Professor's self-discovery traces racial connotations
to cultural contexts

Watch A&D Professor Ed West discuss his three-part photography project >

Raised by a white German mother and an African-American father who met during World War II, Ed West has a lifetime of experiences in seeing the subtle — and not-so-subtle — references to race in America.

During the past two years, West, a professor of art at the School of Art & Design, traveled to South Africa and Hawaii, where he has photographed "people of color." He plans to travel to Latin America to complete the last installment of his three-part project, "So Called." The name comes from a reference of people of so-called color living in post-apartheid South Africa.

"America is self-conscious about its history of race relations," he says. "The discussion tends to be simply about black and white. But as you move beyond the U.S. borders, the discussion about race changes. It's more about economic or cultural differences."

West's perspective of race was shaped by his parents' biracial marriage, and growing up in Astoria, N.Y., public housing. He lived with his parents and two siblings in a multi-ethnic community that he describes as pluralistic as the broader American society.

Growing up in the segregated 1950s and volatile 1960s brought West face-to-face with the ugly realities of racism in America where, in some states, biracial marriages were illegal.

He confronted the viciousness of bigotry when he was pointed at and ridiculed when traveling with his family outside of New York, when he was beaten up for swimming at a public pool where many whites swam, and threatened when driving through the South with his wife, Kate, who is white.

"This much I've learned: The world teaches you about race," West says. "It's my hope that through my work, I can contribute to the discussion of race in this country. Multi-ethnic people have different political, social and cultural points of view. All these points of view come together in the American point of view."
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