Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Racism (or something like it) in the media - 1

I don't often think about race on my own.

When I say "on my own," I mean that most often when I do think about race, it is because some external circumstance has called it to mind.

That happens more often than I would dare count. This week it has happened twice regarding the realm of media.

The first time was Sunday, when I saw the cover of this week's issue of Newsweek:



I tweeted my response: "Really, Newsweek? In 2012, a blond, blue-eyed Jesus? Really??"

That's all I could think of to say in the moment. The more I thought about it, the more I came to view the Newsweek cover as not just passe, but as scary. Newsweek, you see, is in the business of being smart. No news organization does well by being perceived as stupid. They are smart enough to know that the image of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus lost credibility and cultural currency at least 30 years ago, and even a half-century ago for some Americans.

But they chose that image anyway, knowing not only how culturally out of step it is, but also knowing full well how unlikely it is on a purely historical basis that any 1st Century Israelite looked anything like this.

This is the kind of thing that makes people charge the media with racism. And in this case, I would add, an arrogance that goes beyond racism, that says, "We know this is wrong in multiple ways, and we don't care."

It also made me keep my money in my wallet. The cover title, "Forget the Church - Follow Jesus," was interesting enough so that I might have read the article. But I wasn't going to spend my money on that image. No way.

The second time this week that a media outlet made me think about race was just a little while ago, when my friend Kilolo Luckett emailed me the link to an article in Details magazine about East Liberty. It's a slick little piece titled, "The Rust Belt Revival: What's Happening in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."

The article made me think about race because Details has apparently discovered an East Liberty with no Black people. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Within a relatively short space, it presents five photos of people and places in East Liberty without a melanin-rich person in sight. (And by the way, that also includes  - or rather, excludes - anybody who looks like they might be Indian, Middle Eastern...you know, anything but...well...white.)

Most astonishingly, it does this while presenting a chunk of text titled, "Hip-Hop's Next Hit Makers." And who would those be? A couple of white guys who, the article seems to make clear, are the real force behind Wiz Khalifa's success. (No, no, no, Wiz is not pictured. What did I just tell you?)

In similar fashion, the article opens with a look at the Waffle Shop, which opened in 2009 - but the Shadow Lounge, which I believe has been around for at least a decade, is relegated to a footnote.

Do I need to say that the Waffle Shop's proprietor is white, and the Shadow Lounge's, Black?

I don't want to believe that the folks at Details are racist, but I also can't believe that they are immensely stupid. So what can you call it when a high-end magazine does something like that? If it's not racism or stupidity or both, then what the heck is it?

The only other word that comes to mind is delusion. The only way that I can think of for something like this to happen, without the people behind it being either racist or stupid, is if they truly perceive the world as a place in which black people either do not exist or exist so tangentially that we do not matter. And if, in fact, one has largely lived in such a world, such a delusion may be natural - even inevitable.

So, with that stretching of the imagination, I give Details something of a pass. Meaning that while I won't buy the current issue (not that I usually do), I also won't get overly mad at 'em (certainly not as mad as I would if I were a hip-hop fan, and especially a Wiz Khalifa fan).

But if a local outfit that knows better the truth about East Liberty (I'm looking at you, Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review) touts the Details article as a good thing, I'm gonna have a conniption.
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