“I read your post this morning and later today I found this ad from Lord & Taylor waiting for me in my inbox.”


So wrote Leroy Colson of Detroit MI this past Friday, in an e-mail to MEDIA ASSASSIN. The Lord and Taylor ad to which he refers, above, shows two models wearing pink, $150 Ellen Tracy trench coats.

Well, rather, one of them—the white one facing the camera—wears the coat. The other one—the Black one with her back to you—can’t help flashing a white man walking by with two dogs, both of which, if you look closely, have their eyes punningly trained on her putty-tat. The auburn-colored chow is even tugging like he’s gonna run after it.

screen51Colson tipped me to this image after he read this past Thursday’s post, “Are There Racists at Old Navy, or Do They Think That We’re Dummies?” That piece described what I perceived as the underlying racial code of the current Old Navy “Mid-Town Flash” commercial.

It’s the one in which a Black store mannequin, above right, has her dress ripped off, leaving her, except for matching black bars, naked before her co-mannequins, as the incident is played for laughs, including her own.

Exactly what are the chances that a random individual, reading an article critiquing the public racial display of the nude Black female body, would, that same day, be sent another, unrelated ad, also racially displaying the nude Black female body in public? (By racial, I mean anything said or done that involves white people with non-white people.)

Maybe the chances are high. Perhaps having noticed such an ad, a viewer’s heightened attention might readily be drawn to another different one. But, hey: Are there that many of these around? Is this a sub-category? I mean, we’re not talking about something akin to the millions of spreads featuring pictures of, say, mothers gently feeding their babies, here, right?

2546Oops: I spoke too soon, suddenly recalling clothing maker Benetton’s notorious 1989 ad, right, something the company called part of its “campaign for equality between black and white,” proudly noting that, while controversial, it “represents the most-awarded image in Benetton’s advertising history.”

Clothing, white customers, Black women’s bodies: There’s almost something antebellum about the mix. How much of this sort of advertising exists? Why does it? Why does it always involve a Black woman being eyed by a white man—or in this case, suckling one—but never the reverse? I’m just asking those questions rhetorically. I’m Black, and, like Thulani noted in her comments, I know that

If a black kid had ripped the dress of a “white” mannequin, it would have [been] read as hostile in a racial way but it would not evoke many similar images from the past– there is no tradition of exposing white women’s bodies on the slave block. [Eds. note: Though, clearly, the slave block and suckling white infants are deeply intertwined.] … If the company meant to imply that the dresses were so cute the customers were ripping them off the mannequins, having them all ripped would have made the point in a non-racialized way.

In other words, there’s a relationship between what’s not permitted in reality and what’s not permitted symbolically, and the reverse is also true. Which was my original point: I believe the line from the auction block to the display stand is unbroken.

So, while I can’t prove they’re directly related, for example, it’s not odd to me that, that, in a country which tends towards these kinds of displays, a 2000 Congressional report found that “Black women were nearly twice as likely to be strip-searched on suspicion of smuggling drugs as white men and women.”

In any event, it’s fascinating the response last week’s post provoked. Besides the comments, perhaps the best indicator of the nerve it hit is that, on the day it went out, twenty of the people following me on Twitter quit doing so. (My followers automatically get tweets linking them to each day’s new MEDIA ASSASSIN post.)

Twenty is far more than have ever canceled me in one day. (The highest before that was seven.) In fact, twenty is more than half of all my Twitter unfollows to-date. Hopefully, most of them will come back when they see this post.



#1 Tolu on 03.23.09 at 4:05 pm

Wish I had seen this earlier. This is bad–really bad. The worst part is the forced ignorance of those who claim to be unable to see the correlation. This is really, really, really bad.

#2 4C on 03.24.09 at 10:59 am

Maybe the years have numbed me and let the existence of these ads retreat to the back burner (I expect the calculation over time is that most of us are roused in adolesence only to doze off again adapting to the rigors or life), but there seems to be a recent increasing occurence of ads that perk my ears up. On things racial, and as you say Assassin, difficult to directly link, there is a spiritual component. I think much of it is hostility toward the fact that there is now a black president.

As bad as this ad is, and I don’t believe it is merely a slight or an ignorant perspective, as overt as it appears to my trained eye, I don’t even know if either of the women are wearing clothes under the coats.

So, once again, the debate is as much about my hypersensitivity to what I deem racist portrayls as it is about the media’s clever ability to hide racism in plain site.

#3 Kelly on 03.24.09 at 7:13 pm

You write, ‘I believe the line from the auction block to the display stand is unbroken.’

I agree with you here and I think this is a crucial point (as well as brilliant prose). We are only ‘reading too much into it’ if we are ignorant of our history.

#4 beartrust on 04.27.09 at 5:53 pm

The primary problem with both ads is the women are exposed. Sadly, the racism detectives missed this obvious offense.

Leave a Comment