing we wanted to do was deal with the elephant in the room — that race is a thorny issue in our culture, and tensions are on the rise. So let’s do our part to get an honest, compassionate conversation going, in which people feel heard and we all learn something — especially how we can all do better and move forward. Boldly, with open hearts and minds.”
Take a look at the images below:
The pictures are indeed eye-opening, and force us to reexamine damaging stereotypes and explore how race, class and power can intersect. (The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” refer to ethnicity, and those of Latin American heritage can belong to any race.) The opposing realities captured in the images also call into question the ways in which women of color are often portrayed.
Buck, who has worked with Kaylin and her team before, said producing the photos for the magazine felt entirely fitting because he sees Oprah as one of the best people to explore and talk about race ― and to prompt others to do the same.
“The fact that they’re coming from O, The Oprah Magazine was part of the real allure for me,” he told HuffPost. “Oprah is someone who both white women and black women connect and relate to and she’s in a unique place to talk about race in this country because she has a strong and loyal audience among all demographics of women.”
“I knew that there was a vision to raise questions [about race] without being heavy-handed or mean-spirited,” he added. “That’s the way in which I approached the execution and helped them to create the images.”
However, Buck, who is a white man, acknowledged that producing the photos led him to interrogate his own relationship with race, and that the images can mean many things to many people. But he says the photos, at their core, serve as means to help spark a healthy discussion around race and the ways we perceive it.
“For white people like me, we need to understand just because we’re talking about race doesn’t mean fingers are being pointed at us,” he said. “To me what’s great is that it’s made conversation. I want people of color and white people to be able to have a dialogue. I don’t want white people to feel like they’re being talked at or black people to feel like they’re being shut down either.”
“All parties need to feel welcome at the table in this discussion,” he added, “that’s how we move forward and to me, at their best, that’s what these pictures can do.”
Jessica Prois contributed to this piece.