Steph Curry, Cidney Holliday, (and others), 2008
Authored by Ramona M. Davis ’21 in “Black Student Activism at Davidson College“
last updated 02.09.2021
In this photo, we see a multiracial group with primarily black people smiling directly into the camera. Their energetic smiles contrast the black t-shirts with white lettering that read “Do I make You Uncomfortable?”. David Dennis Jr. made these shirts after him and his black friends were asked to leave because white Davidson students were uncomfortable (Davidsonian). This photo is so provocative because there is nothing threatening about these students in the photos. They all have open body language and are there to enjoy themselves, but the assumption is that they are guilty of some social or criminal transgression that made others uncomfortable. White people utilize their uncomfortability as a weapon to incarcerate and control black folks, but this image weaponizes those words to capture the absurdity of those accusations.
There is a strong contrast between the black t-shirt fabric and white lettering, which could represent the distance between white and black people at Davis. The choice of white lettering helps visually direct the question more specifically to a white viewer. The activist likely made intentional choices in placing this message on a t-shirt that people could wear. The question and its message are embodied by whoever wears the teacher. A black student with this t-shirt on would attract the white gaze and provoke emotions out of any passerby. This group of mostly black women are putting themselves at risk of white rage and ostracization by making racism visible and declaring their unwillingness to stand by silently. Again, black women are unafraid to challenge the predominately white Davidson community.
In addition to the black students in the photo, there is a white male in the periphery of the photo. Although he is on the edge, he seems to be integrated in the photo and comfortable with his black peers. When he wears this shirt, he positions himself as an ally and visually validates that these black students do not deserve to be mistreated by members of the Davidson community. White men are rarely seen as a threat to the social space, so he is publicly leveraging his privilege to force his white peers to confront their own bias and racial privilege. How many white people at the time stood in performative solidarity with the black students during these protests? How valuable is white support for black activism? His positioning in the photo aptly captures broader meaning about how white allyship should function. The black students remain at the center of the photo as white people should not center themselves in black activist movements.