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With Joyful Photos, a 19-Year-Old Artist Confronts Media Bias Against Black Male Teens

Myles Loftin's 'HOODED' photo series challenges a news cycle that reaffirms stereotypes about black males.

In February, on the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death, celebrities like Kerry Washington, Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, posted photos of themselves on Twitter wearing grey hoodies with the word "TRAYVON" written in black lettering across the front. Using the hashtag #OurSonTrayvon, they used the photographic medium as a way to remember the 17 year-old black teenager, who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. 

Myles Loftin, HOODED, 2017.

The #OurSonTrayvon campaign, which was organized by the activist MichaelaAngela Davis and actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, calls attention to the ways racism and stereotypes shape perceptions. Recently, the 19-year-old artist, Myles Loftin, was scrolling through his Twitter feed and came across a tweet that displayed the results of a Google search of the words, "four black teens" and "four white teens." The search results for white teens turned up stock photos of white teenagers smiling, attending high school, and posing together. The results for their black counterparts surfaced mostly mugshots, a "WANTED" sign, and photos of black teens in police custody. "It wasn't entirely shocking to me," explains Loftin to Creators, "I already have an understanding of the way black people are viewed in the world." Seeing the search results "really hurt" him, he says, because he couldn't understand why those images are being used to represent him and his peers. "I wanted to know why I couldn't find many images of positive portrayals of black teens." 

Myles Loftin, HOODED, 2017.

The revelation lead Loftin to create HOODED, a photo and video project that deconstructs stereotypes of black teenage boys. In the project's images, Four White Teens and Four Black Teens, Loftin displays against poppy backdrops two screen grabs of google images results, each displaying visually the staggering differences in search results. HOODED focuses primarily on the hoodie, an article of clothing which, when it's associated with the black male body, is tied to white racial fantasies of black males as "thugs" and "super predators," and assumptions that they are dangerous. Many believe that Martin was killed, in part, because the stereotypes associated with his fashion choices made him seem more suspicious. 

Myles Loftin, HOODED, 2017.

Loftin's images provide a competing example of black teenage boys wearing hoodies. In his colorful pictures, black boys wearing bright blue, yellow, pink, and orange hoodies, are seen engaged in playful scenes: hugging, smiling, making funny faces, and posing together in ways that evoke brotherhood and reveal an interiority that isn't often seen in media betrayals. "The video and photographs show black boys who are happy, emotional, and positive rather than the traditional stereotype which paints black males in hoodies as being hardened, intimidating criminals," explains the artist. "It's important that black people, and people of color in general are accurately represented." 

Myles Loftin, HOODED, 2017.

"Although it's unfortunate," Loftin admits, "it's sort of my responsibility as a black male photographer to create a positive representation of my peers."

HOODED: a film by Myles Loftin, is the project's most direct effort to deconstruct stereotypes surrounding black boys. In the nearly three-minute film, the subjects who sat for Loftin's photographs are pictured as the camera captures 360 views of them listening to media reports of public figures like Hillary Clinton, Trayvon Martin's killer George Zimmerman, and news reporters providing descriptions of black males that create and reinforce stereotypes. Halfway through the film, an untitled poem by Leo Avedon about the "fallacy of respectability" politics, which argue that, if black males want to be seen in less dangerous ways, they should dress and act differently, is read over positive moving images of the black teenagers.

"What I want everyone to take away from this series is that they should take everything that they are fed by the media with a grain of salt," explains Loftin. "A lot of times the representations that you see are watered down, or completely skewed versions of the truth. I want people to understand that these inaccuracies become ingrained in our society and have real consequences for those that are inaccurately represented."

For more information on Myles Loftin, click here.

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