Friday, March 27, 2015

A post about that poster

There's been debate about whether or not the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival poster is racist.

Because apparently a bunch of southerners hitched a ride in the DeLorean with Biff on his way back to 2015 from 1955 and brought their cultural barometers with them.

Seriously, there should be no debate about this. That poster is offensive. It's not even ambiguously so.  Even if the artist didn't have an ounce of racism in his heart, not one person who sees that won't immediately think of some astonishingly racist old-timey advertisement. This image does not help matters.

Only three types of people see no problem with such a caricature: 1) Older generations who grew up with such art on the regular and who have neutral or fond memories of it, regardless of their personal views; 2) Younger people unaware of the historical connotation that such art has; and 3) straight-up racists.

The first two can be helped with education and awareness. The third, well, we can try.

Context matters a lot here. South Louisiana's history, like that of much of the region around it, is one abundant with slavery and racism. It's one thing to see a riveting piece of art or read a compelling story about the era by a black artist (or by any other artist who depicts it with empathy); it's another entirely to see such from a wistful point of view. The caricature of fruit-picking, subservient blacks in the Old South is still very much a point of romanticism with many whites. There is a distinct look that such a caricature takes, a dehumanizing one that is entirely unnecessary to convey a pastoral sentiment.

So either festival organizers are ignorant of history, or they implicitly endorse said history. Either way, pulling the poster was the wise choice.


Anonymous said...

Ian, you are right, but...the kids in the poster don't have the exaggerated,animalistic, monkey-like features that dehumanized black people in the old-time pickaninny ads. When I look at the poster, I see the reference and I understand, but I also see two beautiful black children. Do you think we'll ever see the day where we might see a poster like that and think "black is beautiful" first and remember a racist past as an afterthought?

Ian McGibboney said...

I think we're a long way off from that day. The reason being that this was painted by a white artist and promoted by white people in an area with a history of lingering racism. The style of the painting harks back to an era when such caricatures were commonplace, and not always defined by the exaggerated features.

I think the same scene could have been portrayed in a way that unambiguously didn't call back to that time, and there would have been no problem.