Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Open Letter to Jeanette at Utah Valley Magazine

A few days ago Utah Valley Magazine had a photo of some of the women in the office. You might have heard about it. This is a copy of that photo.

The headline for the photo was Women of Color. Now, hold on those of you who are women of color for just a sec. For those of you not traditionally thought of as women of color take two seconds.

I know. I understand. I got a brand new dent on my desk.  Deep breath, let the good air in, let the bad air out. Ok.

The editor of the magazine, Jeanette Bennett has written her explanation of how the photo and the headline came to be published. This is the comment that I left on her blog.

I wanted to address her question in the post as to why folks got so heated up about the headline and photo and how they did not seem to articulate anything more than anger. And there are some angry folks. Understandable.

But if she was serious about wanting to know why the headline and photo struck a bunch of nerves I wanted to step up and give it a go. It is not the only reason. No,  certainly not. And I know for certain there will be white folks that will be angry about being told they have no color. Never said that nor implied it.

Damn, I hate race based posts that require a book and a half to do properly. Anyway, this is the comment that I left at her blog. It may or may not be approved but I wanted to make sure some body sees it.

I appreciate your efforts to clarify how the cover and headline occurred. I am not here to cuss you out. No hate, no insults and no calls for lighting folks up.

As an African American woman I want to chime in on why the headline and the photo caused people to blink repeatedly. I have to say looking at the photo there was a psychic disconnect.

You know, it has been kinda rough for people of color. We have so many folks that want to be blind to seeing our ethnicity aka " I don't see color, I see the person."  Not really true, but I'm not here to get that fire going. Another trope is "I'm American, dammit, why can't you be too?" I am American with ancestors from Africa. I don't want my history expunged.

No, of course you did not mean for that meaning. Yet your headline or photo did that. In addition, with the bitterness and mendacity of the current political campaigns it certainly feels like open season on anyone not white, Caucasian or so called true American. It was, in a way a reminder of how a term is appropriated by another ethnic group then presented as their own definition.

There is a disconnect. There was a WTF moment that seem to imply resonance with the desire to turn this country back to 1945 or earlier.

You as a writer and editor know that words have a life and an energy of their own once published.  That is what happened to your headline. For some of us it was hurtful because we were not present in that photo. We were erased but the term remained visible under folks that rosy cheeks and straight flowing hair.
It is like have the a traditional Caucasian church choir (any choir, not specify any that might happen to be in Utah) attempting to sing One Nation Under A Groove.  It is possible to for the choir to sing the words. It would be a similar psychic disconnect. It would resonate poorly.
That is what happened. The photo and headline resonated exclusion.  Exclusion sometimes generates anger.  Or sadness. Or maybe confirmation that we have much more work to do to understand each other.

I suspect that there are people of color in your community that could write for your magazine. You might have to look past your usual social networking groups. You might have to shift your perceptions that they are not present.

Perhaps there is something about the mag that discourages contributions from people of color.

That would be a good place to start looking within.

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