Black Boys Look Blue: Radical Softness and Individualism

Within our everyday lives, there are countless manifestations of privilege and oppression. Sometimes these manifestations are evident, but in most cases this prejudice presents itself in the form of microaggressions. Such subtle oppression gives multifaceted individuals a scant scattering of boxes to check, thin margins to live within. I lean more toward Whitman’s philosophy that we contain multitudes and contradictions. In this photo series, my subjects and I visualized this by pairing intensity and softness, haze and saturation. We explored the strength in fragility by emphasizing radical softness.

Radical softness functions as a political subversion, an existential resistance antithetical to stereotypes and images of black men that systems of racism perpetuate; it’s a movement of self-acceptance and exploration of fluid, intersectional identity. Black existence is inherently political, and so radical softness brings suggests that black nonconformity in and of itself is a revolutionary thing.

The series is largely inspired by these ideas. It also draws influence and namesake from Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight both visually and thematically, conceptually portraying the subversion of hypermasculinity within the black community, and a commentary on the pressures and expectations put on young black men. Visualizing the quote “In the moonlight, black boys look blue,” I attempted to craft an image of black men that beholds them as ethereal beings possessing an elusive beauty and boundless complexity. Saturation, dreamy, refracted light, and foggy visuals weave a visceral experience of intimate expression, a utopia wherein identity, nonconformity, and vulnerability are all celebrated within the expression of black men.

By Erin Davis

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