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Racially Insensitive Photo or Oversensitive Response?

Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen

hide captionLebron James and Gisele Bundchen appear on the cover of Vogue's April 2008 issue.

Professional basketball player LeBron James made history this month, as the first black man to ever appear on the cover of Vogue magazine.

But the fanfare was short-lived. Some say the Annie Leibovitz photo, showing LeBron in a gorilla-like/King Kong pose plays on racial stereotypes. writer and News & Notes sports roundtable regular Jemele Hill said the photo is "memorable for the wrong reasons." She adds:

"Vogue deserves criticism, but more blame should go to LeBron and other black athletes, who need to exercise stricter control of their images. If LeBron is brave enough to wear a Yankees cap at an Indians playoff game, picking up a history book and educating himself shouldn't cause a strain."

Tell us what you think. Then, take a poll over at AOL Black Voices.



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OMG, where do people get these theories from a cover picture? I saw the Vogue edition in a bookstore yesterday and I was about to buy it until I remembered I had a "rewards" program with another bookstore out of my way at the time.

I'm still going to buy the vogue edition because I think it's an iconic picture and I normally do so when I see a person of color in a mainstream magazine as a show of support.

So Jemele Hill (who I respect her work by the way) thinks Lebron should have been in another kind of attire being one of the "best-dressed men in the NBA." That last theory doesn't hold water because you could say the same thing of Dwyane Wade appearing shirtless in a "GQ" cover, November 2006 edition. Isn't GQ about style too just like Vogue? Besides, the edition among other things, was featuring the "secret of the best bodies;" I say if Lebron wants to flex his tatood biceps and the grimace (like so many guys I see at the gym) of working hard for his body, so be it! So Hill should not be overly sensitive about a cover that was supposed to be fun shoot . . . SERIOUSLY!!!

Sent by Moji | 1:38 PM | 3-25-2008

As a black person I find it wearing to always seem to be returning to these questions about race-ism & images of black folks in the media. Of course we have a long legacy of offensive images BUT my concern is two fold. Though I don't like the Vogue cover for a few reasons, including its sexist overtones, our "concern" seems to leave out the thoughts of the participants. Lebron James is a young, wealthy, famous man and he does not arrive at a photo shot alone. He has press agents, managers, stylists etc. but most importantly he has agency. In our concern we should be careful NOT to divest him of that ability to consent. The images that worry me the most are those generated by, for, about persons of color. Guns and half naked women, the glorified "Thug life" worry me far more than an strained attempt to enforce male notions of power "The Baller gets the girl."

Sent by raul | 1:49 PM | 3-25-2008

ummm hello?! this is the fashion world we are talking about here. Black models are routinely darkened and/or put in jungle backdrops for photoshoots. I'm hardly surprised.

I can hear Annie Leibovitz drawling "it is just fashion darling" lol! I wonder if Lebron was actually yelling and Giselle laughing when this picture was taken.

Sent by ceecee | 2:31 PM | 3-25-2008

humm does this that James got game and da girl or just a check...was his check as much as hers? Really who is going to purchase this encyclopedia du "you needs to look like a white girl" to be considered "vogue"? i dont need a big picture book/zine to tell me what to wear or how to look. I definitely dont't need it to play on white male fears of African/black men getting their women? Vogue would have done one better having Prince and da Twinz for this one...after all, he is into fashion whilst James is by the appearance not.. How come he its is a three piece suit?

Sent by K Mjumbe | 2:53 PM | 3-25-2008

Why must African-Americans exist in a self-imposed creative box? I'm sure people wouldn't care if it were a white athlete, but since it's a black athlete, of course, it has negative connotations. Get over yourselves people, it's just a picture.

Sent by Bill M | 4:22 PM | 3-25-2008

HE looks like King Kong! I bet Tom Brady is pissed!

Sent by MGJ | 5:35 PM | 3-25-2008

The picture isn't that bad. I guess to me it looks like some sort of bad boy theme. If you want to take into account that he is black & large well yes he is. Gisele looks pretty, latin, and helpless. You don't see her complaining. It's just a picture and nothing more.

Sent by Khodges | 8:13 PM | 3-25-2008

WTF! Just a picture is RIGHT. Lebron's life is for Lebron to live.

Negative connotations? Only if that's your orientation and YOU are inclined to think (trapped) in those narrow constructs. I'm amused by all this over analyzing about a freakin picture!

ISSUES man...ISSUUUUES; be careful when in the public square; avoid at all cost!

But be REAL; at bottom of the criticism is sour grapes because he's with Gisele ('the white girl')

Chalk it up as a Freudian support group topic; misfires that fill the void on those many many dateless Friday nights.

Then equipped with a group-think doctrine they think they can impose, they scurry out on the public scene Wendy Williams style ready to set'm straight; assault personal sovereignty....but alas, to no avail.

Sent by Jon J | 2:35 AM | 3-26-2008

As an addendum to my original post: I bought the Vogue issue last night and I want to give Vogue major props for what I think is one of its (if not the) best issue ever! It featured people of color of various backgrounds and it's not even the month of February!

Also, for all the hoopla Jemele Hill caused with this cover. I wish she will read the whole magazine first before making a judgment as a columnist . . . just a thought! It featured atheletes paired with models at the top of their games. Thus, the athletes were in their brand of sports trademark wear. Hear that Hill! Prada and Armani need not be the duds Lebron had to sport on the cover. It would have been impractical for the issue.

I wish black folks would not cry wolf all the time when something happens, so when something serious (which this cover is NOT), people would REALLY pay attention.

Sent by Moji | 9:04 AM | 3-26-2008

This is utterly inane. Lebron should have known better, Vogues should have known better, just when you think peoples mentalities have been eleveated an inch, they drop six feet...

Sent by DJ Black Adam | 12:11 PM | 3-26-2008

The quote: 'It featured athletes paired with models at the top of their games. Thus, the athletes were in their brand of sports trademark wear.'
Bing! Perspective & context alway useful.

other motivators?
Editorial intent; boost sales maybe? An issue men & women will read, added shelf like for advertiser, etc. Recognizing market (pop) commercial appeal of the modern athlete as entertainer.

Good job Vogue, keep extending that!

Sent by Jon J | 12:15 PM | 3-26-2008

First of all, I didn't know that Giselle Bunchen was that tall. I thought it was Photoshop, but I then saw that LeBron James was squatting.

Secondly, could we all just get over the fact that Blacks and Whites can appear in the same picture together without the world coming to an end? As one-half of an inter-racial couple (I'm Irish-American; my wife is Kenyan), the thought of "racial stereotypes" must be a product of your own imagination. It says so much more about you that you saw a racial stereotype in this picture than it says about what the photographer and magazine was trying to say. Please, it's been over 140 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. Get off the plantation!

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 1:46 PM | 3-26-2008

DJ Adam...Lebron should have known better, known what?

Sent by Jon J | 7:14 PM | 3-26-2008

This looks like some kind of Beauty and the Beast or King Kong image. It's hard for me to believe that such a "classy" magazine like Vogue would put a Tom Brady or Joe Montana on the cover in their warm up gear looking like that. Why? Because white men have been racialized to be the thinkers and gentlemen. While black men have been racialized as brutes and animals. Today's black athletes need to take note from Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali and do a better job at representing themselves.

Sent by Diana J | 11:04 PM | 3-26-2008

LeBron, Gisele/ big magazine cover, big deal. Who cares? You poor, pitiful people. When, oh when, are we going to grow up enough to celebrate difference rather than conformity? I think it's a great picture and I wish I had a big copy of it to put on my wall.

Sent by Harry Williams, Athens, GA. | 1:59 PM | 3-27-2008

Diana J, I'm with you.

Besides, what an ugly photograph for the cover of a beauty magazine! It looked like they were taking direction from different people with a very different vision for the image.

Sent by Lalita | 2:15 PM | 3-27-2008

Those who think that Lebron looks like a gorilla (King Kong)in the Vogue magazine already have some predisposition to be racist and that's what they will see. Some of us just see photographic artistic expression. (and anyway, didn't most of us feel for the beast in the movie and even cried at what happened to him? Did any of us really cared what he looked like in order to feel for his plight?) Personally, I liked the beast and thought him to be the victim of really "ugly" people--those who exploited him to make money. So "ugly" is really subjective, isn't it?)And so is the reaction to the cover.

Sent by Maria Rodriguez | 5:46 PM | 3-27-2008

K. Danielle Edwards wrote a great column on this on The Black Commentator. I heard her on the Black Athletic Sports Network talking about it.

Sent by Billy Sanders | 7:38 PM | 3-27-2008

The last time I checked the news it struck me that there are more important concerns than fashion magazine covers and the real or perceived message being sent.

Let's pull back on our little world view and look at a slightly larger one. There are millions of people in this country going to bed hungry every single night. There is genocide in Darfur. And what is of major concern? Why, it's what kind of message is being sent to the American public by a VOGUE magazine cover! Is this really a major story? Will we ever get to the point we can overlook this kind of stuff and focus on more substantive issues (i.e., human suffering, genocide, etc.?)

Let us leave the fashion magazines and the perceived or real messages that their cover is sending out to the masses... Are we sure there really WAS a message behind that cover? Sorry to sound so bitter, but come on folks.

Sent by Galen | 11:31 PM | 3-27-2008

I agree with Maria R. in that some folks have a predisposition to be racist. And, I'd like to bring up this comparison: if a white journalist said Lebron looked like King Kong in this pic, it would have stirred a racial controversy. Instead, a black journalist says it and it's still the white people who are racist!

Sent by Tim H. | 2:38 AM | 3-28-2008

King Kong??? Their insecurities are so sad and pathetic.

Sent by Panola | 11:10 AM | 3-28-2008

Do you think Vogue would have come up with an idea to have Tom Brady in an aggressive pose grappling a dark skinned black female model on the cover. No..don't think so. Why are people so naive? Whether you're offended or not, the picture quite clearly plays on long standing racial images.

Sent by Edith Thomas | 11:41 PM | 3-28-2008

Everyone, who has posted here, seems to be okay with the cover. It's sad that people cannot truly see how it is offensive. And for all the black people who have posted (or the ones that claim to be black), you guys seem to be in denial about how racist the cover is. and sooner or later, you will have to confront racist issues that pervade in present-day American society not matter how subtle yet stingy they can be at times. No more running away. Stay Black!!!!!

Sent by Mamoud Abdul-Raef | 11:37 AM | 3-29-2008

How could anyone say James looks like King Kong? Kong was much taller!

Sent by Steve | 12:16 PM | 3-29-2008

Jon J:

He should have known better than to be portrayed as KING KONG.

Sent by DJ Black Adam | 9:08 PM | 3-29-2008

The cover appears to be racist in intent. The pose is clearly based on a well-know WWI propaganda poster which depicted Germany as a giant gorilla holding a woman wearing the exact same color dress. There are side-by-side comparisons available on various blogs.

Annie Leibovitz is an experienced photographer and knew what she was doing. I find this inexcusable on her part.

Sent by George | 3:40 AM | 3-31-2008

Remember the old Tom & Jerry cartoons with the "mammy" character? She was drawn as an ape. I've seen actual kkk drawings of a black basketball player as an ape. It was recent. Quit blaming black people for imagining racism. The hard truth that many of you, both black and white, refuse to face is that racism still exists. And the more you continue to deny it and look the other way, for the purpose of hiding your own discomfort, the more race will continue to be an issue in this country.

Sent by Squarepeg | 11:05 AM | 3-31-2008

If this is how people claim such is "racist", then everything and everyone in this world is "racist" by default. The big difference is how people deem material as "Racially offensive" or something that has no intent of inflicting harm.

Racially offensive or racially insecure? This sounds like a racial assumption based on a photo that isn't extremely distressful for those claiming it is "offensive". It sounds very hypocritical to claim that such picture is "racist" yet the same people are already judging it to be "King Kong" or "Black man with a white woman". Now, who is "racist"?

Minus explicitly displayed racial offense, how do you guys want to portray people with difference races? Should we show the entire world that the U.S. offends other races?

Based on this cover, be glad that 2 people of different races are in the cover. Be glad that this picture wasn't intended for such rather than words coming out of Don Imus's mouth. Rather than racial stereotypes, think of it more as a racial unity/adaptation. In this day of age, we should all know what is acceptable and what is flat-out offensive...or perhaps people still live in that racial shell?

I fail to see how this is "offensive".

Sent by Jonas | 4:49 PM | 3-31-2008

Don't's all about the dollar!!

Sent by me | 6:54 PM | 4-8-2008


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