By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Can you say Don Imus? Well, the Voice has done him proud with Ben Westhoff's cover story 'End Run' [May 30June 5]. I knew it was over when halfway through the article I began thinking of writing a letter to the editor that would refer to the history of the Hottentot Venus, and how in the 19th century the black female body came to represent pathology and sexual deviance. Living in an era which has long abandoned positivist sciences, scientific racism, biological determinism, and the like, I assured myself that this was a horrible error committed by someone who has not acquired critical consciousness. You know, like all those stupid people who elected George Bush. Your condescending writer actually refers to the Hottentot Venus (quoting Stephen Jay Gould!), and ends the reference with: "So the obsession isn't new." So the obsession isn't new? Isn't this the point where the journalist shifts to a tone of irony or begins some sort of meta-commentary on the representation of black women in advanced capitalist societies? Your writers have probably taken their required "multi-culti" courses in college, or maybe even ventured into a course on "Blackness and Visual Culture." Yeah, they probably know all about that "race stuff," right. Putting aside (not excusing) black men for a moment, I'm more disturbed that the reputable Village Voice, which (although I haven't lived very long) I've come to understand to be on the left of the political, social, and cultural spectrum, has publishedwith a straight facean article about how the magazine industry is exploiting black female bodies for profit, all the while reinforcing racial stereotypes, the incompatibility of the races ("black guys like big butts"), and dare I say, structural racism. If your journal thinks it can make black women a target of aggression, why in the hell should any of your readers listen to your commentary on say, the war in Iraq or the Bush administration, or any type of injustice for that matter? Who do you think you are? Jon Stewart or Steve Colbert or some other joker they put on Comedy Central to try and fool us into thinking our media tolerates real dissent? I'd like to say that I will no longer support your paper, but I can't, for one, because it's free, and two, you really don't give a shit about what I have to say. I'm not going to ask for "more people of color in the media" or more "positive representations" or "multicultural education"we've done all of that and it doesn't lead to change, it's ineffective just like all your columns, editorials, and political cartoons. Don't shit in the same place you eat.
In his 1985 book The Flamingo's Smile, Stephen Jay Gould recounted the 19th-century phenomenon of the "Hottentot Venus," a stage name applied to two or more Khoisan women from southern Africa. The Venus was paraded in European sideshows for her prodigious backside. People paid to touch it. So the obsession isn't new. But Buffie admits to being baffled by it. I am also baffled, totally baffled as to why this recounting of a tour of enslaved, sexually exploited South African women is included in this piece. To observe a correlation of this act of sexual violence with the modern exploitation of the black female body by these magazines? I doubt it, because this statement by the writer follows: "The fact is, her big ass does nothing for me. Perhaps, as a white guy, I'm just not hardwired to understand." I'm not clear about the point of this piece or the offensive picture than accompanies it, other than to perhaps continue to perpetuate noxious racist stereotypes about black women.
Thanks for helping the cause against the exploitation of women in society, especially in the media. And please don't reply with the overused, "We don't make the news, we just print it." Someone needs to stand up and take responsibility for doing what is right. Explain to me the value of letting us know that the woman featured in the article is wearing a "tracksuit that strains to contain her." I bet you would not go out of business for just once doing what is right. Actually if you checked with the public you would find that not all of us want to know about the junk preventing us from focusing on important issues like kids in some public schools not having textbooks. As for the women featured in the article and the men producing these magazines, well, that's a whole other conversation that we in the black community must have as well.
I was not familiar with M. Wartella until the Voice debuted the "Runnin' Scared" stories that feature his remarkable cartoons. Wartella's work succeeds not only in capturing the pleasant, putrid, and paradoxical world of New York City, but also in complementing the hard-hitting investigative journalism at the core of the articles themselves. Now I look forward to Wednesdays even more, when I can get a dose of M. Wartella and Tom Tomorrow all in the same paper. Please continue to feature his work. He is an asset to your publication and perhaps the preeminent voice in the future of underground cartoon artwork.