Black, White, Other Flashback: Jeffrey Henson Scales

by | Nov 18, 2013 | Word Up

Here’s an excerpt from Jeffrey Scales’ original interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity, first published in 1994 (and now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):

“I like elements of white culture a lot: music and film—specifically, European movies, Italian movies in particular. And I listen to a lot of white music. I mean, I listen to a lot of white music. I’m the only person in my neighborhood with The Tubes blasting out of their car. My neighbor says, ‘I always know when you’re coming because there’s nobody else who’s going to drive up in Harlem blasting heavy metal.’

So I look at a real cross section of cultural things that interest me. I studied primarily white photographers up until I came to New York in 1984. A lot of that has to do with my mother being an artist—that a lot of my artistic training came from a white person and a white person who was a blood relative.

I think both cultures have a lot to offer; I like all my different influences. I don’t know whether it’s just my education, but it seems that I can grasp both cultures on many levels. As I said, how much I like European film—Wim Wenders—and at the same time how I can identify with new black film. I can identify with some of that ponderous European angst, but I don’t see very many black people identifying with it in the slightest—that over-analysis of self. And at the same time I can identify with Do the Right Thing. In a lot of European films, it’s the individual white guy wandering through the world, thinking about how it’s affecting him, the individual. And it doesn’t seem to be the same in black films. They seem to be more about how the world affects us, as opposed to just me.

I seem to have a broader base of influence in my art—a lot of European influence and white American influence—and it’s applied to black subject matter more so than with a lot of photographers I’ve seen. I don’t know whether that’s just by my chosen course of study, but it has a lot to do with my ability to put myself in situations with white people where I can learn a lot. That has to do with linguistics, sort of like being bilingual.”

Expect Jeffrey’s 20-year update to be posted in the near future. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of this original oral history in the BWO ebook.