Free, White, and Twenty-One

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Free, White, and Twenty-One

“You’re free, white, and 21 so I reckon you can do anything you want.”
-Llewelyn Moss, No Country for Old Men

I often heard this phrase during my childhood in the South. It never sounded right to me. A statement of privilege. . . Free, White, and Twenty-one. Mostly, grown men and teenaged boys said it. I encountered it again recently while photographing a man in Alabama. It was printed on his business card.

In 1996, I moved to New Mexico to finish my photography degree. My absence from the South gave me a new perspective on this complex part of the country. Pine trees, the deep religious traditions, and white male culture of the South became compelling. As I turned my camera toward the South, I became more and more interested in the white male culture so prevalent there.

For many, the idea of white male culture conjures pejorative descriptions like redneck, racist, and misogynist. For me, it conjures individuals I have known, some of whom were those things. Others were not. I grew up with, was inspired by, and patronized by Southern white men. I married, procreated with, and divorced a Southern white man. I have been taught by, preached to, and employed by Southern white men. My experiences, both positive and negative, with white men of the South were instrumental in shaping me into the woman I am today. 

I would be hard pressed to deny the deep impact that Southern white men have had in our current contentious political climate. Photographing them can be frustrating. Differences in political, religious, and cultural views cause deep divides among Americans. Doing this work has shown me that these divides are overpowered by listening. Hearing the life stories, political viewpoints, and philosophies of these men that differ greatly from mine, has pushed me out of my bubble and led me to a larger understanding of a culture that influenced me and yet perplexes me. These images are a record of my journey to that understanding.