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Follow-up to previous articles: Racism in Design

Readers talk about racism in design...

special DTG Letters to the Editor

Following my article about racism in design, we had an almost overwhelming wave of responses posted to the contact page. While we cannot post all of the reactions, I'd like to share some of the ones we felt would add some insight to the issue of racial images in graphic design.

If you haven't been following the series, it all began with our "Soft Soap" article, and then continued with responses from readers in Beware of Racism in Design

Here are a few comments (in no particular order) we received...

tired of being sensitive to the stereotypes

P.F. from Stafford, VA, USA writes to say: [Quote]
      I just read your article on the offending "soap box."
Well done -- and I can understand how this issue slippped past you. Most of us do not think much about it anymore and with so many young people in the design/graphic world, they have probably not been exposed to the stereotypes of the past.
      I am an African-American woman/retired US Marine/ditital designer/biker and I read the original article and it slipped past me!! I guess I am just tired of being sensitive to the stereotypes of the past.
      They only offend me if I let them.

Can't please all the people, all the time...

C.G. from Monroe, LA wrote in to say: [Quote]
      I recently discovered your web site and have found it very helpful.I want to make one short comment on the racist implications of the "Soft Soap Designing Power" picture.
      BIG DEAL!!! This is a good example of not being able to please all of the people all of the time. I bet that most blacks were not offended by that picture. I am tired of all of these political activists whining every time something happens to offend them. The next time you want to offend someone put up a picture of the Nativity scene next Christmas. I am sure that you will have all of the ACLU types screaming bloody murder at what kind of awful people run this web site.
      BTW, keep up the good work!!!

The content was more important...

K.L. from Lansdowne, PA writes: [Quote]
      Hello, I am an african american student and I did notice the images but I don't think that you are a racist because of it. I paid more attention to your information on self promos which really helped me with my own...

innocence in this area is good

Tee from Phoenix, AZ wrote in to say: [Quote]
      Why didn't you see the racial aspect of the design? I would not have either.
      I believe it is simply because we do not see black & white the same way our recent ancestors did. We don't differentiate simply on a caricature being black or white. We are color blind in this aspect.
      However, those who are offended by what they see, are so because of their background/history/whatever. They do differentiate between what is considered black and white culturally now and in the past. I'm not saying we are right and they are wrong. I'm saying neither are wrong.
      There are going to be times, especially with upcoming generations, where new advertising is going to use old images that the designer just won't know is racist. I do believe those who do know, whether from education or experience, let the designer know in an educational matter and not accusatory. It needs to be said that innocence in this area is good.
      It shows that future generations (most) don't descriminate culterally based on color. It's a GOOD sign.

bombarded with negative images all the time

S.P. from New York, NY writes in to say: [Quote]
      Pertaining to the article about racism in design. I wasn't offended when I received the Art Directors Club promotion, "Pimp My Brand" this year, It was more like "what were they drinking?" Maybe I was a little offended, but very little.
      I am a black designer in NYC and I'm bombarded with negative images of my people all the time. From BET, the biggest offender, with their videos. The rap music industry and their crap. Thug mentality pushed for clothing lines like "State Property". And don't forget the wonderful ad campaign for 50-Cent's movie with him holding a mic in one hand and a gun in the other.
      We have blinders on when it comes to us. We accept the sterotype when we perceieve its coming from other black people, but that same image pushed by white people is called racism. Its confusing!
      Thank you for your your article. Even I made a mistake and offended a client with a racial image and I didn't even know it. Keep up the good work!

For benefit those who don't see racial imagery

Then in April of 2007, this reader, A.B. from Kent, OH writes:

      ... I am a graduate student currently working on my MFA in graphic design. In the process of working on a paper/presentation, I came across your site and the conversation regarding the self promotional box featuring the Gold Dust Twins. (I'm not certain how old/recent the discussion is.)

As an individual who is very interested in black caricature, I was almost more shocked about the fact that someone ripped off the design of the original Gold Dust Twins packaging and used it for a "Soft Soap" promotion in the 1970s than I was seeing the racist imagery.

That being said, I am also shocked by the apparent ignorance of those making comments in response, i.e. those who state that taking offense to such imagery is overly sensitive.

cover Rather than get into a long discussion, I would simply like to bring your attention to two wonderful books as well as a website:
* "Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" by Marilyn Kern-Foxworth,
* "Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation" by Michael D. Harris and the
* Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University.

All three sources might benefit those who don't understand why such imagery is offensive or see the harm in it--make no doubt that The Gold Dust Twins and their ilk are offensive, in part due to the historical context from which they are rooted -- as well as educate those who are interested in learning more.

I appreciate your candor in addressing this issue, but am also saddened by those who reject the notion that they should be offended. Perhaps others visiting your site will take the trouble to research, learn and thereby understand why such imagery is so terribly problematic as opposed to remaining in blissful ignorance.


Will we build a better world?

This reinforces the tried and true rule that all viewers and readers interpret visual images according to their own background, environment, and individual intellect. The Designer's role in purveying a message is to do the very best they can to get the message to the reader without unnecessary or distracting noise. That's what design is all about.

I did read all of the responses from readers -- as I do each and every month. I apologize that I can't always respond to everyone, there simply aren't enough hours in a day. But I do want you to know that I sincerely appreciate the honor of your opinions.

Always remember that none of us is infallible -- if I write something that offends you, or write something that is contrary to your thoughts on the subject, I'm hoping you'll call it to my attention so we can build a better understanding between us all.

Fred Showker
    Fred Showker, Editor/Publisher

As always, I encourage you to share your graphic design experience, comments or suggestions!

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