Racist Businessweek cover

Watch out, white America! Dark people are buying houses again. [via Slate]

Update: The artwork (which does not include the text) was by Andres Guzman, who was born in Lima, Perú. [hat tip: Greg B.]

Did a cover for Businessweek about the current housing market boom. I was asked to make an excited family with large quantities of money. I slipped in my lovely cat, Boo which was my favorite part. Too bad I wasn’t asked to draw large quantities of cats. Drawing dollars was a drag.

This suggests that as far as the artist was concerned, the depiction was a creative, rather than an editorial decision. But there's more to a cover than the art: there's the text added to it and the context created by the story it illustrates. Jamelle Bouie:

It's not just the black and Latino caricatures—the whole cover plays into the widely-debunked myth that unreliable minority borrowers were responsible for the financial crash. As Ryan Chittum notes for the Columbia Journalism Review, the truth is that they were disproportionately victimized by unscrupulus lenders. This cover, however, all but implies that minorities are primed to cause another crisis. It's garbage.

Update 2: BusinessWeek apologizes. [Yahoo News]

"Our cover illustration got strong reactions, which we regret," Josh Tyrangiel, Bloomberg Businessweek's editor-in-chief, said in a statement to Yahoo! News. "If we had to do it over again we'd do it differently."


    1. The graphic has been taken completely out of context. It’s about affluent people. It doesn’t say or even imply that a typical single parent with two kids earns $260K. It just illustrates the change in taxes for someone who earns that much.

      If you look at the article that goes with the graphic, you’ll find that it’s topic is how affluent people with incomes slightly below the cutoff for the top tax bracket ($400K individual/$450K couple) are still affected by the changes in the tax code at the beginning of the year, even though their top tax rate didn’t increase.
      Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323689604578220132665726040.html#project%3DWEALTH0105%26articleTabs%3Darticle

      1. If that context is nestled away inside the magazine, then I’m not sure it matters. The cover’s out there on it’s own…making first impressions and saying some pretty embarrassing things.

        1. Pretty sure we’re not talking about the same thing. I was referencing the WSJ graphic in Francis Delaney’s post. I believe you’re talking about the Businessweek cover.

      2. I read the article, and it doesn’t say that. It says this:
        “While the top 1% of taxpayers will bear the biggest burden, many other families, affluent and poor, will pay more as well.”

        In any case, I’m not sure that “they were just implicitly excluding non-rich people from the conversation” is really the best defense here.

        1. I’m not sure what you mean when you say the article “doesn’t say that”. What is “that”? If you read the article you can’t possibly fail to acknowledge that its focus is on tax increases for people earning more than $250K/$300K but less than the threshold for the top tax bracket.  Note that the graphic exactly illustrates this. The couple earning $180K have no change. Those above $250K have increases in the amount owed.

          If you’re referring to the word “poor” in the quote you referenced, the article devotes exactly two sentences to increases borne by those of us who are less than affluent:

          “The most immediate change affects nearly all workers: Congress allowed a two-percentage-point cut for the employee portion of the Social Security tax to expire. As a result, each will owe up to $2,425 more in payroll tax this year than in 2012.”

          Here’s the most relevant succinct quote describing the main focus of the article:

          Backdoor Tax Increases

          “At first glance the law appears simple. In terms of income tax, for example, only the highest tax rate in 2012—the 35% bracket—will increase in 2013, to 39.6%. And that applies only to individuals with at least $400,000 of taxable income or couples with at least $450,000.
          “But there are two backdoor tax increases that will apply to people earning far less—$250,000 for singles and $300,000 for couples.”

          And what the heck do you mean when you say:

          ‘…I’m not sure “they were just implicitly excluding non-rich people from the conversation” is really the best defense here’.

          Defense against what? Are you suggesting that there’s something wrong with writing an article that discusses the impact — on affluent people — of a law designed to affect affluent people?

  1. Given how the headline beneath the racist illustration also defies all evidence to the contrary, the cover also seems to imply that these Browns are either going to be the reason of the next bubble (ALARM! NO LOOK BIDS! 300% RETURNS!) or they are engaging in some sort of fraud.

    1.  Did you read the very last line on that cover?  I don’t think Businessweek is advocating any of that. 

      1. The combination of Brown/ Black people on a pile of money with the caption “What could possibly go wrong?” is not exactly an exoneration of Businessweek.

    2. There is a narrative on the Right that blames the Community Reinvestment Act for forcing the banks to make all those bad loans.  How a 1973 law causes a market crisis in 2008 is beside the point – it couldn’t possibly be the bankers’ fault..  The CRA is not race-based in any way, but it mandates a certain amount of lending targeted at low-income neighborhoods – and we all know who lives THERE.

      1. This is one of those subjects, like the bell curve where conservatives don’t bother with euphemism and go right into racist diatribes.

  2. Especially risky since many people blame CRA for the last bubble.

    I hate to admit it but I was kinda wondering if there might be another bubble brewing. I live in a semi-rural part of the mid-south, where my house is is surrounded by corn and bean fields, and if I drive down the road, where there used to be more corn and bean fields, there’s cul-de-sacs. Everywhere. New houses going up all over the place. Meanwhile I see this barrage of news stories about how enrollment is down at the local uni, government jobs around the area are drying up, and higher state taxes are helping drive struggling businesses out of the area. So…if employment is dropping, and employment opportunities are drying up, who’s buying all these fine big fine houses? And on top of that, realtors have all sorts of inventory available. There’s empty houses all over the place. And they’re still building.

    1. Especially risky since many people blame CRA for the last bubble.

      Yes exactly, it feeds into that whole bogus narrative.

    2.  I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one wondering.  It’s only anecdotal evidence, but while real estate prices are still very low, there seems to be a construction boom going on near me.  Who’s buying all these places?

    3. I’m also living in an area where hundreds of new houses are still being built. I thought it was just my area but I guess not.

  3. I especially like how they are clutching fistfuls of cash.  Obviously if you are a minority, you are greedy for wanting to own a home.  Know your place!  Home ownership is for rich white folks only!

    1. They’re rather clearly portrayals of black people.  You may not have noticed but not all black folks are a uniform shade of brown.

      This should be kinda obvious because in context that’s obviously supposed to be a family of four plus dog.

      1. It looks like she could be white based on her hair and eyes.  It makes me think they changed her race at some point so they could claim not to be racist.

        1. I think the answer you are looking for is “Latina” or better said, a representation of what a cartoon artist creating a racist cover might think a Latina woman looks like.

          1. So am I (Latina, that is). Trust me, Latin@s are not free from the possibility of inflicting bullshit and/ or racist fuckery onto the world.

          2.  A lot of South Americans who are whiter than me are too. They just have Spanish surnames. I’m not saying anything about the artist with that comment.  Just pointing that out. I used to get enraged by a white Brazilian guy who lived in the U.S. and claimed to be “Latino” in a way that would paint him to be not unlike poor brown people in the poor inner city….

          3. And? Commercial artists draw for their editors, not themselves.

            Also, coming from Miami, plenty of Latinos hate other Latinos. You know, the “dirty” ones.

      2.  Well, the bottom-left in particular doesn’t look like a portrayal of a black person to me at all, looks more like an overweight white person.  Looks like I’m not the only one in this thread to have trouble with this “clear” and “obvious” fact, either.

        1. As I said to someone else, if you actually go look at some black people you’ll see plenty of folks who are at least as light-skinned as the woman in the lower left. WHich is why this “well, she’s lighter-skinned than the rest so she’s obviously white” stuff is rather silly.

          I’ve been overstating clear and obvious in no small part because I wanted to avoid silly and diversionary arguments about whether the fact that some of the characters have lighter skin tones means that they’re clearly not black.

          1. “if you actually go look at some black people”

            Right.  The reason I don’t agree with you because I don’t know what black people look like.  It’s all so clear now, obviously that’s the problem.

            The fact that some black people can have very light skin tones has no bearing on the fact that the caricature in the lower-left looks to a lot of people like an overweight white woman rather than a black woman.  It’s presumptuous of you to claim that it’s *actually* a black woman who just happens to look white, as if you were in any way involved with the original intent, and that anyone who disagrees with you is obviously wrong and should just go away (and complete with foul language, in some of your thread posts).  If the intent was a caricature of a black woman, it failed to exaggerate the main aspect that would make that clear.

  4. Am I missing something here? There are 2 light-skinned people and 2 dark-skinned people, what’s racist about it?

    EDIT: Ok pretty sure I’ve figured this out, bottom left is clearly an (overweight) white woman, so it’s obviously supposed to be a happy multi-racial family with a white mom, black dad and mixed race kids.

    EDIT2: Man this is getting ridiculous, the overweight white woman has a big mouth so somehow that means that she must actually be black? Even tho she has caucasian nose, eyes and hair. Seriously??

      1. that’s because the dog isn’t getting caught up in the real estate bubble, because its a dog.

    1. Two Hispanics and two African Amercians and you’re wondering what’s up? 

      Given the wording of the text though, I think the article may be something like “Minorities are getting sold a bill of goods with the newest real estate bubble, they’re going to get burned, again.”

      The artwork seems purposefully designed to be racist though.  I wonder if the artist had to erase the fried chicken from that man’s hand to draw the cash in there. 

  5. I’m usually the first one to point out racism (and other -isms) when I see them, but I am left wondering exactly what combination of skin-tones would pass muster. If you have zero white people, then you’re racist for suggesting that dark-skinned people are the problem. If you have two white people and two dark-skinned people, then you’re disproportionately representing whites, who do not make up 50% of the population. Is the formula for not being racist: 1 white person, 1 black person, 1 hispanic, and 1 asian. Two of these people must be women and two men. One must be visibly physically disabled, preferably the white person, to avoid making it look like you’re putting the dark-skinned person down or something. If there is class distinction, the white person should be working-class, the Asian middle-class, the black upper-class, and the Hispanic a student.

    Okay. Got it. That’s the formula for avoiding being accused of racism.

  6. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and say I’m sure the artist just draws people exaggeratedly (part of the john k/spoungebob/school) and was trying to be politically correct by not drawing just white people. May not look that way unfortunately. 

  7. So you have two blacks, a brown person, presumably a Latina, and a person of ambiguous race….

    Beyond the racist implications of suggesting that mostly brown folks are irresponsible and stupid with their money, there are class issues as well.

    It’s offensive on so many levels, but mostly because it’s a fact that *wealthy* people defaulted and abandoned their properties more than the poor did, despite absolutely proven racial discrimination by bankers when it came to giving out loans in comparison the kinds given to white people of equal credit and means.

    I see that it’s already too late to say “In before the whiny white people”

  8. As a white man I can (justly) be accused of being naive about racism, but I will say I can understand why this got by the editors. If anything it strikes me like those bland but conscientiously non-racist stock art photos with employees or students of every skin color (regardless of the actual distribution at the employer or school in question). In other words, I suspect they were actively trying NOT to be racist.

  9. I’m missing how this is racist. I see a cover illustrating the mentality of housing bubbles. It portrays a family (families often live together in houses) of non-whites (families are also often not pan-ethnic). They are not participating in any form of behavior blatantly stereotypical for their (rather ambiguous) race. Are we suggesting that it is racist to suggest that any people other than whites can get caught up in housing bubbles? 

    I’ve heard some pretty racist shit in my life, but I’ve never heard anyone say “you know, those people, with their rap music and their high-risk real estate investments.” Let’s all take a breath.

    1. “rather ambiguous race?!?!?”  to be any more racist that guy needs a speech bubble saying “lawsy, de only thing I laks more than fried chicken is free gubmint money! thanks, whitey!”

      and yes, i have spent HOURS in a car listening to relatives declaim how the bubble was caused by THOSE people and their high-risk real estate deals.  

      and jimmy carter. he done it.

  10. maybe im an ignorant whitey but i don’t see how the art its self is racist, it seems like alot of reading into nothing, do artists need to start making all their characters purple and green to avoid indicating ethnicity?

    come on people, just because you don’t like the picture doesn’t make it racist

    1.  It’s not the dislike that makes it racist, it’s the fact that it plays to common racist tropes.  It’s upsetting people because it’s racist, not the other way around.

      If it wasn’t racist why would it be upsetting people?

      1. lots of stuff that ISN’T racist upsets people who think it might be, cf Mark Twain for a good argument.  this cover might have been done innocently – but someone should have looked at it and said whoops, THAT might ring some bells… try again. 

        that it made it so far means either no-one at the mag is smart enough to recognize the issue (one facet of racism), or they actively approved of the message.

        1.  Fair enough.  The intention of the artist may well not have been racist and the inclusion of racist tropes may have been inadvertent.  Nonetheless, the racist tropes are there and I have no doubt that a lot of people who were screaming about the CRA a few years ago will get a warm, fuzzy feeling from this cover.

      2. what are the racist tropes in the picture?, i don’t think people being upset is a good indicator that something is actually racist

        1. It reminds me of nothing so much as Dave Chappelle’s skit in which black folks received money for slavery reparations and spent it all on mentholated cigarettes and pork rinds.

          Of course, Chappelle was satirizing those tropes whereas I don’t get any sense of that here.

  11. Can we just take it as a given in this discussion that the cover is racist?  Like if you don’t agree could you go discuss your dissent over at the Weekly Standard or something?  I don’t feel like having to argue for the totally fucking obvious: that all four of those caricatures are of black people, that it’s supposed to represent a family, and that it clearly constitutes the same sort of race-baiting we get from Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and formerly from Andrew Breitbart.

    1. nope, i don’t see racism in the illustration, i don’t know what the weekly standard is and i don’t ever listen to rush limbaugh or any of those other guys

      1. Well if you don’t see racism in the illustration then I’m not sure what there is to discuss and my sentiment remains: if you want to discuss how non-racist the illustration is you can go do it in some comment thread that isn’t about how racist the illustration is.

      2. As is obvious from many comments in this thread, many people do see the illustration as an example of full-out racist caricature. And they’ve provided good explanations of why they view it that way.

        What I would suggest, since you’re lacking in experience to fairly judge such a cover, is to buy that magazine. Invite some friends over- African American, Native American, Latino/a, S.E Asian Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern– and discuss the cover.

        Failing that, devote some time to researching WHY this cover is offensive to so many.

        You will learn something about the lives and experience of friends and other Americans. And I believe that what you would learn would help you better understand contemporary American society and the history of race in the US. 

        I predict that you would also strengthen friendships while gaining a better understanding of how racism functions in this country. Which, in turn, would help you make more informed  choices in future elections.

        This may sound patronizing. I’m sorry if it does. But I am extremely frustrated by how many (mostly white) people, simply through ignorance or lack of experience, make judgements that impact the lives of so many other people. 

        This is important. Racism has always played a powerful role in the history of the US. This history affects all Americans, and living in ignorance of its impact on society makes a citizen an uniformed voter whose vote affects the lives and the future of every American.

        Try to see the world through others’ eyes for a change. It will change your life for the better and make you a wiser and more compassionate person. Isn’t this change something that most people would welcome?

  12. Guys, the artist was born in Peru. Name’s Andres Guzman. Y’know, maybe that’s the reason why he drew a Latino/mixed race family. Just sayin’. On his tumblr, he says: “I was asked to draw an excited family with large quantities of money.”

    1. let’s give mr. guzman the benefit of the doubt – this may even be a caricature of HIS family. 

      but someone should have asked him to try again.

      1. “Dear Mr. Guzman, Thank you for the drawing of your family.  Unfortunately, your family is quite racist-looking.  Could you please draw a new family that is less offensive to overly sensitive white people? Tha-anks.”

        1. “Dear Mr. Guzman – thank you for the cover illo; your family looks quite happy in it. Sadly, a significant portion of our readership believes  – despite evidence to the contrary – that minorities were responsible for the first housing crash…  and we’d rather not have a cover that may come off as editorializing along those lines. Could you work up something else?”

        2. “and by less offensive to overly sensitive white people we mean -has less blacks in it-”

          Oh, irony.

    2.  I’m kinda guessing he had no idea about the subject of the article.

      Heck it doesn’t even make sense – they get a house AND piles of money to roll in like Scrooge McDuck?

        1. I’ve been looking at his work, clearly your point above doesn’t really hold water. I like his work though! haha… Bad editor perhaps, as others have pointed out. Still plays on tropes and narratives even if that wasn’t the intent, or didn’t realize he was doing it.

          1. I wasn’t making a point there, per se, but injecting a bit of context. People are making a hell of a lot of assumptions about who the artist is and where he’s coming from – that this is the work of Whitey McWhite, racist caricaturist.

            Anyway, yeah, I think the problem here is that the editor wasn’t doing their job. The context makes this illustration … problematic.

    3. Peruvians are not in the least unfamiliar with racism. In fact, it’s been a much-discussed topic in Peru in the last 10-15 years.

      Regardless of the artist’s intentions, however, the artist is not the one who critiques or accepts a cover illustration. It doesn’t work that way in the industry. I’ve designed covers for two issues of Businessweek, although it was a couple years ago and personnel/process may have changed since then. But I’m very familiar with standard client/artist dynamics.

      The client has initial, inter-process and final say. Rough draft suggestions are green-lighted by them and they maintain all control over what appears on the cover of their magazine.

  13. It’s right wing dogma that the whole recession was the result of lazy ethnic people getting home loans, which also apparently crashed the banks of Ireland and Iceland.

    Historically, it is also  the main theme of Fascism that the White Tribal Paradise was stolen by “those people.”

    1. hard working ethnic people that just can’t afford the loans they were predatoraly granted are not lazy. 

    1. Yeah, what the fuck? Why the hell are we wasting so much time talking about race in a post-racial society? It’s ludicrous. Calling Michelle Obama a gorilla is a funny joke that exists in a vacuum. You’re the racist if you draw some sort of conclusion from such a light-hearted and random dada-ist joke.


  14. It’s a pretty horrible style of illustration, but ALL of the people and animals in it look horrible, equally horrible. I don’t see that it’s racist, it’s just very, very ugly.
    I see no one in the illustration that was spared, including the house. 
    Poor choice for a cover illustration, regardless. They all look unhinged at best.

    (Reminds me of the singularly unattractive works of Robert Crumb.)  

  15. Mom is white, dad is black, the kids are mixed shades… I think the real racists are those who see this as racist — because they a) endlessly argue that it can’t be a mixed color family (maybe it’s so rare to them?), and b) don’t grant minorities the right to get an equal share of negative associations (why do we have to use whites only for that if we mix races in every stock photo?).

    1. Illustrations illustrate a point. Otherwise they’re called art. This is commercial piece being used to illustrate a point. It’s being used on the cover of a magazine that is read by business people and moneyed interests.

      If Businessweek’s next cover features a mash-up of Trotsky, Dorothy and the W. of OZ characters, spaghetti bolognese, infant sloths and dozens of different flower species, I look forward to discussing it with you.

      The amount of ignorance and disingenuousness displayed in this thread is really depressing. It suggests that many commenters on BB, whom I consider a thinking, informed crowd, have great gaps in their knowledge and understanding of American history. Further, it suggests that they’ve never hung out with their friends and discussed race.

      What surprises me about that is that among my friends, being the type of people who discuss current events, politics and society (like most BB commenters), race in America is a common topic for conversation. Because it’s relevant. And it’s enraging. Sometimes it’s encouraging. but it is always relevant to what it happening in the US.

      Race has played and continues to play a significant role in our country’s history. I don’t understand how it can remain an obscure topic for well-informed, curious, well-meaning, and knowledgeable people.

  16. I would also like to complain about the speciesist aspect of it as well. The cat is shown as attractive and smug, while the dog appears unruly, and ready to heave up his dinner.

  17. Regardless of the (subjectively) racist illustration, nice to see the bankers blame everybody but themselves when they create the newest bubble to fuck us with and make the record profits to come.

      1. i see that she could be interpreted as a wide variety of ethnicities, im seeing a latina / philipino sort of thing going on, but white or light skinned black definitely isn’t off the table

        Hmm…wonder who said that originally…

  18. It’s clearly a failure of art direction and editorial control. I think the illustrator, given his style and background, drew something that made sense to him, but the art director should have rejected it.

    I don’t even see the art as meaning what it was originally intended to mean. As one commenter above said, what, they got a house AND money too? Is that what flipping is about? And then there’s the weird big circle cut out of the house. And the money inside the house doesn’t read easily, to me at least, as money at all–more like a bunch of Popeye spinach. 

  19. A Latino person draws a Latino family and yet somehow the cover is racist and implies minorities will bring about another crisis?

    Am I missing something or are my nerves not as highly sensitive to even a whiff of racism in the manner that Victorian ladies were primed to respond to even a faint hint of naughtiness by fainting?

    “Dark-skinned” people (I am white and am darker than two of the people in the drawing) can own houses and have lots of money too, it’s not just reserved for white people any more.

    Stupid and greedy people come in all colors and it was stupid and greedy people who caused the last crisis and who will cause the next.

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