Speaking of Diversity

Is the New York Times Holiday Gift Guide Racist?

by Michael Soon Lee - on Tuesday, December 15, 2009
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This year the New York Times added a section to its holiday gift guide intended to cater to its readers who are potentially looking for “gifts created for and by people of color"

Among the collection of gift suggestions were:

  • “The Mocha Manual to Military Life: A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends and Female Service Members,” a guidebook for Black relatives or girlfriends of military personnel
  • “Hair Rules,” a product line for those with “problem hair”
  • “Asian Faces: The Essential Beauty and Makeup Guide for Asian Women”
  • “Ash Kumar’s Bollywood Henna Kit,” a DIY makeup kit
  • “A Wise Latina” T-shirt
  • “Baby Jamz,” “an interactive hip-hop and rhythm-based toy line.”

Some bloggers have been greatly offended by these. For instance, Gawker.com, said: “It’s a celebration of the racist assumption that ‘people of color’ are defined by their colors—but white people get to self-define with their interests, hobbies, and desire for ‘Home and Decorating Gifts for $25 and Under.’” They add that “these gifts are mostly backhanded insults, and not just to one’s race.

I disagree. I think the Times is trying to help shoppers be aware of the unique needs of people from different cultures whose skin, hair and tastes ARE different from Caucasians. However, I do believe they could have been more sensitive to people of color. For instance, instead of implying that Blacks have “problem hair” they could have called it “African American hair” which most people would recognize as having special requirements. I have always had difficulty in finding a stylist who understands the differences that Asian hair can present.

It’s okay to be different and to have unique needs because you are different from the mainstream. There seems to be a move afoot to water down the discussion around diversity to merely “human differences” and I find that truly dehumanizing.

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