Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blood on the Tracks?

Is this Village Voice cover illustration racist?
by Carmen Van Kerckhove

What do you think of this image? (for image click this link)

It’s supposed to be Bob Dylan mowing down Kyp Malone from the band TV on the Radio. Martín Perna, who’s associated with the band, wrote a long letter to the Voice criticizing the image.

Reactions to the letter that I’ve seen on other blogs are typical:

This is bullshit… if that was a picture of Dylan running over a member of the Artic Monkeys or some other white band no one would give a shit, they would be raving on how witty it was.
and my favorite:

Only a Rascist would find that Rascist!

But here’s Perna’s letter. Interesting parallel he draws to the ghetto party phenomenon:
Looking at this week’s cover of the Voice, I see a caricature of Bob Dylan in an electric mobility scooter, running over Kyp Malone, guitarist/vocalist of the band TV on the Radio. The drawing, I imagine, was supposed to comically illustrate Dylan’s new record edging out TVOTR’s “Return to Cookie Mountain,” in the paper’s 34th Annual Pazz & Jop poll [February 7–13]. This drawing is racist, unfunny, mean-spirited, and inaccurate.

Even in the post-Chappelle era of it being hip and edgy to discuss and portray ideas about race, there are still wrong, tasteless ways and this was one of them. Nowhere in the consciousness of Voice editors or illustrator David O’Keefe can we find memories of James Byrd, a black man who was dragged behind a truck to his death by white racists in Jasper, Texas, in 1998, or Arthur “J.R.” Warren, who was run over four times and killed for being black and gay in West Virginia in 2000, and all the other lynchings that happened in the U.S. before and since. These events are still fresh in the minds of black people, as well as in the hearts and minds of the rest of us who may not be directly victimized by these particular lynchings but who are nonetheless endangered by racism and committed to social justice and healing America of its sick racist condition.

O’Keefe and his colleagues may not have meant to intentionally be racist. They probably meant to be funny, like the University of Texas law students, Clemson University undergrads, or white college students nationwide who plan and publicize their blackface or “ghetto parties,” then act surprised that people find their actions offensive and unacceptable. That this picture could be drawn and not questioned or vetoed by any of the people who saw it prior to publication shows the level of ignorance and racism that persists in leftist institutions like the Voice that continue to posture as hip and progressive. It reveals that among decision-makers at the paper there is not one single person with any sort of racial consciousness or sensitivity who had the power or courage to send that picture back to the drawing board.

Racism aside, the drawing is snarky and simpleminded. Where is the love? Why such a nasty way to portray two fantastic musical entities who made award-winning records last year? Why only portray Kyp, when TV on the Radio is composed of four other equally talented core members plus a small army of extended family (including myself) who have contributed to the indescribably ecstatic sound of TVOTR onstage and on record. We struggle defiantly to collaborate and work in non-hierarchical, positive environments and this portrayal of one of our people strikes a blow against our collective dignity.

Every time our likenesses are used outside of our control—especially in stupid ways like this—it fosters false perceptions of who we are. We struggle on a daily basis (those of us with high media exposure much more than others) to be our true selves and not what the media creates of us. Inevitably, Kyp will have to respond to an endless stream of questions about this cover from scores of journalists over the next week when he’d probably rather be doing something else.
Intentionally or not, this cover sends the all-too-familiar message to people of color: Make something too unique, make something outside of your assigned place-role, and get run over by a white man. I could go on about it, about how wrong it is to create false competition between musicians; the headline “Blood on the Tracks!” gives the very false impression that there is serious beef with Dylan and TVOTR. I could complain about how you drew Kyp outfitted like the Nutty Professor rather than his true fly stylish self. All other criticism, however, would draw attention away from the more serious and sinister latent racism present that makes this cover possible to begin with. I pray that you will wise up and check yourself and get some people with some sense and sensitivity among your editorial staff.

Martín Perna
Baritone saxophone, flutes
Antibalas/TV on the Radio
Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn


viper10 said...

After reading this article I think the question being asked is; do pictures make you racist? My answer to this is, no. As long as it was not drawn with the intention of hurting someone or inciting a violent reaction. If on the other hand the artist drew it specifically to piss off someone, then yes, it does make you a racist. In response to other peoples reaction, specifically "Only a Rascist would find that Rascist!"; I feel that one could find something offensive and not be racist, but if someone else puts the idea in your head first then you may end up that way. People can still draw pictures without intending to be offensive, but others can still interpret these drawings however they want, as the saying goes, it's in the eye of the beholder.

spiegelglanz said...

Yeah, whoever said "only a racist would find that racist" has a little room for expansion on that.

It's a very Bennett-esque position, advocating colorblind perception of the images we see in the major media, accepting blacks and whites as wholly equal despite any misrepresentation in ratio, or worse, misrepresentation through depiction.

But the Village Voice cover truly was drawn in a colorblind tone. The portrayal here is solely depicting Dylan's success. Kyp Malone's blackness has no bearing here.

Of course, if the cartoonist had sketched Dylan doing anything else depicting his ability to outsell TVOTR, it'd get a hell of a lot more people complaining about racism. Maybe Dylan holding a bunch of moneybags and Malone with out-turned pockets? Sure, it's more relevant to the theme of individual success, but it depicts a much more obvious tone of racism.

And look at the scooter. I think someone would really have to read into it to liken the cover to lynchings involving vehicles. Even worse, I could ramble about how truly this image stereotypes Bob Dylan's beliefs, alluding to him being a hippie or, more racially-relevant, that the cartoon makes a commentary about the disposition of white people. Either way, these allegations were forged from thin air.

mckendree5454 said...

I think the real issue in this blog is about double standards. The comments the two bloggers said where supposedly vehemently racist. Which I don’t agree with them being racist, I think their comments are true. “This is bullshit… if that was a picture of Dylan running over a member of the Artic Monkeys or some other white band no one would give a shit, they would be raving on how witty it was. Only a Rascist would find that Rascist!” If Bob Dylan did run over Mick Jagger no one would have said anything. America’s society today has become too politically correct. Well I’ll put this a more correct way. A white male cannot say anything, but it’s hilarious for other races to bash on white people, nothing is said about it. Take this for example, Dusty Baker manager of the Chicago Cubs said that black people are better during summer months because they can “take the heat.” I bet no one has heard this quote because the media said nothing about it, but this statement is completely racist and bigoted. I don’t think its fair for everyone to call a white man a hillbilly or redneck, those are derogatory terms. A white man couldn’t think about using the “n” word though because he would be put in the same category as a rapist. Martin Luther King said from his letters from Birmingham and I have a dream speech that he just wanted everyone to be treated equal. America is far far far from equal.

Buck_FuSh_9 said...

Race is STILL a hot, oftentimes, very taboo subject, even in 2007. I do not think that image has any hint of being racially or ethnically motivated. I do not think that anyone should be discriminated against and I personally do not judge a person solely by race, sex, or otherwise. This drawing I think illustrates much more than Bob Dylan or the band TV. The drawing is strong statement on the case of racial double standards in this country on the parts of both blacks and whites. The truths about such double standards hotly divide the races and people even more. For example in this country it is ok for an African American person to discriminate against a white person but it is condemnable when a white does it to an African American. Both situations are wrong but it is as if America condones racism for one group and then denounces it for the other. To me that is just wrong. That is just one example of how political correctness has eroded away the sensibilities and common sense of this country. Discrimination in any form against any body should be looked down upon and frowned on. Examples like this picture paint a portrait of the current status of racial affairs in this country and I am disheartened to say that that picture isn't very pretty.

jimboaimstrong said...

I admit with great shame and disappointment that I, at first, gazed upon this images with white and somewhat ignorant eyes. I could see why it has been dubbed racist, but I didn’t see a great deal of problem with it. But, in the course of reading, that changed very drastically. I found this image to hold and perpetuate maybe racist’s ideas of what “should” be done with not just creative blacks, but all blacks. “Run ‘em the hell down! Run ‘em the hell over!” It really is disgusting. This image recreates so many violet crimes that African-Americans have been victim to, and had to live in fear of falling to. Furthermore, during the course of reading, I t found that there is little difference from this image and if the editors would have approved an image of Kyp being shot by a sniper Bob Dylan, or Bob Dylan hanging Kyp from a tree limb. Only these images would have brought about much more dismay and discourse. But this is really what they are portraying in the end. I’m surprised Dylan is not outraged, as much as he has been involved in movements and change.

drware12 said...

Mckendree5454 perceptions of things are totally wrong. He says that other races can bash white men but they can’t bash back because we live in a politically correct society. That’s a lie. Bashing still takes place. In commercials the choice of minority actors and actresses are always suspect to me. The fact remains that whites have the power to publish these things. Blacks don’t we don’t have enough to create a cover of this substance. Then I just don’t see it happening anyway. Why run over the white guy. There would be no reason but for some odd reason it was a reason for the black guy to get ran over. The ‘N’ word comment was irrelevant because whites gave us that name to make us feel less of a human. Did blacks name you hillbilly boy? No!!!!!! The fact of the matter is whites feel that blacks are too insensitive about racial issues and will always be quick to scream racism. This is not true. It is just because of the publicized Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. But, most jokes that a white person would crack about a black person we would laugh at it if it were true. Remember how far exactly blacks could take racism since we were the ones who were enslaved. We didn’t cause this insensitivity to your jokes.

clockwork_watchmaker said...

do i think this image is racist? yes. but not for any reason previously stated.

america is a diverse nation. we are not only divided into black and white. but imagine the amount of media attention garnished by white and black actors and actresses in american media. compared to asians and hispanics, they dominate.

people want to be outraged about this picture, they ought to be pissed that a white guy is running over a black guy, but it still manages to get a black guy and a white guy on the cover. what? dylan couldn't have run over one asian? or a woman? where's they diversity of discrimination this country was built on?

it would also be wrong to assume that all black americans are going to de offended by this. just as not all whites will take it as offensive. to me, this image is just an oppertuinity to watch two very powerful lobbies duke it out over a negligible celebrity fued. ultimately, its not that anyone is offended. just that someone might have been offended is enough to ruffle feathers. and there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Joe Gray said...

I never knew to that extreme racism still exist but then, I’ve never lived in Texas, Alabama, or West Virginia where racial killing are still going on. The bigger problems isn’t the many civilians who live to be racists, it the racism in the chain of government who claim no to be racist but allow such acts to be passed or allowed to actually benefit racism.