It’s so ingrained not to speak up. Don’t make waves. Don’t rock the boat. But despite the waves of anger, disappointment and frustration since yesterday after seeing the offBeat cover, I can’t regret talking about how this cover makes me feel and what it makes me think.
Today, it feels really good to see the outrage is shared. In the microcosm world of my coffee shop, I knew we all had negative, visceral reactions to the cover, but now the response is coming from other New Orleans media, from other cities and it’s so good to have company.
Jamey, of course, responded last night.
Today, I saw a response from the wonderful Missy Wilkinson in The Gambit. The comments here were fascinating.
[3.11.10: Recently, I heard privately from a musician friend and after our discussion, I’m not sure I was clear about one point here on this post. The phrase “offBeat lynchings” is not my own, though I used it in full knowledge that it would probably grab attention. “Offbeat lynchings” was one of the most popular search trends people used to find my blog and, I can only assume, other discussions of the March offBeat cover. I thought that might’ve been clear by the tweet below, where I addressed offBeat and let them know about the search trends I’d seen about the controversy. Sure enough, I believe it did encourage a response.]
After noticing the search trends on my stats page today, I tweeted offBeat (one of several tweets since yesterday):
@OffBeatMagazine: I think you should know people are searching “offbeat magazine lynchings” and “offbeat magazine racist march” today. about 2 hours ago via web
Around the same time as this tweet, offBeat linked to an online apology in three back-to-back tweets:
Please see our apology about this month’s cover: http://bit.ly/dgLXfw about 1 hours ago via web
@emofalltrades please see our apology: http://bit.ly/dgLXfw. we’re really sorry for the insensitive decision we made with our cover text about 1 hours ago via web in reply to emofalltrades
@jameyhatley please see our apology here: http://bit.ly/dgLXfw. we’re very sorry for the insensitive decision we made about 1 hours ago via web in reply to jameyhatley
offBeat‘s publisher and editor, Jan Ramsey commented on my first post about their cover today:
Everyone here realizes we made a huge mistake. But we have way too much respect for music and musicians to have run this cover as a means to create controversy. That’s just disgusting. Being accused of being racist is blowing this faux pas so out of proportion, it’s ridiculous. I resent OffBeat being labeled as racist by anyone. It’s obvious to me that you’re getting a big kick our of keeping this bullshit going. Ah, the venality of our public. For 23 years, I’ve busted my butt trying to create someting positive about local music in OffBeat…way before any other pub into town took music seriously. So dismissing what we’ve done with a quickie label of racism is taking a lot for granted and is just plain stupid when you consider 23 years of work. Too bad you’ve never written for us Emilie, as I am sure you would never make such an egregious error as this one, right? Our “black eye” (oops, was that racist?) is certainly generating more traffic for your blog, now isn’t it? Why don’t you let us apologize and get on with your blog?
Still dissatisfied with both the apology and Jan’s comment because neither address what the intentions behind the “Strange Fruit” title were, I responded:
Thanks for writing.
Yes, my response to your “faux pas” is driving traffic on my blog. As well as your website, your Twitter account and etc. While I regret giving so much attention to something so ugly, I had so many negative reactions to your cover that I felt I had to say something. As I state, part of the reason I was so offended is that I have always appreciated the quality of offBeat Magazine and I felt that you have let yourselves, and us, down.
While I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt that the cover was a “faux pas,” I find it really hard to believe that among the educated editorial panel, no one suggested this may be a problematic, controversial juxtaposition. I am happy to hear you say your intentions weren’t to incite controversy. I’d merely like to know what the intentions were.
Thank you for the link to your apology on Twitter, as well. I appreciate the thoughtfulness in the response. However, I’m still left with questions.
First, you say in your online apology, “We believed that in 2010, the phrase “strange fruit” could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter. This was an error in judgment for which we apologize.” I’m still left wondering what you wanted to evoke with the phrase “Strange Fruit,” and what connection you felt it had to the article inside?
Second, will there be a printed apology? Would you consider re-issuing the March issue with a less offensive and more appropriate headline? I believe that retracting and repairing a “faux pas” of this caliber should require a genuine and, if necessary, costly, effort to demonstrate good faith to readers and everybody associated with the magazine, including contributors, the musicians profiled and advertisers. Please tell us with your actions, as well as your words, that this will not happen again.
Again, I thank you for your response.
As I’m writing this, a table of students at the coffee shop are talking about the cover, outraged. One guy stands up while the others sit, waving the March issue and explaining the song “Strange Fruit” to the others and its imagery about lynching. I hear one girl say, “How could they be so stupid?!”
Since I saw the cover yesterday, I have managed to work on my book and write a more light-hearted bragging on post. I tried to distract myself so that it wouldn’t consume all of my time and mind. But, as I told Jamey today on Twitter:
@jameyhatley: I had to keep a notebook by me till about 5 a.m. this morning b/c my mind was whrrrrrring. about 1 hours ago via web
I have never mentioned the band pictured on the cover by name, purposefully. I don’t want to contribute to their name popping up side by side in search engines with charged phrases like “offBeat lynchings.” The band has tweeted today about the cover and the apology.
@emofalltrades @jameyhatley I hope you are understanding that we are as equally perturbed as you are about this unfornuate situation. 6 minutes ago via Tweetie in reply to emofalltrades
Me to them:
so glad to hear from you! and so sorry you’ve been associated with this. you’ve been put in an untenable position. rock on! less than 10 seconds ago via web
I would like to, as Jan suggests in her comment, “get on with my blog,” which does not usually take on this tone. When my stomach stops churning from anger and frustration, when it somehow feels more appropriate, I’ll post the bragging on post because I enjoy celebrating rather than condemning. I hope this is my last post about this ugly matter.