Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lemming Tracks: NYT 'People Of Color' Gift Guide, Racism, and Getting a Grip

"This Exists: NYT Holiday Gift Guide For People Of Color"
Mediaite (December 9, 2009)

"What I would like to know is who thought this was a good idea? In this year's NYT's Annual Holiday Gift Guide there is a section devoted to 'Of Color | Stylish Gifts.' From the intro to the section.

"I had to read that twice. Because really New York Times? NYTPicker, who was the first to note the addition thinks there's no other word for it but racist. I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far. But badly, terribly thought out, bordering on offensive, absolutely. I suspect what actually happened was somewhere in the editing process someone thought they should figure out some way to work Barack Obama (he's done well for them before!) into the mix and then extended it to Sotomayor and voila, suddenly you have a gift guide that weirdly looks like it's out of some magazine from the 1960's except this might not have been kosher in the 60's (for very different reasons). So mainly just of-puttingly weird. Mostly, I am utterly amazed it made it past the editing process and am baffled why anyone felt the need to separate these gifts from the more generalized categories into which all these items fit, to one based on skin color."

To paraphrase the famous line from "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), 'Toto, I've a feeling we're not in the sixties any more.'

I haven't studied The New York Times' shocking behavior thoroughly, and don't intend to: unless this becomes an Issue.

That won't stop me from opining a bit, though.

The avatar I use (that big blue eye) hints that I'm not a "person of color." Actually, I've got 'color' - my skin's mostly a sort of pinkish beige. And yes, that's my right eye. My ancestors were (most recently) Norwegians, Irish, and Scots. Our records don't go back this far, but it looks like my forebears left Africa about 85,000 years ago, and survived the Mount Toba eruption - but that's another topic.

Anyway, genetic mutations happened along the way and we look a bit different now, so I can't claim to be "of color" by today's definitions.

I gave the gift guide a quick look, and noticed, among other things, " 'The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color' by Iman," and "M2M damoreJon Nail Polish."

I've never used makeup, apart from the occasional times on stage, but I couldn't help but notice a major change that happened sometime around the early seventies. American cosmetics manufacturers noticed that
  • Around one in five American women were not melanin-deficient
  • Makeup designed for the pale mutants of northwest European descent doesn't work very well for women with more natural complexions
As Gomer Pyle might have said, "well sha-zam!"

As for other items, like the Bindya Scarves, and the books 'Contemporary Indian Fashion' Edited by Federico Rocca and 'Asian Faces: The Essential Beauty and Makeup Guide for Asian Women' by Taylor Chang-Babaian, are a (possibly shocking) reminder that not everyone who does not have a lot of European ancestors is necessarily African or American Indian (or whatever the PC term for part of my family is now).

So, yes: I can see how this gift guide could be seen as "racist."

Or, an indication that people who aren't old-fashioned Yankees from the New England states now have the economic clout it takes, to make a gift guide like this make business sense.

"Well, sha-zam!"

Vaguely related posts: Posts about the weird side(s) of fashion: More, that New York Times gift guide:


Brigid said...

Hmm. So, basically, the guy (gal?) is complaining because there's a fashion accessory/makeup guide for people with a permanent tan? oO I really don't understand political correctness.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


I think you've got it.

About understanding PC, you probably won't. I think one of the better models - which explains quite a bit of the observed phenomena - is that is PC is a sort of mutant version of the old 19th century paternalistic attitude toward the 'inferior' races (like us, since we're not English, or 'real' Americans). With a very profound doublethink, ensuring that adherents to PC will really believe that they are the true supporters of the masses - and that folks who see people as individuals who form some really interesting groups are hate-filled and intolerant.

Of course, that was back in the eighties. Things may have changed.

Or, judging from that article, not.

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