01 Apr 2008 New Visions Commentary: Racial Bias Is What Some People Want Us to See… No Matter What
Comedian Chris Rock used to play a recurring character on “Saturday Night Live” named Nat X. During the humorous, nonsensical rants of this Black Nationalist talk show host, Nat X would sometimes be chased by his studio’s “white-man cam.” When it caught him, bars would appear on the screen and Nat X would yell “That’s what you wanna see!”
April’s cover of Vogue magazine, featuring an Annie Leibovitz photo of basketball phenomenon LeBron James and supermodel Gisele Bundchen promoting its “shape issue,” is drawing fire for what magazine critic Samir Husni calls an image that “screams King Kong.”
Leibovitz’s photo featured James, dressed to play and bouncing a basketball, looking like he is yelling while clutching a smiling Bundchen around the waist. Adding to Husni’s criticism, University of Maryland assistant professor Damion Thomas told the Associated Press that the Leibowitz photo “reinforce[s] the criminalization of black men.”
This criticism turns a high-end fashion magazine with a circulation of around a million into an international news story and a potential flashpoint for racial hostility.
The controversy over the photo is the creation of conspiracy theorists willing to find a racial angle in just about anything.
The alleged victim James’ response was one of indifference. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “who cares what anyone says?” and that he was “just showing a little emotion.”
Darryn “Dutch” Martin, a black conservative with Project 21 (full disclosure: a group with which I work), said in a press release: “There are people who are, and probably forever will be, racially hypersensitive for either personal or professional reasons. Nothing that reasonable people say or do will convince them otherwise. I believe critics are using this canard of racial stereotyping as a smokescreen to hide their true disdain for any images of interracial closeness or intimacy between black men and white women.”
Hours after Project 21’s press release hit the Internet, I received an e-mail from liberal blogger Rogers Cadenhead suggesting I visit his blog. A fellow liberal blogger had already gone to the trouble of tracking down a World War I-era army recruiting poster that closely resembles the Vogue photo. On his “Watching the Watchers” blog, Cadenhead reproduced the magazine cover and the poster and opined: “Leibovitz, who has a history of referencing iconic images in her photographs, appropriated the composition from a famous poster that’s believed to be an inspiration for the film King Kong… I wonder if James, presented with the two images, would be as generous.”
Leibovitz has not yet said this is what she did – it is only speculation. And the poster was comparing Germans to apes (and not necessarily King Kong).
Vogue’s cover didn’t personally make me draw a comparison between LeBron James and King Kong until I read Husni and Thomas’s criticism. Nor was I aware of the recruiting poster until Cadenhead contacted me. Despite now being exposed to it, I don’t think of James as an ape not do I hold him in the same contempt as I do Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German empire of nearly a century ago.
To be honest, the first thing I thought about when I saw the photo was how it resembled the way James looks on the bottle of Powerade that is sitting in my refrigerator. James is an endorser of the sports drink.
LeBron James is a noted basketball player who is at the peak of his physical prowess, which is what Vogue was celebrating by featuring him on the cover with one of the world’s top supermodels. Rather than judging James – and, by extension, other blacks – by the content of their character, skills or intellect as Vogue intended, the race-mongers instead seem more interested in bringing things down to the lowest common denominator. There never seems to be a party where they don’t want to be a skunk.
After all, Nat X said that’s what we wanted to see.
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David Almasi is the director of Project 21, where he coordinates media activities on behalf of the members of the black leadership network. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.