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Bulging eyes. Swollen lips. Bare feet. Clownish facial expressions.
Many of us assumed that such hurtful racial images died in the 1960s with Jim Crow. But this week Bloomberg’s Businessweek magazine revived some of that racist iconography when it published a cover featuring Blacks as greedy, bug-eyed opportunists. Now, many politicians, pundits and Black leaders are crying foul.
Created by Minneapolis-based artist Andres Guzman, the cartoon cover art shows Blacks and Latinas gleefully clutching fistfuls of cash. An accompanying caption reads: “The Great American Housing Rebound: Flips. No-look bids. 300 percent returns. What could possibly go wrong?” The cover and caption imply that minorities are the crafty masterminds behind a new and disastrous housing bubble.
The cover and the magazine’s response are troubling on several fronts. Minorities rarely make the cover of mainstream business publications like Businessweek, so it’s disturbing that this rare occasion when minorities are featured, they are represented as money-grubbing doofuses.
As anyone with newsroom experience will attest, just about everything that goes into a news publication—and this is especially true of cover art—is carefully reviewed by the chief editors. Businessweek editor-in-chief Josh Tyrangiel all but admits that upper management signed off on the artwork. “Our cover illustration got strong reactions, which we regret,” Tyrangiel said in a press statement. “If we had to do it over again, we’d do it differently.”
Note how Tyrangiel takes pains to avoid the phrases “we apologize” or “we’re sorry.” He only states that he regrets the strong negative reactions the offensive cover received, which makes his statement an apology that isn’t.
Tyrangiel’s soggy statement follows a trusted conservative strategy: Utter or publish an offensive remark designed to appeal to your conservative base. When pundits call you out, issue a carefully worded statement that hints of an apology. The insincere pseudo-apology doesn’t receive nearly as much press coverage as the offending remark, and your conservative base delights in how you stuck it to the liberals.
Maybe Businessweek didn’t issue an outright apology because the cover art reflects the views of the magazine’s conservative owner, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg. In 2011, Bloomberg told Occupy Wall Street protestors, “it was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis, it was… Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.”
Of course, “people on the cusp” could mean any number of folks, but those of us experienced in coded racial language assumes that Bloomberg was referring mostly to Blacks and minorities. His statement is a reference to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which was enacted by the majority Democratic congress in 1977 . The CRA was designed to reduce discriminatory loan practices in minority and low-income communities, and data have shown that the Act has been “consistently successful” at meeting goals for mortgages, low-income housing tax credits, minority community grants, and more. A 2000 US Treasury report, several economists concluded that the CRA improved minority and low-income access to
credit and mortgages.
Not that any of that matters to multibillionaires like Bloomberg. Though the deregulated banking and financial industries abused the CRA’s mandate to enrich themselves, many conservatives continue to point the finger at the very minorities hurt most by their greed.