New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s media group has apologized for its February 21 cover of Bloomberg Businessweek over complaints that it used racist imagery to illustrate the feature story on the housing market.
With a title of “The Great American Housing Rebound: Flips. No-look bids. 300 percent returns. What could possibly go wrong?”, the cover illustration featured Latino and African American caricatures awash in a sea of government money.
The image was criticized as racist by several organizations and media outlets.
Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review praised Bloomberg Businessweek for being “edgier than its predecessor,” but went on to say that the February cover was over the line.
“The cover stands out for its cast of black and Hispanic caricatures with exaggerated features reminiscent of early 20th century race cartoons,” Chittum wrote. “Also, because there are only people of color in it, grabbing greedily for cash. It’s hard to imagine how this one made it through the editorial process.”
Emily Badger of The Atlantic declared the image “offensive.”
In a Feb. 28 post, Badger wrote, “[W]e still can’t decide what’s most offensive about it: the caricature of the busty, sassy Latina, the barefooted black man waving cash out his window, that woman in the upstairs left-hand corner who looks about as dim-witted as her dog?”
The National Association of Black Journalists also weighed in on the magazine cover.
After claiming that there isn’t enough “diversity” in the magazine industry, NABJ President Gregory Lee, Jr. slammed the illustration:
“Being controversial is one thing, but this cover is clearly offensive and demeaning,” said Errin Haines, NABJ Vice President-Print. “What is the message this cover seeks to convey to readers? And who thought this was a good idea? That such an image would be published by a magazine of the stature and exposure of Bloomberg BusinessWeek suggests that there was no one with the cultural sensitivity or awareness in the room to step in before this cover made it to press. While that fact is problematic, this incident presents an opportunity to prevent such oversights in the future, and NABJ stands ready to help the magazine bring more diversity to its masthead.”
Rinku Sen, president of the Applied Research Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “racial justice,” called the image “egregious.” She also called it “straightforwardly racist” and “an extreme take on the ‘freeloader’ image.”
Colorlines.com, a website dedicated to “race matters,” also put out a statement:
“What’s sad about this cover is that it’s obsessed with perpetuating racial stereotypes rather than telling the truth. Greed did bring down the housing market but it was the rapaciousness of Wall Street rather than communities of color,” said Imara Jones, the economic justice contributor at Colorlines.com. “As financial institutions, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo have admitted to the Justice Department in court settlements, their predatory lending practices of steering credit worthy blacks and Latinos into bogus financial products is what collapsed our economic system. According to Wall Street itself, racism is what destroyed the American dream for millions.”
The artist contracted to create the image is himself a minority and said he didn’t intend for the picture to appear racist at all. He claimed he was simply depicting the sort of people he grew up with.
Artist Andres Guzman, a native of Peru, told Slate’s Matt Yglesias, “I simply drew the family like that because those are the kind of families I know. I am Latino and grew up around plenty of mixed families.”
In the end, Bloomberg Businessweek issued an apology as reported by Politico.
“Our cover illustration last week got strong reactions, which we regret,” Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel said. “Our intention was not to incite or offend. If we had to do it over again we’d do it differently.”