‘I want brown people to think I’m nice so they like me, and white people to think I’m nice so they don’t kill me.’: Photographer captures how young black boys see themselves vs. how society sees them

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“Aamir describes himself as an energetic, fun, and happy person. He says he feels torn about returning to school in the fall because although he doesn’t miss the schoolwork, he does miss his friends.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Aamir took band as an elective last year. He chose the saxophone because it is a challenging instrument and he likes a challenge.

He reports that he has lots of friends of different races. However, he can think of several times when he felt singled out or unfairly targeted by authority figures even though he was doing the same things as his white counterparts.

As Aamir gets older and bigger, his mother says she worries more about how he will be perceived by society. She has already noticed a difference in the way people, primarily white people, interact with him.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Kavari and Kymani say in addition to being brothers, they are best friends. They agreed they don’t fight very often but when they do, they make up quickly.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Kymani plays basketball and soccer. He likes to draw and be outside. He states some of his dislikes include ‘girls who act fake’ and disrespect.

According to him, his mother taught him about racism. He feels that some white people do judge him based on his skin color. Hearing about acts of violence against People of Color makes him nervous because he ‘thinks someone may kill him.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Kavari wants to have a nice family and a big house someday. He would like to be an NBA player, but if that doesn’t work out then he plans to be a doctor instead.

He stated he wants people to know he is a good person and knows there are nice white police officers, but he is also sometimes scared he may ‘get killed even if I didn’t do anything wrong.’

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The boys love Nerf guns and having ‘battles’ together. However, their mother is uncomfortable with them taking them out of the house to play because she worries someone might mistake them for real guns.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

A.J. is 2 years old and lives with his older sister, mom, and dad. He is sweet, happy, and outgoing. He likes Goldfish crackers, playing with his sister, and snuggling with his blanket.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

A.J is very proud of his hair and asked ‘do you like my hair’ several times while having his pictures taken.

His mother teaches a race relations class to police recruits. She stated she often hears disheartening stories from the Black male recruits about their exchanges with the police. She is in awe of their resolve to show up and do the job well regardless.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Ian enjoys playing football, basketball, video games, and hanging out with his friends. He is a member of his school’s show choir. He and his mother volunteer regularly at a local senior citizen’s facility and often spend holidays serving the homeless.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Ian is Biracial (Jamaican and white). His mother says people often assume he is adopted (she is white) and ask about it in front of him. She also recalls several incidents where she noticed Ian being treated better after someone realized he had a white mother.

Ian stated that he realizes as he gets older some people will perceive him as a threat. He would like them to know he’s ‘just a person and doesn’t want to be treated differently just because I’m Black.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Adrian and Ashton are 10-year-old twins. They live with their mom, dad, and older sister. Adrian says his family is very close, including his 95-year-old great grandmother who ‘tells great stories.’ Ashton agrees and states they ‘have family nights a lot.’

The twins both say they first learned about racism from their parents who explained what it was and that they may experience it at some point.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Adrian hopes to one day be a professional baker. His other goals include trying to eat a whole pizza by himself and traveling the world. He describes himself as a ‘chowing down machine’ because he loves to eat. He also enjoys looking for cool rocks, building things, and playing basketball.

Adrian states he does sometimes feel he has to change his behavior when he is around white people, particularly if he does not know them. He would like people to know ‘my family has taught me respect’ and ‘I have dreams for my future.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Ashton has been learning the piano for several years. He enjoys it and can play a little by ear. He says some of his other interests include pizza and video games. He also noted he hates running.

Ashton would like to become a teacher like his mother and work with kids who have Dyslexia. He describes himself as shy but friendly and says he tries to be kind to everyone despite their race and what they may think about him.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Dylyn describes himself as funny and says he likes to make people laugh. He enjoys building things and would like to be a ‘Lego maker’ when he grows up.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Dylyn stated that he has lots of white friends and they have a lot in common. He enjoys playing basketball, baseball, and Fortnite with them.

He and his mom have talked about racism and prejudice. Dylyn stated that racism is ‘when people don’t like you because of the color of your skin and they do and say bad things.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Joe and Sam were adopted. Their parents are white. They also have a younger sister who is Black.

Their mom states, ‘As a white mom raising Black sons, I will never share their lived experiences of being Black. All I can do besides loving them is make a daily commitment to learning, growing, and advocating for them so they can have a strong positive racial identity.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Joe describes himself as adaptable, enthusiastic, interesting, thoughtful, and intelligent. He likes watching movies, video games, and playing music. He says his goals include becoming a paramedic. He also wants to someday be married, have a family, and be a good dad.

Joe’s parents have talked to him about racism since he was young, and he acknowledges that he has experienced it on a few different occasions.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Sam says he once confronted a classmate when they said ‘the n-word.’ He states the classmate wanted to fight him as a result of the confrontation.

Sam describes himself as funny, smart, kind, and handsome. He likes to draw and is a talented artist. He is a member of the Kappa League and spends time volunteering. He would like people to know he is not a threat to society.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Jalen enjoys playing video games and soccer. He wants to one day have a career in Engineering and travel outside the United States. He is compassionate, friendly, and trustworthy. He stated that he wants people who may judge him by the color of his skin to know he ‘is just like everyone else.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Jalen first experienced racism in 2nd grade. He says he was one of two Black boys in his class and the other kids often mixed them up and said they look alike or that all Black boys look the same.

His mom feels that his white teachers often go out of their way to comment on his intelligence and character as if they are surprised by it and had different expectations for her son.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Alex and Andrew both state that they first learned about racism a year ago when they visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum with their mom.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Alex says he is a ‘nice and kind kid’ who likes to read about Jesus and eat peaches. He wants to one day be a scientist, an astronaut, and a firefighter.

He wants ‘Brown people to think I’m nice so they like me, and white people to think I’m nice so they like me and don’t kill me.’ He adds, ‘White people might think I’m mean, but if they get to know me, they will know I’m nice.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Andrew likes to play on his tablet and loves football and basketball. He wants to one day play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography
Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

Andrew lives with his mom and brother. He describes his mom as ‘awesome and smart’ and his brother as ‘sometimes annoying and sometimes funny.’

He wants people to know he is ‘nice, likes to laugh, and I’m fast and handsome.’

Courtesy of Sara Liz Photography

The Color of Boyhood is a photographic project that seeks to explore the ways in which race affects how boys and young men are viewed by society, as well as how they see themselves.

It asks, ‘Does the color of your skin determine the length of time you get to spend in boyhood?’ ‘At what point are you old enough for society to consider you a threat based on your skin tone?’ And most importantly, ‘How does this contrast with who you know yourself to be?’

As a white, female photographer this is not my story. I have never shared the experiences of my subjects or their parents. My goal is simply to use photography as a way to increase understanding. This project is intended to allow its subjects a place to share their experiences and stories. It was led by them. Each participant was asked how they wanted to present themselves and what they wanted to share. This project is a platform for their voices. The camera and photographer are simply tools to reflect who they know themselves to be. Yes, I took the photos because that is one thing I can do to amplify their voices, but this project truly belongs to them.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sara Easter of Sara Liz Photography in Arlington, Texas. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.

See more from Sara:

GRIPPING: Photographer captures ‘day in the life’ of a family living in a homeless shelter

‘It won’t be like this forever’: Mom creates ‘time capsule’ of her boys’ childhood

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