Some of the pieces are easier to read. In the Blue Eyes series, for instance, Kyungmi Shin digitally altered head shots so that each of her subjects—scruffy Filipino-lookin' dude; young, light-skinned black woman; etc.—has sparkling blue eyes, vivid as the Caribbean. They're the eyes of only a few in the world—people of mixed race in the Caribbean perhaps, but certainly no one I know. And each of the resulting portraits is so striking it made me wonder why everyone doesn't wear blue contacts, which probably wasn't Shin's intention.
While Shin's photos are wonderful, Kammy Roulner's are perhaps not as thought-provoking as she intended. Roulner scans and enlarges baseball cards of players with the names of colors—Bud Black, for instance, is white! She somehow neglected to mention that Shawn Green is a dirty Jew!
Stallings says in his essay that it's important that a show on whiteness not be centered on depictions of others. Most are.
But there are a few that do focus on white subjects who aren't Klansmen or Bud Black—a very fine pitching coach for the Angels, by the way, and not at all a Klansman to my knowledge. Richard Shelton's Out in the Open shows some white-collar guys in the street on their lunch break. We see them from the back, leering after a trio of chicks. But while the insistent mantra throughout the exhibit is one of the Man keeping everyone down, on closer examination, the only way these middle-management schlubs could oppress you is by maliciously putting you through to voice mail. They have no power. They're as dully unsatisfied and oppressed as anyone else—they just get to go to Club Med once a year. The rest of the year, they kick the dog and grovel to the boss. Just like any tap-dancing minstrel.
If you're white, you're gonna look like a dick in this exhibit, and there's nothing you can do about it. Even a murmur of protest would be gauche. Why? Because you are privileged, and this nation is racist, and we do blithely command all the world's resources, unwilling to put cocoa farmers to the fire for buying and working orphaned Ghanaian child slaves for our Nestle bars. People who complain—usually on the AM dial—about how the white man isn't getting a fair shake are morons. And so the rest of us white folk don't sit around and ponder our whiteness. That would generally result (if we're not the self-loathing type) in our taking pride in being white, and at least in the nicer families, that just isn't done—specifically because (if we're not morons) we already do know how privileged we are.
Sure, we check the appropriate box on the census form, but when we identify, we identify as Irish or Swedish or Russian-Polish Jew. It's perfectly kosher to be proud of being Irish or Swedish or a Jew. But white? We ignore it out of politeness.
"Whiteness, A Wayward Construction" at the Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971. Call for hours. Through July 6.