Dear offBeat Magazine,
It is 1998. I am a teenage girl visiting an elderly friend of my father’s with my family, visiting him at his home (north Louisiana) from our home (just north of Atlanta). I have grown up “color blind” (with the luxury to be color blind, as a black friend later tells me) and am shocked when my father’s friend makes a racist comment. Children are supposed to respect their elders and be seen and not heard. I am silent, but I lose respect for my father’s friend.
It is 2008. I am an adult, at a house party in New Orleans, where I now live, when a teenager from my hometown (just north of Atlanta, where I grew up “color blind”) eyes the all-white audience and tells a racist joke. I suppose she felt that because she was not among “mixed” company, it was safe, somehow appropriate. And no one tells her differently. I am silent. I have lost respect for her for telling the joke and I have lost respect for myself for saying nothing.
I’m speaking now.
offBeat – I am your reader. I am a citizen of New Orleans. I am white. I love music. And I find the cover of your March 2010 issue offensive and reprehensible. Not only have I read your magazine, but I’ve pitched you stories, hoping to write for you. When my lucky musical friends have been featured in your prestigious pages, I have celebrated them and supported the magazine. But I refuse to let you make me implicit in your ignorance, your racism, your utter disregard for your words by using none of mine. I will not allow you to implicate me by remaining silent.
Why do I object to the cover of your magazine?
The headline “Strange Fruit” when paired with your chosen image of the profiled band is incendiary. Had the article inside been somehow racially charged or had the band covered the song “Strange Fruit,” I could almost understand the use of the title. I might have thought you were trying to provoke discussion and thought. Even if I disagreed with your method and what you were saying, I would have respected you for trying to say something. But “Strange Fruit” refers to nothing within the article and, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the profiled band.
“Strange Fruit” is a famous song that immediately invokes a powerful, horrifying image of lynched black bodies hanging from trees–strange fruit. An image that your cover visual seems to mock, with the six white guys smilingly hanging from monkey bars/jungle gym. I can see no reason or intention for the title to be paired with this article except to incite response. Yet, it seems you expect to get off the hook (off the tree, offBeat?) with nothing more than a limp Twitter apology. Back to business as usual?
If your audience knows what “Strange Fruit” refers to (and what serious Southern musician or listener wouldn’t?), the juxtaposed image can only offend. If your audience doesn’t know the song or its context, the headline wouldn’t grab their attention or make any sense, in which case, it simply fails.
At best, offBeat, you are guilty of an ignorance of musical history a self-described “Louisiana and New Orleans Online Music Resource” can’t afford. At worst, you are intentionally inciting offense, shock and outrage in an unprofessional and intolerant gambit for more readers. For attention.
An action that shocks and offends and outrages has no meaning without intent.
In your “apology,” you claim that your intentions were benign, which admits to intent, not ignorance, in your presentation of your most recent cover. What was the intent? I fail to see one that merits my attention or respect. If your intentions were benign, defend them. If there was intent in the design of your cover, reveal it.
offBeat, I was your reader. You have disappointed me. I demand and deserve an answer. As long as you remain silent, you have lost my respect and my readership.
To my readers: If you have something to say about this cover, please speak. offBeat Magazine prefers letters to the editor to be mailed. Their address is: 421 Frenchmen St. Suite 200 New Orleans, LA 70116. You can email the editorial staff at the email addresses I list in my first post about this cover. A link to their Twitter account is listed above, in the body of the letter to the editor. If you have anything to say to me, please speak in the comments below or at email@example.com. As always, I’d like to hear you.