NYT's Gift Guide for People of Color: Hold On, They Forgot the Chitlins and Collard Greens!

BlogHer Original Post

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that when the New York Times published their "Of Color/Stylish Gifts" feature last week, there was a collective Lawd have Mercy muttered across several continents.

Here's a sample of this foolish nonsense, which suggests several gift ideas to primarily Black, Asian, South Asian and Latino consumers:

'Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La Juez Que Crecio en el Bronx'' by Jonah Winter

Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

$16.99 From Amazon

This children’s book, available Nov. 10, tells the coming-of-age story of Justice Sotomayor. It’s a fitting bedtime story for future justices. (Atheneum; Bilingual edition, $16.99)

I don't know what I should be more offended by: The copy that describes this book or the fact that this book even exists. But honestly, what is worse is the "Wise Latina" T-Shirt that you are suggested to purchase.

Now, I do not think that the author is racist or even ignorant: Even though it does not really matter that the writer is African-American, or that the Times even felt that this was necessary - it is an example of who socially backwards our society is. It is unintentionally offensive, suggesting that ALL people of color are only really interested in items that specifically target one's ethnicity. And the fact that many of these items suggested are 'self-help' (i.e the makeup book for Asian women whom have obviously not learned how to apply their own makeup) is mildly condescending.

According to the blog, NYTPicker, who posted a rebuttal from NYT's Editor Diane McNulty, the gifts are actually suggestions to all consumers:

Our online gift guides are intended to offer holiday gift ideas for a wide variety of audiences and interests, with Times writers and editors making smart, informed choices that might appeal to those different audiences.
The "Of Color" guide, in the Style & Travel category, is in keeping with that philosophy, and with the efforts of a diverse Times staff to directly address minority readers with our content.

Of course, we expect our readers to use the guides however they choose, and we hope they'll find interesting ideas in many different categories. But we'll continue our effort to provide content that's relevant and appealing.

The online response has been mixed. On one hand, some feel that the article is a refreshing change from the same old:

These arguments are not new. Products, services and organizations targeted at black consumers - black newspapers, websites or TV networks - have long been criticized by non-black people as being racist. However, the notion that anything that has "black" written on it is racist is simplistic and naive - revealing a major lack of cultural awareness when it comes to the needs and interests of minority citizens.

And others find this a bit insulting:

What is interesting about the guide is that it features gift ideas for many different shades of off-white. Not only Negroes will benefit from this ultra-modern idea, but the Latin's, the Wogs, and even our friends from the inscrutable Orient can be inspired by these exotic and race-specific selections. It’s like taking a trip through an international bazaar — or getting in a time machine and traveling back to the good old days when everyone knew their place and Macy’s didn’t feature Kwanzaa displays.

From Medialite:

Meanwhile, if they are going to include sections devoted to particular segments of the population why only highlight one based on race? (Why highlight it at all, really … there are plenty of things listed here people who are not black or Latino may want, but anyway.) Why not have a section for the gay people in your life? Or Jewish? The answer, of course, is because it is insulting and offensive and so utterly at odds with how the NYT conducts itself in all other areas of the paper. I emailed the NYT to ask for an explanation behind their thinking, and will update accordingly.

I think that this feature in the Times signifies the social disenfranchisement that still exists in which you get the indication that non-poc's really do not know much about people of color. I believe that the writer of this guide tried her best not only to find 'gifts' and write about them in a way that would be understood by the general public and in doing so, was condescending to the public.

We live in a world where we have been (sometimes subtly, sometimes not too subtly) that we have to conform. We are suppose to adopt what the majority of people (non poc's) do and what they want and are told that if we do that, we will be 'accepted.' This guide solidifies the fact that we will never totally blend in to the larger society. That our lives are different and not normal. And that the likelihood that the general society will see us as individuals and not the descendants of groovy trinkets, strange food and clothing is unlikely.

Our 'issues' that seem to be portrayed through this gift guide like a hurtful punch to the gut. Black women have a hard time keeping a man ( because evidently we do not know how) and our relationships with Black men are dysfunctional. Our kids are only interested in learning how to be Hip-Hop or R&B entertainers. Latina women needed a savior in Sonia Sotomayor to be socially relevant, otherwise they wouldn't even exist. Asian and Black women need 'help' finding their natural beauty. And all of us desperately need choskas and "see, we can do it too" reminders to make us feel good about ourselves.

But this guide isn't just for people of color, it's a gateway for white folks to find out more about us. Hey, get the Bollywood Henna kit (which doesn't make much sense how they could tie the two together). Throw on a couple of colorful scarves and hey, you are South Asian! Don't you know that Black people loove Gospel music?

One of the most popular sayings among bloggers and Twitterers nowadays is Fail. Again, I do not think that this feature was a totally bad thing, but we can do better. One day, these items ( better items, that is) will be mixed in with the "regular" gift guides and not separated - or segregated just for people of color.

On that happy note, Happy Holidays to everyone.

Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture

Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com

Writer: Hellbound


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