Bravo, Gawker. Bravo, Observer.

Wintour and Newhouse

The sole issue more amazing than the blatancy of VOGUE’s having mined crude racist imagery for their April 2008 LeBron James/Giselle Bündchen cover has been the whiteout of surrounding media on the issue.

Before and AfterHere, in New York, neither The New York Times, The New York Post, The New York Daily News, The New York Sun, or The Village Voice have cracked a word on this subject, online or off. Newsday wrote something, before the direct pairing of the cover and H.R. Hopps’s 1917 Destroy This Mad Brute—Enlist poster, right, was widely known. As for television, local and network, zero.

A key portion of this has to do, certainly, with the timidity of journalists, widely, when it comes to dealing with race as a subject. That journalists, generally, are often unassertive, and that even Black ones address race tentatively has been, perhaps, the most pressing fact of my own work as a writer. It’s, in part, why I’ve tended to talk about race the way I have, and as much as I have. It’s why I’ve tended to avoid National Association of Black Journalist soirées, with their suck-up careerism. It was, in part, why I took on the title MEDIA ASSASSIN when I started writing in the late ’80s: As a way of distinguishing myself from journalists with whom I shared little than a way of making lunch money.

In the blogosphere, there’s often less fear, but just as often a lack of skills or training in how to really open up a controversial issue or make sense of it. Far too many bloggers have covered this subject as though it were merely an opinion fight, as opposed to thoughtfully looking at the history of racist imagery, or even addressing why it was that so many Black people, particularly, were having a problem with the photo. Here, “He looks as aggressive as he does on the court,” or “It’s his game face” simply doesn’t cut it. Black people watch enough basketball to know what James look like playing ball, and can tell the difference.

The people at, however, have done differently, particularly managing editor Nick Denton and, now, night editor Ryan Tate. Denton’s “Time For Leibovitz To Confess” piece, in fact, was the first place I saw the cover paired with the Hopps poster. (Even the usually topical Racialicious.con has yet to cover this aspect of the James VOGUE cover scandal.)

Tate’s new piece, “Anna Wintour, Pitiable Monster,” though, has reproduced Victor Juhasz‘s skillful skewering in paint of VOGUE’s editor-in-chief and Sy Newhouse, Conde Nast’s diminutive CEO, on the cover of The New York Observer. (It’s part of an Observer package on magazines that questions, among other areas, Annie Leibovitz’s apparent photographic self-absorption. Of course, the Observer is also the publication that, two years ago, famously reported on the most taboo subject in mainstream journalism, the, the dead whale skeleton bleached-whiteness of magazines in New York and elsewhere, that being a subject close to MEDIA ASSASSIN’s heart.)

None of this coverage makes any of this O.K. As well, none of these media have tied in this story, as we have, with very recent research indicating that many Americans subconsciously associate Black people with apes. It beats a blank. How much remains to be seen.



#1 AaronM on 04.02.08 at 3:19 pm

You’ve done a great job following this issue as it continues to be discussed.
I’ve never been a fan of Leibowitz and now it’s clear why.

#2 raafi on 04.07.08 at 2:08 pm

This blog has so many flavors of “on it,” I was missing it even before I knew it existed.

#3 ann on 11.24.08 at 2:43 pm


#4 Cait on 11.17.10 at 5:56 am

I’ve just been thinking about this because I couldn’t sleep, and its like…

From the perspective of the editor, VOGUE is not a sports magazine, if they used a photograph of this athlete wearing a suit and tie, it might not communicate \why is this dude important?\ to the average VOGUE reader, who most likely doesn’t give a crap about basketball. Does he look like a savage animal? Well I guess you could read it that way, but I think that says something more about the reader/critic than it does about the editor… Sure he’s juxtaposed with a glamorous white girl (who is also dressed typical of her profession, since shes a model?) it’s not like the image puts her behind him overseeing him harvest corn, and the image doesn’t make her look afraid of him or anything.

And so what if a few rednecks associate black people with Apes? White people are frequently billed as the most evil malicious people in the world. White people did the holocaust! White people enslaved some black people! White people erroneously quarantined entire european cities, leaving them with limited supplies and very sucky lives! God white people are horrible! So what bad thing did Apes ever do? Jeeze, way to be sensitive about the way people see you. You just have to ask, “Am I personally an anti-semite slave-owner white-person, this is who I am” or lets say, “Am I personally one of the more intelligent non-human mammals on the planet”?

No? Were all just people judged for our own actions? Alright then, cool. So lets stop being so racially sensitive about magazine covers (which are likely not even racist, in this case, intentionally or otherwise) and start worrying about things that actually matter, things that actually happen.

Lets start with the ‘why’. Why do white people get billed as evil? Well there have been such lovely white people as Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella I of Castile, lots and lots of others, that have done terrible things. Now, white people aren’t the only ones to have ever done terrible things, although arguably the Holocaust or the Atomic Bombs are some of the most horrible ever done. That doesn’t mean that white people are inherently evil, though. But we understand why people sometimes think this.

So what about the “Black people are Apes” thing? Well, okay, there are also a lot of reasons for this (Again not really _good_ reasons, but never mind). A big part of this, is segregation. Not just the intentional segregation from the 1900-1960s, but modern voluntary segregation, black people forming their own churches, extreme afrocentrism, and generally separate living conditions (Even in the suburbs, there are often enclaves of different racial groups. A few blocks from me is almost entirely Iranian, another block away is entirely black, a massive strip is almost entirely jewish, another massive area is almost entirely southeast asian, etc). People like to be near people that are like them. And this is fine, but it has negative affects as well, such as, white people segregated from black people generally don’t have a very good idea of what black people are like, and VV. Instead of having one monolithic culture (Melting pot), its a mosaic of enclaves, who often don’t spend much (if any) time together, who are even afraid of each other.
Of course this on its own isn’t the end of story. People regularly see reports of black people killing each other, robbing people, etc etc. Part of this may be media propaganda, EG its more likely to report black violence than other races. But also, this kind of behaviour is typical of low/no income people, which unfortunately is a situation a lot of black people are in. And it’s not a complete distortion of reality, otherwise there wouldn’t regularly be dead black boys with 9 bullet holes in their bodies turning up in the streets (EG Crazy Joe, my neighbor, in 2003 IIRC, on the sidewalk outside of my home). In the USA especially, the crazy “urrr we don wanna pay taxes!!” movement is contributing to the problem (Worsening public education, etc), services that a lot of people actually need, so that a new generation of black boys will learn that there are safer ways to live and earn honest money, and hopefuly learn not to walk out/ on their wives/girlfriends (Or get shot/stabbed or OD) after having a child, so they can not only live a good life, but also inspire their children to do the same. Yeah, it’s not really every black persons fault for the poverty situation, and obviously higher income black people aren’t necessarily victims of these problems, but the media portrayal of low-income urban people (people in general, although predominantly black) ingrains the role in peoples heads.
And then of course, some people are actually just crazy and racist.

So yeah, there are reasons for different racial stereotypes. They exist. Its human nature to group people into boxes. It’s a survival mechanism. You see something that looks like a bear, you don’t wait to see if it has sharp teeth, you run away from said bear. The best anyone can do is try not to live up to their stereotypes (Unless they want to?). They change over time, and social bonding with other races fades them from the picture and helps everyone to see people as individuals rather than as boxes or patterns or stereotypes.

Having said that, this image is not racist in and of itself. Racist subtext is read into it by the reader/critic, and I think its very unfair to the editor to make statements like these. Even if she is a crazy racist lady, this image certainly is not proof of this, and to anyone being reasonable about it, does not actually even do any harm. If you want to complain about racism, focus on areas where it actually matters. Social policy, unbalanced news media (VOGUE magazine does not count, especially not their cover art), etc etc.

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