December 11, 2015
Throughout this course, I have come across many mind stimulating topics which have caused me to partake in a deeper thought process to fully engage and absorb the material. Out of the many things we discussed in class, the topic of controlling images caught my attention ever since we addressed the subject. As I was searching the internet for an artifact to use, I came across this image, photographed, published in 2008, by Annie Leibovitz, of LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen that perfectly depicts how these images are still used to convey the Black Brute. The photo, which occupies the cover of Vogue magazine, has caused controversy and has been compared to the war propaganda titled “Destroy This Made Brute” (World War Propoganda Possters, 2009). In an article on USA Today, Tamara Walker comments “It conjures up this idea of a dangerous black man” while Christa Thomas explains how she “didn’t see any kind of racist overtone to it” and doesn’t “think there is such a hypersensitivity to race still in this country” (USA Today, 2008). After examining this picture and comparing it to the war propaganda, I agree with Tamara Walker that this indeed reflects the controlling images used during chattel slavery.
Concluding that this photo represents the continuous stereotype of the “black savage in search of the prize white women” (Khalil, 2010), brought me to continue my research about this piece, upon which I found a video on YouTube. This video does not only address Vogue’s display of indecency, but also brings up other famous pieces of work that also contribute to demonstrating black stereotypes. Within the video, Khalil enlightens her viewers by informing them how “the brute caricature portrays black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminal…” (Khalil, 2010), providing justification for the violence used to “tame” black men. Her video along with Vogue’s cover page are leading examples of publicized racism, meant to influence its viewers to believe in these stereotypes. And as a result, they generate invisible and visible barriers for African American men. Personally, I find it dramatically understated due to the fact that these controlling images still exist yet there is little done to address the problem that causes disparities among a specific community.
Annie Leibovitz was born in Waterbury, Connecticut and attended the San Francisco Art Institute. After experiencing life in Japan with her mother, she discovered her passion in photography (Somerstein, 2008). In 1983 she published her first book and was Vanity Fair’s first contributing photographer. Being a part of Vanity Fair helped her get noticed for her “wildly lit, staged, and provocative portraits of celebrities” (Somerstein, 2008). The two that hold the most acknowledgment are her portraits of Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore. The Cover of the magazine that contained Demi Moore was named the second best cover from the past 40 years (Somerstein, 2008). Since then, the list of celebrities that she has
shot continued to grow and her work has been featured in Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. With all of her work, she has acquired the title of Commandeur des Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and named a living legend by the Library of Congress (Somerstein, 2008). Leibovitz has created master pieces, making her one of the world’s most famous photographers. Her work has been seen by many and to in comparison, is like the “white” Gordon Parks. I understand that Annie Leibovitz is a renown photographer whose work often reflects iconic pieces and this image is no exception. At the time the photo of LeBron and Gisele was taken, Barack Obama had just been elected the President of the United States and LeBron was at the peak of his career. The whole idea behind controlling images is to support the “hegemonic white masculinity and subordinated black masculinity” (Pittman, 2015). Producing such an image during this time period attempts to mask the hard work both LeBron and Obama did in order to achieve high authority on the court and in the United States. Even if this image was created in ignorance, the publishers of the magazine should have made sure this negatively depicting image was never published.
I found this artifact to relate to me personally because my mother recognizes these types of images and stereotypes more often than not and always finds a way to lecture me on them. The two that she finds most bothersome are the appropriations of the black image, more specifically, big lips, and a commentary she heard about Tiger Woods, containing references to eating collard greens and watermelon. Both examples relate to the class when we watched Ethnic Notions with the cartoons exaggerating the size of African American lips to almost portray them as
animals. When my mother hears women of European decent talking about getting lip injections or sees images of this types of women being praised for their features irritates her because not only black women but black people have been illustrated as animals for possessing such features. But once the “white” people adopted this aspect, it became acceptable. With the Tiger Woods piece, also in the Ethnic Notions video, there was numerous references to black people engorging themselves with watermelon as if that was the only thing black people would eat. Furthermore, living life as an African American, these images actually shape the perspective of how other races view black people. There have been countless of times during which I have been asked if I ate watermelon all the time or someone had commented on the size of my lips.
Bringing the attention back to chattel slavery, it seems these images have a never ending intention to justify the immoral and disrespectful behavior towards African Americans. Due to the fact that this era “relied upon gender oppression” (Black Sexual Politics), allowed for the white culture to create the jezebel and the breeder woman. Jezebel was a “representation redefined Black women’s bodies…that could be tamed but never completely subdued” (Black Sexual Politics) covering up the habitual rape women in slavery would endure by using a visual to portray an altered reality that black women go through. Also with the breeder women, Dunaway explains how it was created to “defend the reproductive policies of slavery that encouraged enslaved Black women to have many children” a policy that encouraged white economic gain at the exploitation of the sexuality of black women.
`As for men, these images were used to dehumanize and emasculate them because white men found them to be more threatening than women. With this idea white elites were able to produce the Buck which “described a human animal that achieved domestication trough slavery’ (Black Sexual Politics). By creating the Buck, white people were able to display blacks as intellectually impaired beings and unable to sustain livable conditions without being tamed and exploited for their labor.
Throughout the quarter this class has made me realize how relevant racism is today. As I continue to grow my mom habitually reminds me of how hard it is to be a colored person in the world and I chose to ignore her and the blatant signs that held and are still holding her statements true. With this class and the blog assignments, I have encountered a completely different view of politics, education, and the media by possessing new knowledge I have acquired from the teachings.
Collins, H. (2004). The Past is Ever Presen: Recognizing the New Racism. New York: Routledge.
Denton, N. (2008, March 28). Time for Leibovitz to Confess. Retrieved from Gawker: http://gawker.com/5004715/time-for-leibovitz-to-confess
Khalil, M. (2010, May 10). Brutes: The Conformisty of Black Sexual and Violent Male Stereotypes. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSFaWli9uM8
Pittman, D. L. (2015). Black Sexual Politics Lecture. Black Sexula Politics Lecture. Dr. LaShawnda Pittman.
Riggs, M. (Director). (1986). Ethnic Nothions [Motion Picture].
Somerstein, R. (2008, October 27). Ann Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens. Retrieved from PBS.org: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/annie-leibovitz-life-through-a-lens/16/
USA Today. (2008, March 24). LeBron James’ ‘Vogue’ cover called racially insensitive. Retrieved from USA Today: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/people/2008-03-24-vogue-controversy_N.htm
World War Propoganda Possters. (2009). Retrieved from Learn NC: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/ww1posters/4964