On a recent visit to the International Slavery Museum with RECLAIM and the Moss Side Boys I took this photographs of a 13 year old boy, Samuel, standing in front of the William Windass portrait 'The Black Boy'.
I spoke with Samuel regarding his thoughts on the portrait and his understanding of the photograph that I had taken. Sam’s first reaction was to question the title 'The Black Boy'. He was somewhat dismayed by the use of black in the title, because he does not see the boy as black but brown!
"I have brown skin,” Sam said. "Black is nothing, it has no colour. I don't like to call myself black because my skin is brown. That boy in the portrait is brown."
Actually Sam does not see a brown boy either and he went to great lengths to explain how he felt about labelling people by the colour of their skin. He much preferred the title of my photograph 'The Boy' because it made no reference to the colour of skin and did not socially typecast whom he or 'The Boy' is.
I found Sam's reflection of the photograph, which documents a journey of social change, incredibly poignant. It challenges us to ask how far have we come in understanding and respecting each other? Have we moved away from the bigoted language used to separate and define us?
We live in a society in Britain that preaches equality but by continuing to define its most subtle of differences we are enslaved in rhetoric of perceived hierarchy. Is it an obvious coincidence that people of black or ethnic minorities continue to face more challenging social and economic restrictions than those born white?
Following the death of Nelson Mandela race and social injustice have again come to prominence in the media and political debate. Having visited Soweto a few years ago I was reminded of another photograph I had taken. It was of a plaque to Hector Pieterson, who was 13 years old when he was killed during the Soweto uprising of 1989.
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
- Nelson Mandela
It is not easy to educate when we are given a doctrine of language that by its nature can corrupt our understanding and divide our social identity. If we stop attaching preconceptions of race, gender or sexuality to words then perhaps we can break the shackles that restrict our progress as people.
"Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today."
- Malcolm X
With digital technologies designing our future it is important that we recognise the importance of the individual in context of the real and physical. At times of austerity when many feel bound to a corporate agenda it is important that as a society we educate ourselves on our past, to understand the mistakes which have been made by trading life as a commodity.
The RECLAIM project is designed around providing teenagers in socially deprived areas of Greater Manchester the opportunity to gain confidence, develop their potential and communicate effectively. We visited the International Slavery Museum as part of the Re:Discover programme which aims to educate young people on issues of social history and circumstance that have shaped society. The museum presents the grim reality of a history that needs, more than ever, to be examined and understood by a generation whom regardless of their race are born free.
You can find further details about the inspiring work done by RECLAIM by visiting www.reclaimproject.org.uk/ on Facebook facebook.com/reclaimproject or following @RECLAIMProject on Twitter #mosssideboys