This is not funny or appropriate

Below, I’m posting my letter to the editor of offBeat Magazine, the preeminent New Orleans music magazine. They’ve recently shown such a tragic lack of sensitivity and journalistic responsibility and awareness, that I simply have to remark upon it. I will not post the cover of the most recent issue on my blog, as I find it repulsively offensive. But Jamey has it up, along with a bit of her response, on her blog and I will link to it, so you can join the discussion. And I hope you will. Loudly.

From: emiliestaat@yahoo.com
To: offbeat@offbeat.com
Cc: janramsey@offbeat.com, eslahahne@offbeat.com, josephirrera@offbeat.com, alexrawls@offbeat.com

Dear offBeat Staff,

I was shocked, shocked and offended, to see the “Strange Fruit” headline on an image of six white guys hanging from a jungle gym. Whoever designed and approved this cover – what were they thinking? Were they thinking? Or worse, did they have no clue what they were referring to? “What’s in a name, indeed,” a friend said to me as we discussed it today. I fear that this offensive cover threatens to overcome any good the story was intended to do for the band.

The song “Strange Fruit” refers to the bodies of lynched black people hanging from trees. I’d expect a music magazine to understand the history of a song like this, as it’s not exactly obscure, as well as the implications of using this song title as a headline over the image of white guys hanging from a jungle gym. But perhaps that’s too much to hope.

Shame on the entire editorial staff.

Emilie Staat

It’s an even more horrifyingly ironic note that this comes right on the heels of Black History Month. I honestly don’t know how this cover passed any sort of editorial review and why anybody imagined “Strange Fruit” was an appropriate title for this cover.

7:12 p.m. Update:

offBeat had this to say on Twitter: @KAMMsTheACE intentions were COMPLETELY benign, but it was poor choice of words. we understand if we offended, and sincerely apologize. about 3 hours ago via web in reply to KAMMsTheACE

And I had this to say to them:
@OffBeatMagazine: I’ve been beating round the bush. Your cover is not just irresponsible. It’s racist. https://emiliestaat.wordpress.com/ 3 minutes ago via web

@OffBeatMagazine: You say the intentions were benign & I think you owe us an explanation. What WERE your intentions? 1 minute ago via web

@OffBeatMagazine: You let the band, your advertisers and your readers waaaay down and I want to know why. What response did you want? half a minute ago via web

Unfortunately, after the “Twitterversy” that the Publisher’s Weekly “Afro Picks” cover may have caused, I’m afraid that a rabid, viral offended response might have been what offBeat Magazine was going for. We’ve seen time and again that it doesn’t always matter these days what people are saying about you, as long as they’re talking. Yuck.

I haven’t seen a response from the band on their website or on Twitter. I wonder how they feel about the cover image and headline.

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12 Comments

Filed under New Orleans, politics, pop culture, random rant

12 responses to “This is not funny or appropriate

  1. Pingback: strange fruit?!? « modern conjure

  2. Pingback: I’m still angry, you’re still wrong – a second letter to the editor « Jill of All Trades, Master of One

  3. What?!!! It’s sort of impossible that NO ONE on the staff knew what that phrase and image harkened. If there’s any positive to come out of this, it’s a teaching opportunity about a very sad, horrifying part of American history, one to remember and not to repeat.

  4. emofalltrades

    I agree – it IS impossible that no one on the editorial board knew the implications of what they were doing.

    Unfortunately, I worry that their only motivation in doing something like this was to cause controversy in order to get attention. I’m not sure there’s a lesson learned not to do it again – they caused controversy and they got attention.

    In the age of reality tv contestants behaving badly and being rewarded for it (with attention, contracts, jobs, endorsements), this may be a win-win at the end of the day. Morally heinous, yes. But what will it cost them?

    I hope they won’t consider this a win–I hope they have more journalistic integrity than that. I hope they endeavor to genuinely apologize and re-build faith with their readers/advertisers/contributors/subjects that this will never happen again.

  5. 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?

    • We need to contact your sponsors. This cover exemplifies the definition of racist! As a music lover, a New Orleanian, a patron of this magazine, and a black women I am more offended by your response and its defensive tone than by the faux pas itself. Where is the humility in the apology.

  6. emofalltrades

    Dear Jan,

    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.

    Emilie

  7. Pingback: The offBeat “lynchings” and apology « Jill of All Trades, Master of One

  8. Emilie, I think it may be appropriate to wait and see what we do. We never intended–and we didn’t start–this controversy. An intern at Gambit created this brouhaha, and you’ve contining it. By the way, we’ve also received letters and emails from people who aren’t so offended as you over the choice of two words on our March cover. They “got it.” This a band who were in a photo we thought was fun for our cover (the band did too). There was no plan to connect the “jungle gym” or the “monkeybars” or whatever the bloggers have been calling it to anything (that’s really racist thinking). The band has been working hard to be picked by a major label. Fruit hangs from trees, and it’s picked when it’s ready to eat. That was the analogy. (The subhede certainly explains the headline). MyNameIsJohnMichael is the “fruit waiting to be plucked” by a major label, maybe at SXSW, since we’re sending this issue to the event. This is the connotation, nothing more. The OffBeat “lynchings”? You ladies are just nasty; I am appalled by this and wondering why you see fit to make a mountain out of a molehill. We admitted it was a poor choice of TWO WORDS. Let it go, for God’s sake.

  9. emofalltrades

    It appalls *me* that the editor of a Southern music magazine is so apparently ignorant about the resonance of such a powerful song, cavalier about the history that inspires the song and dismissive of the power of words, especially juxtaposed with an image.

    -Your March 2010 cover was racist
    -We spoke out, asked you to be accountable
    -You issued a public apology for how your cover made us feel, without accepting any accountability for the cover
    -You undid any good the apology might have done by personally attacking me and, I can only assume from the comments on the apology, anyone who voiced objections to the actions of your magazine (“you ladies are nasty” – who are these ladies? I am one individual, a freelance writer, here on *my* blog. I alone am responsible for everything on it.)
    -Your cover is racist. But, as many of us have said, your actions after releasing the racist cover have caused an even larger outrage. What will it take for you to recognize that? *Who* has to object and *how*?

    P.S. If you’re referring to Missy Wilkinson as the “Gambit intern” who “started the controversy,” it says on her business card that she is a “Special Sections Editor.” That’s a *fact* you should have looked up before you tried to foist accountability off wherever you could, rather than accept it as your own. My *opinion* is that she is a smart and responsible journalist for covering what is, actually, an issue.

  10. Pingback: Fess Up Friday – the Saturday edition « Jill of All Trades, Master of One

  11. Pingback: Some offBeat Progress « Jill of All Trades, Master of One

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