The New Yorker and Hipster Racism

by Guest Contributor AJ Plaid, originally published at The Cruel Secretary

By now, you’ve seen the latest New Yorker cover, with the Obamas garbed in the gear of the latest fear-mongering Americans’ wet dream.

Of course, people at Michelle Obama Watch, Daily Kos, Politico, and other blogs have expressed rightful and righteous outrage over the cover.

The Washington Post’s and CNN’s Reliable Sources’ Howard Kurtz said: “I talked to the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, who tells me this is a satire, that they are making fun of all the rumors,” Kurtz added. (Source)

Bill Burton, The Obama campaign spokesperson, responded: “The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.” (Source)

My current live-in partner, who works at the New Yorker, just couldn’t believe that so many people responded so angrily at the cover at the Daily Kos and other sites. He “wanted to see [my] reaction.” When I emphatically told him that I didn’t find it funny, he said, “You’re so angry.”

“Of course I’m angry. What do you expect? This is my reaction is to your employer doing something so racist.”

“I’m trying to have some fun here.”

Humph, you gotta love hipster racism.

I define hipster racism (I’m borrowing the phrase from Carmen Van Kerckhove) as ideas, speech, and action meant to denigrate another’s person race or ethnicity under the guise of being urbane, witty (meaning “ironic” nowadays), educated, liberal, and/or trendy. This racist and sexist balderdash that’s the New Yorker cover fits squarely into that definition. So, honestly, does the behavior of my partner, who prides himself on coming from a California family of educators who taught him to be colorblind and on working at a magazine renown for being, well, urbane, witty, educated, liberal, and trendy yet likes to view me as the Angry Negress.

Well, some of the New Yorker editorial staffers, in trying to demonstrate these traits, showed themselves far more closely aligned to some of those “hardworking white folks” who may hold these beliefs that the Obamas aren’t true Americans, who will use the White House to carry out the collective and international people of color revenge against white people, as the high afro-wearing Black militants (think 6os era Black Panthers) and non-Western garbed folks seem to signify in the popular consciousness. The editorial staffers also must not have heard the ad nauseum arguments of their fellow media workers employing racist and sexist stereotypes of presenting the Obamas as “angry”—especially presenting Michelle as an “angry, vengeful Black woman,” as the cover more subtly conveys with the framed picture of Osama bin Laden over the fireplace, which has a burning flag in it. In other words, the New Yorker cover isn’t hip at all; it’s damn tired.

The cover actually corresponds to a story about how Senator Obama’s work in Chicago influenced his current presidential bid. (So, according to the cover, Obama learning the ropes in Chi-town and loving a South Side sistah makes him—and them–Black “radical terrorists.” There’s a eau de blame-Yoko-Ono-for-breaking-up-the-Beatles odor about it, the “powerful” woman of color exerting some imagined extraordinarily negative power through an intimate relationship over her otherwise likable—if not beloved—man that grinds my nerves.) And the magazine actually wrote another pro-Obama article about a year ago. So, perhaps, Remnick and Co, thought they’d get a pass on the cover because they did good by Obama with the articles and thought people would catch the wink and nudge of the visual joke because, hey, they’re all on the right side anyway.

No, the New Yorker is not. They’re not even on the right side of hiring practices: having the opportunity of working and Conde Nast and the New Yorker’s advertising and editorial floors (I temped as a receptionist about a year ago, so I got to observe the make-up of the staff), I noticed that there were no senior editors of color; the people of color in editorial capacity were already superstar writers before coming to the magazine (Malcolm Gladwell) or they were writing for the entertainment section (Hilton Als, who writes the theater column.) The former PR director, and African American woman, left the position. In other words, there’s no one of color to at least talk Remnick off the ledge of this kind of glib bigotry. (Not saying that having a person of color guarantees a firm commitment to anti-racism efforts. But I hope for a fighting chance.) And whichever white folks pride themselves on being anti-racist or at least race-tolerant at the magazine either didn’t get to Remnick in time or simply chose to shut up and run for cover from the mounting fallout. Or choose to entertain themselves with the anger of people of color.

And that’s the ultimate rub about hipster racism: as much as the people like to think they’re above it because they got degrees and live in the big city and befriend/sex up/marry people of color, these folks really aren’t above it.

At all.