Carlton Mackey, director of the Ethics & the Arts program at Emory University Center for Ethics, gave a presentation at Meredith College on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 in Jones Chapel as the 2018 Mercer-Kessler Lecture.
Mackey’s presentation, “Who Am I and How Do I Know? Art, Ethics, Religion, and the Shaping of Identity” was part of this year’s School of Arts & Humanities Common Academic Experience: social inequality.
Mackey is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is the creator of 50 Shades of Black, a multi-faceted platform for creating a global dialogue around issues of race, skin tone, sexuality, and identity.
As an adjunct professor of film and media studies and an advocate for social justice and equality, Mackey opened his lecture in the way he always does by saying “I am Carlton Mackey. I am an artist and I believe in the power of art to change the world.” Mackey continued, “Art has changed me. [It has] changed the way I see myself.”
He then invited the audience to ponder how they identify themselves and how they came to that conclusion. In an effort to show how identity is formed by society, Mackey shifted into a discussion on race in modern America.
Realizing that his identity as a “Black man,” and others like him, has been created by society, Mackey has used his love of art and film to create platforms for Black men to see themselves differently. He has empowered them to celebrate themselves. He created Black Men Smile to encourage self-identification among Black men. The campaign encouraged black men to post pictures of themselves smiling and to share what brought them joy.
Mary Knight, ’21, said that this ideal was “really empowering” as he helped define “how [one might] identify as Black and Black culture” in an informative way.
Mackey concluded his discussion by inviting the audience to tell their own stories and to “reclaim [their] identity in midst of [their] own self-doubt.” Sarah O’Neal, ’19, said that Mackey’s “honesty and boldness was thought-provoking and really inspiring.”
Mackey said, “when we fully embrace and live into our authentic selves, we give other people, regardless of who they are, permission to do the same.”
The Mercer-Kessler Lecture is an annual lecture sponsored by Meredith’s Department of Religious and Ethical Studies. This lecture series is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Mercer-Kessler Fund and the Mary Stowe Gullick Fund.