Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I sometimes feel like the fabric of being black in a world where such is not the favorite flavor cripples our ability to see things with an otherwise open mind and eye.

Publishers Weekly took a mountain of flack this week for its current cover. The image, (Pickin’, 1999) by photographer Lauren Kelley is a powerful depiction of a black woman whose crowning glory is a giant sculptural Afro hair-do comprised of hair picks with plastic handles molded into black power fists.

This particular photograph was taken from the book , Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present by Deborah Willis, who also curated the accompanying art exhibition, Posing Beauty in African American Culture which will travel nationally beginning Spring 2010. All of the images in the exhibition, including Pickin,’ "challenge idealized forms of beauty in art by examining their portrayal and exploring a variety of attitudes about race, class, gender, popular culture and politics as seen through the aesthetics of representation."

The Publisher’s Weekly senior news editor, Calvin Reid didn’t anticipate the flack he’s gotten for his selection. Folk’s just didn’t get the quirky, tongue-in-cheek appeal intended as a pun to highlight a story that “picked” new black titles of interest in the publishing industry. Instead, the photograph was seen as a disparaging and degrading image of a black woman that many were offended by. Few saw it for the work of art that the artist intended for it to be. There was no thought to there being a parallel between the power in black hair and the power of black authors and their writings, or the sheer power of being black when such is not the favorite flavor.

The negative responses were so abundant that Mr. Reid has since issued a statement and apology wherein he acknowledges those critics who didn’t approve of his selection, noting his regret for offending anyone since such was not his intent. The man chose that particular image simple because he loved it.

Sadly, the cover image has gotten more notice than the accompanying article did and when one considers that black authors and their writings are being demarginalized to the point of becoming obsolete, you’d think we’d want to focus and comment more on Felicia Pride’s feature on black authors and black books in today’s market place, than on the accompanying cover art.

PS – Both the book and exhibit are incredible. The images are unique and thought-provoking. If you have an opportunity, see the show or head to the nearest bookstore or library to enjoy the book.

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