I was very disappointed when I glanced at AOL’s home page Wednesday and saw that one of the cover stories read “King James or King Kong: NBA Star on Cover of Vogue, See Why There’s an Uproar.” I clicked on the link optimistically – though probably naively – hoping that some poor soul hadn’t turned this into another racial debate.
But when I opened the page I said to myself, “Here we go again.”
LeBron James is on the cover of Vogue’s April issue, labeled the “Shape Issue: Secrets of the Best Bodies.” James is in basketball attire, bouncing a basketball in one hand while holding supermodel Gisele Bundchen in his other arm. His facial expression is similar to one that would be expected after hitting a game-winning shot. Bundchen smiles as if she is working at her profession, which is, ironically, modeling.
The image captures two individuals in attire they normally wear, with facial expressions they routinely show in public, yet some people foolishly claim there is some kind of subliminal racism on display.
I’ve seen and heard stories of racism in America and in this situation, I just do not see it. The outcry is the result of overzealous writers who used a magazine cover as a springboard for attention. The articles alleging racism are far more socially destructive than the cover itself.
I encourage those crying racism to take a deep breath and use some reasoning before making a hasty analysis.
Look at the participants involved. James is a physical specimen. At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, he’s got the kind of body most men envy. In the NBA, he is one of the fiercest competitors and arguably the most athletically gifted player in the history of the league. Sportscasters often refer to him as a “beast” or a “man among boys” to describe his dominance on the court. So James being on the front of a magazine’s body shape issue dribbling a basketball in basketball attire with a face he referred to as “showing a little emotion” is hardly surprising.
Enter the Brazilian model.
Bundchen is the 5-foot-11, 128-pound model seen in James’ left arm. She is smiling as she would at any professional shoot. A 5-foot-11 model wouldn’t look small next to most men, but because of James’ stature, she looks tiny.
It is unbelievable that people would take a simple magazine cover, which was intended to depict the best celebrity bodies, and turn it into a racial debate.
People have said the cover looks similar to King Kong and Ann Darrow – a big and powerful animalistic black male clutching a petite white female as if she were his prize.
Give me a break.
ESPN columnist Jemele Hill said “white athletes are generally portrayed smiling or laughing, while black sports figures are given a ‘beastly sort of vibe.'”
However, if a person in a photo is depicted according to his or her personality, it should not be misconstrued as a racial stereotype.
University of North Carolina basketball star Tyler Hansbrough, a white athlete known as “Psycho T,” was shown on the cover of Sports Illustrated making a psychotic facial expression while grabbing a rebound. Black athlete Dwayne Wade, who is known for his calm demeanor, has been on many magazine covers – none of which depicted him as a “beastly” figure.
Anyone who finds the Vogue picture racially insensitive is probably a person who sees the world through racially divided glasses. I saw an athlete and a model doing what they do best. Had James had his shirt off with a banana in one hand and a distressed white woman in the other, I would have thought otherwise.
People who make such unfounded claims cause racial division and contribute to the generalization that black people are hypersensitive on any issue that could remotely be considered racism.
It is “controversies” like this that make me wonder if racial harmony in America will ever be achieved.
Ryan Watson is majoring in theater and performing arts.