Friday, March 5, 2010

Local Outrage at New Orleans Music Magazine Over Racially Insensitive Cover

Local music magazine OffBeat has stirred anger and outrage with it's new cover, which features a photo of members of a white rock band hanging in the air, next to the headline Strange Fruit.

OffBeat has pulled the picture from their website and issued the following statement today:
We’ve heard from many of you about our cover text for the March issue, and if we had the chance to do it again, we’d go in a different direction. In retrospect, it was ill-chosen and we apologize to those who are offended by it...We didn’t realize the phrase “strange fruit” has the same power in 2010 that it did when lynching was a more contemporary threat...

We profoundly regret our thoughtlessness and insensitivity, but we believe our history of coverage demonstrates our concern for race-related issues and we are saddened by those who would extrapolate this to speak to our character. The context of the cover text next to an indie rock band suggests that we’re not using the phrase in a threatening way, and we believe our mission covering music borne out of slavery suggests that we don’t take the issues connected with it—including hate crimes—lightly. We believed that in 2010, the phrase “strange fruit” could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter. This was an error in judgment for which we apologize.
Many community members have said that the apology doesn't go far enough. Takema Robinson, commenting on OffBeat's facebook page, writes,
The cover was Racist not insensitive. There is no way that a Southern Music magazine does not understand the history of lynching and Billie Holiday's lyrics. This does not make this magazine racist, but calling this cover anything less is an offense in and of itself. It's just hard to believe that this magazine cover passed so many eyes on its way to print and that no one on the Offbeat staff pulled the emergency break! Given that this is the case, I recommend immediate anti-racism training for all involved including the editor-in-chief. The pain this inflicts is way to deep for just an apology. A lesson needs to be learned.
Local Blogger Emilie Staat writes,
“Strange Fruit” is a famous song that immediately invokes a powerful, horrifying image of lynched black bodies hanging from trees–strange fruit. An image that your cover visual seems to mock, with the six white guys smilingly hanging from monkey bars/jungle gym. I can see no reason or intention for the title to be paired with this article except to incite response. Yet, it seems you expect to get off the hook (off the tree, offBeat?) with nothing more than a limp Twitter apology. Back to business as usual? If your audience knows what “Strange Fruit” refers to (and what serious Southern musician or listener wouldn’t?), the juxtaposed image can only offend. If your audience doesn’t know the song or its context, the headline wouldn’t grab their attention or make any sense, in which case, it simply fails.
Responding to Staat, one of many bloggers that have carried this story, OffBeat’s publisher and editor Jan Ramsey writes:
Being accused of being racist is blowing this faux pas so out of proportion, it’s ridiculous. I resent OffBeat being labeled as racist by anyone. It’s obvious to me that you’re getting a big kick our of keeping this bullshit going. Ah, the venality of our public. For 23 years, I’ve busted my butt trying to create someting positive about local music in OffBeat…dismissing what we’ve done with a quickie label of racism is taking a lot for granted and is just plain stupid when you consider 23 years of work...Our “black eye” (oops, was that racist?) is certainly generating more traffic for your blog, now isn’t it? Why don’t you let us apologize and get on with your blog?
This controversy over OffBeat's cover comes during the same week that students in California held mass protests over racist incidents at University of California, San Diego, including a "Compton Cookout," mocking Black history month. Clearly, the argument over what is racist and what is an "unfortunate mistake" is not over. We believe OffBeat needs to do some more thinking about their response to this controversy.


Mick said...

"Our “black eye” (oops, was that racist?)..."

What a dick.

odDbutCoMplete said...

Ok... so I wouldn't call OffBeat Mag a racist magazine... I do however think the cover is pretty insensitive. I don't think I honestly can expect racial sensitivity from folks who have never been in the shoes of the folks who experience racism.

He could have kept the "Our black eye" (oops was that racist?)" bit. There are folks who could understand the mistake and move past it, but that comment just made him look like an ass all over again.

HeadsUpNOLA said...

OdD, I don't think anyone's saying Offbeat is necessarily racist; they're saying that this COVER is racist. Which is pretty tough to dispute. Although all those folks who were restraining from calling anyone at Offbeat racist may change their mind when they see this "black eye" ridiculousness.

And I think we CAN and SHOULD expect racial sensitivity from white folks. Plenty of white folks manage to be pretty sensitive to issues of race (although not nearly enough, of course), and it's especially important that they not let other white folks off the hook about behaving in racist ways.

odDbutCoMplete said...

HeadsUpNOLA- Well said. Agreed.

Sheree said...

What should you call it when people say or do inappropriate things just because they think they can get away with it ...? It may well depend on whether the words or actions were sneaky, satirical, stupid, racist, insensitive, ignorant, cheeky, or all of the above.

Jan's double entendre play on "'black eye' (oops ...", however, suggests that it may now be high time to call out another form of "racism" - that form perpetrated by another marginalized group against Black people.

Thank you, Jan, for having the "balls" to tell your truth.

p.s. Jan, how did you like being called "a dick"?

Soraya said...

Jan Ramsey is racist. I am so disgusted my the lack of accountability and the mocking tone of Jan Ramsey..the cover was stupid, insensitive and oppressive.

Being a "well- intended" white person who is "sensitive" to race issues does not mean that one is not racist..

Anonymous said...

Jan Ramsay IS a dick, and a bitch, and insensitive....I don't know if she is racist, but to claim ignorance when she's supposed to be an expert in southern music is ... well, she IS ignorant so maybe?

the magazine doesn't speak for local musicians but sadly it's all they have so they use it as best they can.