Black & White

Illustration / Poster Design


The Story

As a designer who works primarily with people who make delicious food, the goal of much of my work is to delight an audience. In a political climate that polarizes family and friends, food is something that no one can argue with; it allows me to remain comfortable and free of conflict.  

However, in the past year I have had two experiences that pushed me to confront the less comfortable side of this world - a side my privilege has allowed me to ignore. The first is Free State of Jones, a film that explores the complex legacy of race in our country - specifically one scene in which an African American man is lynched by three white men. It is a story we have heard countless times, whitewashed into a PG-13 history lesson. In reality, it is an act of terror, bloodshed and torture. It unsettled me in a painful and necessary way.

Shortly after seeing Free State of Jones, a podcast came on my feed that profiled a group of African American mothers whose sons and daughters were unjustly slain by police. Eric Garner. Micheal Brown. Freddie Gray. These men had become names shared on social media and discussed on NPR. Their mother's voices made them someone's family. Men with childhoods, ambitions, family traditions, children of their own. These men are image-bearers of a great and good God, one who mourns the violence and racism that took their lives. 

For months after creating this image I debated ever sharing it. In many ways I feel like an interloper when it comes to racial issues. I've questioned if I, a white man with more privilege than most, have the right to create art like this. However, I have also used this same questioning spirit to be silent when I should have spoken. To ignore injustice instead of becoming an advocate. 

It has been easy for me to create imagery that brings people together. What I have realized in this process is that in order to create real unity we need to see the hard pictures - the ones that unsettle us. I hope this image will be less about the man who created it and more about the men and women who do not have the privilege to ignore it. 

The Design

The image is composed of two opposing forces: the strong horizontal streaks of the white bars and the vertical form of the hanging man.

The white bars are an abstraction of the American flag, which is made up of thirteen stripes of alternating red and white. Increasing the contrast turns those stripes into bars of black and white. The top bar on which the handcuff is clasped is the thirteenth stripe in the flag, symbolizing the thirteenth amendment which, when passed in 1864, abolished slavery in America. How many families since have hung their hope on that amendment? Visually, the black man is defined by the white bars - without them he would not be seen.

The focus of the image is the pair of handcuffs that hang the man from the thirteenth bar. They visualize the idea that little has changed since 1864, when a black man could be lynched with a rough rope without reason or consequence. Today the systems of oppression are more polished but the effect is the same. African American boys don't grow up in the same America as my two white sons. My boys have not been taught to fear the police. 

This isn't about one case. This is about a system of oppression and injustice. It is racist to pick apart details of a specific event in order to deny the factual imbalance of power.  

This also is not an attack on police. There are good men and women, both white and of color, who risk their lives to better our cities. This is an attack on a culture that protects white police for the unjust murder of unarmed African Americans. It is a portrait of all of our guilt in allowing this systematic oppression to continue.