'Voice' Cover Racist?

TV on the Radio guy thinks so

LETTER OF THE WEEK
What's happening to the once great Village Voice that I grew up with? Admittedly, the decline set in many years before the current regime came in, but it's been mightily accelerated over the past year. It's not just that the paper's cultural and political muscle has turned flabby, it's that there is so little substance at a time when monumental changes are happening all around us. Surely there are writers and editors in the city with ideas that could turn the paper around. Why is there so little writing about Iraq, Bush, media issues, new technology, health and spiritual issues, and corporate corruption, etc.? The Voice was best when it was a muckraking, populist publication instead of the corporate, sophomoric rag it's become. Wake up. Make a serious search and spend the money for the talent that can make you more than just a clone of Time Out and New Yorkmagazine.
Alan Leventhal
Manhattan


RACE TRACKS
Looking at this week's cover of the Voice, I see a caricature of Bob Dylan in an electric mobility scooter, running over Kyp Malone, guitarist/vocalist of the band TV on the Radio. The drawing, I imagine, was supposed to comically illustrate Dylan's new record edging out TVOTR's "Return to Cookie Mountain," in the paper's 34th Annual Pazz & Jop poll [February 7–13]. This drawing is racist, unfunny, mean-spirited, and inaccurate.

Even in the post-Chappelle era of it being hip and edgy to discuss and portray ideas about race, there are still wrong, tasteless ways and this was one of them. Nowhere in the consciousness of Voice editors or illustrator David O'Keefe can we find memories of James Byrd, a black man who was dragged behind a truck to his death by white racists in Jasper, Texas, in 1998, or Arthur "J.R." Warren, who was run over four times and killed for being black and gay in West Virginia in 2000, and all the other lynchings that happened in the U.S. before and since. These events are still fresh in the minds of black people, as well as in the hearts and minds of the rest of us who may not be directly victimized by these particular lynchings but who are nonetheless endangered by racism and committed to social justice and healing America of its sick racist condition.

O'Keefe and his colleagues may not have meant to intentionally be racist. They probably meant to be funny, like the University of Texas law students, Clemson University undergrads, or white college students nationwide who plan and publicize their blackface or "ghetto parties," then act surprised that people find their actions offensive and unacceptable. That this picture could be drawn and not questioned or vetoed by any of the people who saw it prior to publication shows the level of ignorance and racism that persists in leftist institutions like the Voice that continue to posture as hip and progressive. It reveals that among decision-makers at the paper there is not one single person with any sort of racial consciousness or sensitivity who had the power or courage to send that picture back to the drawing board.

Racism aside, the drawing is snarky and simpleminded. Where is the love? Why such a nasty way to portray two fantastic musical entities who made award-winning records last year? Why only portray Kyp, when TV on the Radio is composed of four other equally talented core members plus a small army of extended family (including myself) who have contributed to the indescribably ecstatic sound of TVOTR onstage and on record. We struggle defiantly to collaborate and work in non-hierarchical, positive environments and this portrayal of one of our people strikes a blow against our collective dignity.

Every time our likenesses are used outside of our control—especially in stupid ways like this—it fosters false perceptions of who we are. We struggle on a daily basis (those of us with high media exposure much more than others) to be our true selves and not what the media creates of us. Inevitably, Kyp will have to respond to an endless stream of questions about this cover from scores of journalists over the next week when he'd probably rather be doing something else.

Intentionally or not, this cover sends the all-too-familiar message to people of color: Make something too unique, make something outside of your assigned place-role, and get run over by a white man. I could go on about it, about how wrong it is to create false competition between musicians; the headline "Blood on the Tracks!" gives the very false impression that there is serious beef with Dylan and TVOTR. I could complain about how you drew Kyp outfitted like the Nutty Professor rather than his true fly stylish self. All other criticism, however, would draw attention away from the more serious and sinister latent racism present that makes this cover possible to begin with. I pray that you will wise up and check yourself and get some people with some sense and sensitivity among your editorial staff.
Martín Perna
Baritone saxophone, flutes
Antibalas/TV on the Radio
Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn

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