My 3 Cents


In this digital age when more pictures are being snapped from phones and then shared, insuring someone somewhere will see the presumed noteworthy shots, it may be hard to imagine what actual photographic negatives look like.

I’ve rifled through old photographs over the years. Mostly trying to identify the year it was taken or the name of a cute baby (far be it from me to say there is any other kind).

I’ve even found a few old tin types from the turn of the century (20th, not 21st) that helped preserve the image of a wedding portrait or graduation day.

But of most interest are the old negatives that were returned with images printed at the Kodak kiosk. (I realize that what I’ve written to date may well be foreign to generations, but stay with me for an explanation.)

For example, say you find a negative of your high school basketball team. The five starters sit in the front row. Because you went to a suburban school, four of the players are white and the star center is a black boy (given the age of the photo – 1950s, he may be referred to as the “Negro”). Because it is the negative and not the print, the image looks like four black players and one white. Positive/Negative.

Much has been revealed about racial attitudes in the United States since Barack Obama was elected – twice. At first, it looked like we had come so far, electing a black man as President. But the racial undercurrent proved impossible to ignore. For starters, the obstinacy of Congress to block his path at every turn for eight years. The recent turn of events in the 2016 election didn’t sway opinion right or left like most presidential campaigns, but rather brought to an abrupt halt to any perceived fairness. (I was astounded when I heard one Trump supporter claim that, “Racism didn’t exist before Obama became President.” Really?)

Obviously, there’s no hope to persuade someone so ignorant in reality to consider my “Positive/Negative” theorem, but in case there may be someone left in the world with an open mind, here are a few examples that might raise awareness.

The media, bless them, frequently offers racially disguised messages to an unknowing public. Here are just three well documented occasions that, with a little “recasting” (i.e. Positive/Negative), might have resulted in a different outcome.

Who can forget Super Bowl 2004? Actually, most of us have forgotten the game. (I’ll save you the Google search: New England beat Carolina.) Halftime, on the other hand caused an outrage coast to coast. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake sang and danced and just before the lights went out on the show, he pulled on a piece of cloth that revealed her breast. Two seconds? Three seconds? Surely, not four, but that’s all people talked about.

The onus was on Ms. Jackson. “How could she?” Mr. Timberlake, for the most part, got a pass.

But let’s recast the halftime show with LL Cool J and a young, blond Brittney Spears. I’d venture to guess the outrage would not have been directed at Ms. Spears but rather the black rapper. “How dare he!”

Jump ahead a year. Monday Night Football promotional lead-in before kickoff. (It really doesn’t matter who was playing, it was just MNF!) In 2005, “Desperate Housewives” was a huge hit. From what I’ve heard (full disclosure: I never saw the show), there was a lot of sex in the series.

Opening shot is a locker room setting. Terrell Owens, an excellent wide receiver at the time was in full uniform when he turns and finds DH star, Nicolette Sheridan standing with a towel wrapped around her, combing her wet hair. (Apparently, she’s just showered.) Light banter ensues with her taunting him to be “a little late for the game” and him insisting he’s “got to go.”

Ms. Sheridan drops the towel and jumps into his arms, revealing her bare back but nothing else. The outrage was immediate! I’m not sure the television audience even watched the game they were so busy calling the network, calling the NFL, calling their neighbors to complain. (Note again to younger readers: This is before Twitter, with all its 140 characters, became the primary way to communicate one’s opinions. Note to self: Find out if one useing Twitter would be labeled he a “Twit?”)

Important fact not previously noted: Mr. Owens is a tall, very dark, black man and Ms. Sheridan is a petite, white blond.

Just for fun, let’s recast: Tom Brady, Mr. All-American (do I need to mention he’s white) as the football player. And cast another Desperate Housewives star, Alfre Woodard. Would that be acceptable for the football viewing population? It harks back, not too subtlety to the “master of the main house assuming he has rights to ‘property’ he owns?”

Leaving the gridiron for the glitter of Hollywood. There are no brighter lights than on Oscar night, specifically the 75th Academy Awards. The stunning Halle Berry, having won the Best Actress Award the previous year, was tapped to present the Best Actor Award. When Adrien Brody’s name was announced, he bounded on the stage, took Ms. Berry in his arms and, rather than giving her a polite kiss on the cheek, bent her over and smooched her on the lips for a long time.

Wasn’t that adorable? The young white fellow was so excited he felt he could do what he wanted and, given the look of surprise on Ms. Berry’s face, this was not a pre-planned moment. No big deal? Well I’m guessing if we dealt the Positive/Negative to that scene and cast Morgan Freeman laying a wet one on Nicole Kidman there might have been a network explosion, even though he has played God in more movies than, well, God.

These examples are powerful reminders of the power of persuasion the media has at hand. Maybe in and of themselves these moments aren’t that significant. After all, all those events happened more than ten years ago.

But nothing has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Apply the Positive/Negative to the increase of shootings of black men the past few years. It is not that big a stretch to imagine a far different outcome if a white teenage boy walking home wearing a hoodie was stalked and beaten by a black man. Positive/Negative: Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman, self-appointed vigilante, still walks this earth.

One must wonder, has the number of deaths multiplied in giant leaps? Or is it possible that the plethora of cell phone users sharing evidence of these crimes have exposed what’s been happening for centuries.

What’s the point? Even the old photo negatives are neither white nor black, but various shades of gray. Is the positive print the true version or does the negative, the piece of film that far outlasts the printed image, preserve the truth.

The point is to view the world from all perspectives. Right now, rose colored glasses might seem an easy option but if by wearing them you think the world is as you see it, a rude awakening is in your future.

The point is to ask questions. Seek answers. Demand truth.  Acknowledge the Positive/Negative in our lives.





  1. Bunny

    Right, I think we know the answers to the questions you pose.So we must be diligent about the normalization of prejudice and of crazy. Speak up in a positive supportive manner, because what we are dealing with is fear, ignorance and peoples belief systems. I often think of the differences in the way men and women are treated too. John Waters hitchhiked from Maryland to San Fransisco for his 70th birthday so he could meet people and write a book. As an example. I would love to do that,( not the book part) however I definitely feel that would not be safe.
    One of the exercises one does is to recognize there is no separation between other and one, just perception of separation. So one tries to use language that doesn’t separate. Really hard if one thinks about it.
    One will work at preserving the truth. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. R2Redshaw (Post author)

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree between the different way men and women are treated. (Best example in the world – Hillary.) It will probably be my next “3 Cents!”

  3. Phyllis

    No argument from me. The examples you chose and the possible alternate scenarios all ring true. Racism in our society is sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle but still insidiously festering there

  4. patty Johnson

    Rebecca, just back from two days at a gun violence conference where the overlay of racism and sexism and more were front and center. I truly appreciate your packaging of the postive/negative examples – clearly you’ve given this lots of thought. In fact, you are right on. My white privilege has protected me and opened doors which would NEVER have been opened had I been another color. I am embarrassed to admit it.

    As you know, our country was founded on a white culture scenario – once we took the land from the Native Americans. We were the conquerors. We gave beads for land. And we have learned how lovely it is to be treated with dignity as the hispanic lawn workers come and lay heavy flagstones for our walkways. We let them sweat and accept the fact that while they do the heavy-lifting, they get paid a tragically tiny sliver of the bill. We look the other way. How I love learning Spanish from them (though I’m still a loser in this) and bringing them fruit and drink as they work. Just what any of us would expect: no thanks
    needed, guys. But they are so gracious. Again, I am a bit embarrassed.

    As the mother of four sons, I know some have some macho – and my job is to remind them that being considerate, kind, loving and even taking a back seat at times is the right way to act/the right thing to do. I know that for one it is hard (he’s the macho man) and for one, it’s relatively easy. We all exist on a continuum, I am convinced and I have learned to stop judging and to listen carefully and to work harder to be kind. I need reminders myself – often.

    As a white straight woman raised in a white straight family, I am just proud of my gay son and his husband – and I am determined to continue to do whatever I can to help raise sensitivity about our white privilege. Today I again pledge to listen more and to continue my work with the two black groups in which I am involved. I am yet a rough stone in this walk – a craggy stone desiring to be a heart stone. I often say that I’m a white woman with a black soul.

    I’m rambling…sorry. I love your thoughts about the positive/negative. Wish we all could see what it means. Not sure I can – but I’ll continue to work at it. And I thank you for it!

  5. R2Redshaw (Post author)

    Your “rambling” is much appreciated. I’ve had both Jewish friends and black friends say to me, “you’re one of us!” I appreciate the inclusion (which I interpret as acceptance), but the fact of the matter is I am also a white woman of privilege and I need to be constantly vigilant of not only the struggles of others but the need for me to be aware and forthright. I suppose that’s why I write.
    Thank you for sharing

  6. Carolyn Byrne

    Rebecca, your amazing writing is, again, right on! As you know, I always look forward to your reading your thoughts. Racial inequality has been a problem since the first slave boats hit our shores. We thought, with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, things might get better, but the pendulum has swung in the other direction. The fact that we can now see acts of violence being committed practically as they happen might start to change things. I hope so. This new administration scares me to death for many reasons, one of those being that Trump, sitting in his Tower, knows nothing about the oppressed nor does he care to know. I could go on and on about him and his false promises, but I’ll wait until your next column about Hillary. Can’t wait!

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