Collier Heights

Georgia Tech Student Design

Lydia A. Harris: Georgia Tech Student Design, Collier Heights, 2013, archival pigment print.

I imagine that when most people in Atlanta hear the words “Bankhead Highway” or “Northwest Atlanta” they think of the ghetto. At least that is what the connotation has been my entire life– that anywhere outside of Midtown is not somewhere you want to be after dark. But there is a neighborhood in Northwest Atlanta that is beautifully preserved and looks like something out of an episode of Mad Men. Collier Heights was the first Atlanta community built, developed, and inhabited by upwardly mobile black people for upwardly mobile black people.

Photographer Lydia A. Harris was visiting Atlanta from Boston in 2010 and stumbled upon this neighborhood of custom brick ranch and split-level homes. As she started to research the area she found out that it was home to a who’s who of black elite– Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill McKinney, Ralph David Abernathy, and Donald Lee Hollowell, to name a few. She kept taking pictures of the community and the result is an art exhibit, book, and upcoming documentary.

Read about it here: http://www.artsatl.com/2015/06/photographer-lydia-harris/

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IF it is true, this is how I feel about Rachel Dolezal…it’s almost funny…but it’s not

On Friday, June 12 the internet and cable news outlets exploded with the news that Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane, Washington Chapter of the NAACP is a white woman who has been living her life dressed in blackface for the last 10 years. Dolezal teaches Africana Studies at a university in Washington and stated in her bio that she graduated from Howard University, a prestigious historically black college. It sounds like an article from The Onion, but at this point, it appears to be true.

So now, the think pieces have begun about race, gender, white privilege, blackface, and the intersectionality of all of them. How was a white woman who was born in Montana allowed to do blackness for 10 years? Who is the hair stylist that was doing her sew-ins, so that her naturally straight tresses would appear kinky? Do the ends justify the means. How mad can we be at Rachel Dolezal if she was doing the work to better the lives of people of color? Why didn’t anyone check her resume and background before making her the face of colored people’s oppression?

There are so many things at play here, I don’t know where to start. We have a white privilege problem and a colorism problem. The fact that Dolezal was able to wake up one day and decide to be black is the penultimate example of white privilege. She was able to choose to don the hair styles, wear the kente cloth, talk the talk– all without actually having to experience the realities of being a black woman. Then, we have the white savior problem. A white woman (or presumably light-skinned woman) was allowed to rise to a position of leadership in an organization designed to advance the rights of people of color without anyone questioning her credentials. No one checked to see whether she graduated from Howard, really????!!! Because she was light-eyed and light-skinned, her truth was presumed to be the truth. This is our biggest national problem.

Then, I can’t even get started on the mental health issues at play here. She has a personality disorder. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so I cannot say which one, but there’s is definitely something off there. I don’t where this story will take us as it unfolds, but I am a culture and not a costume. Blackface is never okay, whether you’re doing the work to advance the rights of people of color or not. This is 2015 and it feels more like 1965 everyday. I will be following this story.