The NAACP and other human rights groups are slamming Bloomberg Businessweek for a recent cover, which they have called “vile” and “racially offensive.”
Illustrating the issue’s main story about the return of aggressive mortgage lending products, the cover depicts four minorities drowning in a house overflowing with cash. The headline reads: "The “Great American Housing Rebound: Flips. No-look bids. 300 percent returns. What could possibly go wrong?"
In a petition sent to Hugh Wiley, the magazine’s publisher, the NAACP, in partnership with National Council of La Raza and the Center for Responsible Lending, demanded an apology.
“The cover image perpetuated the false narrative that greedy poor people and people of color fueled the housing crisis, and brought back Jim Crow-era racial caricatures of Blacks and Latinos to drive the point home,” the petition read. “The magazine represented a low point in both the racial and economic discourse,” it continued.
The controversy was ignited by Slate.com blogger Matthew Yglesias who wrote in his Feb. 28 column, “The idea is that we can know things are really getting out of hand since even nonwhite people can get loans these days! They ought to be ashamed.”
The Atlantic’s Emily Badger piled on: “[W]e still can't decide what's most offensive about it: the caricature of the busty, sassy Latina, the barefooted black man waving cash out his window, that woman in the upstairs left-hand corner who looks about as dim-witted as her dog?”
The transgression is made worse, she added, by the fact that the illustration’s connotation bears no relation to the actual story, and that the article, “makes no mention of the racial dynamics of the housing market, or the role of predatory lending.”
The issue drew social media response, too. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted that the cover’s depiction of minorities as greedy and grasping was “racist,” “outrageous” and “not ok.”
In response to the barrage of criticism, Businessweek issued an apology.
"Our cover illustration last week got strong reactions, which we regret," Josh Tyrangiel, the magazine's editor, wrote in a statement sent to Politico. "Our intention was not to incite or offend. If we had to do it over again we'd do it differently."
But critics noted that the apology does not express regret for the content of the cover but only for the reactions it incites.
“[The] non-apology apology...made it clear that your magazine fails to recognize the gravity of these offensive images in the context of our history,” according to the NAACP-led petition to the magazine’s publisher.
Businessweek ought to print a critical analysis of the housing crisis that debunks the “misguided theory” that poor people of color were the primary cause, the organizations said. And, the petition said, the magazine should also sensitize itself to issues of diversity and inclusion as it relates to the publication’s business management, overall employment, and editorial content.