The magazine Bloomberg Businessweek has gone too far in publishing its latest cover, say some media watchers. The image was paired with a story about the risks of repeating the mistakes that led to the housing bubble and the collapse of world financial markets in 2008.
The Feb. 21 Businessweek cover depicts four people, all people of color, in a house that is awash in a flood of money. The “father” is barefoot and leering, depicted as an African-American, leaning out a window to clutch at a stream of dollar bills. The “mother” figure has brown skin and cartoonish, oversized lips. Upstairs we see a black boy and a Hispanic teenage girl, each grotesquely caricatured and shown reclining on big piles of money. All of the characters are grabbing for money while talking on cell phones or Bluetooth devices. Even the family cat, floating on a pillow in a sea of money downstairs, is depicted as black.
Rinku Sen, president of the Applied Research Center, a nonprofit dedicated to “racial justice through media, research and activism,” called the artwork “egregious,” “straightforwardly racist” and “an extreme take on the ‘freeloader’ image.”
Whatever the article does or does not say in terms of blaming the mortgage crisis on greedy borrowers of color, said Sen, “the cover image clearly indicates a set of people of color, caricatures.”
“It evokes blackface,” she said, “and minstrelsy,” and calls to mind racial stereotypes from racist “advertising imagery from the late 1800s to the 1950s.”
“You see a lot of similarities between those images and these,” she continued. “They’re throwbacks. The images themselves are serious throwbacks to racist caricature.”
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the image reinforces race-blaming right wing tropes about the mortgage crisis. “The narrative of the crash on the right has been the blame-minority-borrowers line , sometimes via dog whistle, often via bullhorn,” wrote CJR’s Ryan Chittum. “In fact, though, the record is clear: minorities were disproportionately targeted by predatory lending, which has always gone hand in hand with subprime. Even when they qualified for prime loans that similar-circumstance whites got, they were pushed into higher-interest subprimes.”
Sen said that while many will feel the temptation to call for symbolic firings and to demand some sort of disciplinary action toward whatever editorial personnel let this drawing by, the judgment error on the magazine’s part presents an opportunity to the public.
“It’s upsetting,” she said, “but it’s a really good opportunity to have a discussion with Bloomberg News about how they understand racial dynamics in the economy and how they make editorial choices that have racial implications.”
Thursday afternoon, Businessweek issued an apology for the cover.
Josh Tyrangiel, the magazine’s editor, wrote in a statement to Politico, “Our cover illustration last week got strong reactions, which we regret. Our intention was not to incite or offend. If we had to do it over again we’d do it differently.”
Update: Response from the Colorlines below
“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 full Businessweek cover is embedded below: