Esquire Classifies Black People

For the past year or so, I’ve been inclined to seek out fashion advice. With an eye extending past the “whatever is comfortable” camp that my geek peers reside in, I turned to magazines like Men’s Vogue and Esquire.

(Funny thing about the latter choice: Esquire is revered in terms of its thoughts on threads, but the rest of the magazine reads like an upscale Maxim, right down to their love of women that fit their caveman stereotypes. But I digress. )

My esteem for Esquire crumbled with January 2010 article, “Jay-Z: It Takes a Harmless, Hand-Built Gangster to Run this Town.” The deconstruction of rapper Jay-Z’s success in white America went as far as to classify Mr. Carter as a different level of black based on his demeanor, vernacular and exterior. This sentence in particular drew my ire:

“But there is a deeper significance — a racial philanthropy — that perhaps neither man intended. Jay-Z is black black. He is old-school double-dark-chocolate-chunk black. He is black the way Labatt is blue. He is not white black, Barack black, like our president. Or the kind of black that doesn’t curse and deplores the n-word, the genteel black, like Oprah. He is, arguably, the first black-black guy to cross over into Oprah-land and Bill Clintonworld without making the Oprah-sized no-look-back forward flip that means you’re selling not necessarily your soul but perhaps something fleshier, a little more external.”

Before I get jumped for overreacting, I understand what the writer was trying to do with the article and comparisions. That said, I don’t like it or agree with it, especially the “genteel black” that compartmentalized me, as I don’t like using the “n-word.” For that, I was bothered.

I decided to write the editors a response as to why I no longer planned to read their magazine:

“As an African-American male with an eye for upscale fashion, Esquire provides a unique and rich collection of styles and advice.

Rather, I should say “provided.” I was personally bothered by writer Lisa Taddeo’s view of African-Americans and African-American culture in her article “Jay-Z: It Takes a Harmless, Hand-Built Gangster to Run this Town.” To suggest that Mr. Carter is more black — the “black-black” comment in contrast to the “genteel black” later referenced — than other African-Americans because of his more urban exterior and demeanor. Not only is it compartmentalizing an entire race into manageable stereotypes, it slights the subject of the article. Yes, I understand what Trabbeo was getting at; no, it was not necessary to hammer the point home like it was a Whack-a-Mole.

Hammer home those stereotypes!

For a magazine that prides itself on being a leader on men’s fashion advice, the fact that the lack of insight into racial matters is not questioned — as referenced by the editor’s headline for a letter not about “the black-black” affair — shows that fashion is all that your magazine cares to stay abreast of.

I am sure that you will not miss my monthly readership or my subscription. I do, however, hope that you do not miss such perceptions that could offend your readers in future.”

It’s too bad that this rant could be chalked up to be too Politically Correct or jumping to conclusions — both of which I would have chided myself for in my self-righteous, somewhat misguided high school days. But things like this, Chris Matthews forgetting that President Barack Obama was black during his State of the Union speech, and FOX News’ daily reminders about their disdain for magical Negroes will permit attitudes displayed in the Esquire to have a voice. And for once, I would like to see something silenced. Even at the expense of a source of fashion tips.


2 thoughts on “Esquire Classifies Black People

  1. “compartmentalizing an entire race into manageable stereotypes”
    thank you!

    glad you wrote the letter. i guess i shouldn’t be surprised that now that we’re “ready” for a “black man” in the oval office, we feel comfortable dragging our racial stereo types out of our closets and posting them in our front lawns. not surprised. just disappointed.


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