Is Sports Illustrated Illustrating Racism? You DecideJC Coccoli

Ugh. I hate the word “racist”. I mean, I hate what goes along with it, but I also despise the word. It’s gross and it reduces a person without proper merit. Don’t get me wrong – there are times when vile, ignorant things make their way out of the pie-holes of human beings flippantly, but sometimes – and you can agree or disagree here – I feel the word “racist” is being thrown at people just because it stings most.

Sports Illustrated presented its newest edition of the Swimsuit Issue last week (huzzah, bathing suits) and like anything else, it’s receiving a backlash over claims of what I will say is officially ridiculous. The Huffington Post reports that in a shot taken in a picture taken on a river in Guilin, Guangxi, model Anne V, who is white and blonde, sits on a raft piloted by an elderly Chinese man. The photograph, to me, is beautiful. Call me ignorant, but I don’t see poverty in it, I merely see a shot of man who has stories behind his eyes and a Sport Illustrated-style model who is probably gorgeous in the eyes of its readers.

Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart has a heated response to the photograph, claiming: “This photo cements stereotypes, perpetuates an imbalance in the power dynamic, is reminiscent of centuries of colonialism (and indentured servitude) and serves as a good example of both creating a centrality of whiteness and using ‘exotic’ people as fashion props. “

Now, you be the judge. To me, it’s a beautiful shot. Especially if understand you are looking at a magazine dedicated specifically to SWIMSUITS this time around. Come on, people. Not everything has to be so intense. If you really want to get gritty about it, you can say that aside from the Chinese man being exploited, women are just as exploited as they wear basically nothing.

NO OFFENSE, but it’s Sports Illustrated, for God’s sake. What do you want out of a publication dedicated to sports and bikinis? Educational crossword puzzles? I’m not saying the publication isn’t smart, or saying that it can do whatever it wants, it’s just… it knows its readers. Good or bad. That’s its job. If you want to advance the culture dynamic of photography for bathing suits, that is all you, but try and see the world from a perspective that isn’t insulting a culture but merely expressing art through their own eyes.

Right or wrong, they have the right to express themselves. Just like the people infuriated by the photographs have a right to express themselves. I say, take the magazine at face value and fight the good fight on something that truly matters.

Image via Shutterstock

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  1. I guess this would not be so much of an issue (how apt…) if the woman in the picture was the same ethnicity as the man on the boat. Then we could just go on and talk about how the magazine itself is an issue… Racism, sexism…. this really did not deserve a post. I am not sure what point you are trying to make with this. In my opinion, this article is not informative whatsoever (to say the least). I am sure that you can do better than this.

  2. I don’t really want to get into the whole racism argument, particularly as I am a white, middle-class female which gives me “no right to talk about racism since I clearly don’t understand it, having never experienced it.” But isn’t that racism in itself? Racism is defined as the negative behavior toward a group specifically because of their ethnicity. Saying that white people cannot experience racism is racism in and of itself. No, I have never been subjected to slavery, I live in a wealthy country and have benefited from privileges such as health care and minimum wage. I am not saying that I can relate to a minority or underprivileged race, but I can understand how this photograph in Sports Illustrated can be deemed racist. I don’t think that closing our eyes to blatant instances of racism will make it go away. For one reason or another, people will hurt each other. We will hurt each other because of our differences, because of our backgrounds, because of our social standing and race. It’s a symptom of the human condition and it sucks. I can see that. I can feel that. Being white doesn’t make me immune to racism. It hurts when people say “all white people are racist”. It hurts that people call me white. Just as a “black” person is not black, so am I not white. The complexity of our skin colors shouldn’t be a factor by which to distinguish us. The apologetic nature of white people is detrimental to things like my education. There are thousands of scholarships for minorities and that is fantastic. Everyone should have an opportunity to fulfill their dreams, but the idea that because I am white that my family must have all of the funds to send me to college is racist. Being white doesn’t make someone successful. It just makes them white. Racism sucks, for everyone, end of story.

    • No. You don’t seem to understand racism as you don’t experience it. You, as a white person, CAN experience discrimination, but you do not experience racism. That’s like heterosexuals complaining about “heterophobia.” Racism is privilege plus power. You benefit from institutionalized power just because you’re white.

  3. “NO OFFENSE, but it’s Sports Illustrated, for God’s sake. What do you want out of a publication dedicated to sports and bikinis?”

    I like this. I mean NO OFFENSE, but it’s Hellogiggles. What do you want, an informed, thoughtful discussion on racism?

  4. It’s quite funny that most of the commenters here don’t notice that they are opposing the racism by being racist to white ethnicity. It’s like people are being guilty that they were born white and this defines automatically the nature of their opinions. It couldn’t get funnier than this! People stop attacking each other without adequate reason.And stop saying other people are racists by being racists.

  5. Love your point; let me add to it by pointing out that the culture in Guilin, Guangxi is vastly different than our culture here in the USA… we don’t have leisure rides on a cute little boat powered or rowed by someone who chose that as an occupation… would it also have been deemed ‘racist’ if the photograph setting were, say, Venice on a Gondola? No. Because we understand that in Venice, there are boats frequently floating down the gorgeous river man powered by a man who chose to row gondola’s as an occupation. We would have seen the gorgeous colors of the buildings that line the river. We would have drooled… or experienced a heated jealousy… of the model in the skimpy little number we call a bikini… I agree with you. The word racist is thrown all over the place without a moment to pause about what such a negative comment could do to someone. And honestly, if such a person sees something as being so racist, perhaps they themselves are the racist! It takes one to know one, right?

    • Let me also add that if the man powering the boat in the photograph had felt racism towards him, he would not have agreed to being photographed. It’s even likely that he got paid… racism will never cease to exist if we search for it in perfectly unracist scenarios.

      • This post sort of reminds me of a certain blog where a white, male “Yoga Guru” posted images of hipsters wearing Native American headdresses and declared “it’s not offensive”. Of course not. At least not to him. In the same manner, if people of color point out that they find something is racially offensive, a white person declares “It’s not, because it’s not racist to ME, and I know what should be racist to you.”

  6. These “exotic” people are being used as props. “Oh. look at the civilized white girl posing with a ‘savage’, how cute!” No. You don’t get to tell me what can offend me. Just because it’s SI does not mean we can’t get upset when they do something exceedingly ignorant.

  7. Sometimes it is better to ask why someone would feel that the picture is “racist” instead of dismissing it as a person that does not experience racism. Before you say that I don’t know you or history, I can see that you are white woman or at least a woman with the privilege of the white race. You cannot speak about what is racist or demeaning to another culture. It is not your place. It is not my place as an African American woman to speak about what is demeaning to the man pictured. Maybe you could use this time to learn about what racism really is and also to examine your own dismissal of its far-reaching effects. I haven’t read Hello Giggles in a while but if this is what is going on here I need to read it even less.

  8. Really?…Maybe it’s time to read up on the very racist/damaging history and continued message of SI. http://www.beautyredefined.net/our-issue-with-the-swimsuit-issue/

  9. I cannot imagine how you thought this was a well-crafted opinion or founded in anything but your own privilege-denying ignorance. You do understand that white people don’t get to decide what’s racist, right? Even still, anyone with any knowledge of oppression or critical thinking can see that this is, at the very least, wildly inappropriate.

    This photo does not illustrate the “stories behind the man’s eyes” or “share his culture.” This photo takes a person of color and makes them an accessory in yet another example of white supremacist media “othering” groups already affected by imbalances of power. They attempt to make the photo “interesting” by juxtaposing the hot, western beauty ideal with those who clearly will never achieve it. The people of color are not the subjects of these photos, but rather props, and that helps perpetuate the racist and classist systems which benefit Sports Illustrated and the author of this piece and me, too.

    Your endorsement of this project is a testament to your complacency to unequal systems and benefiting therefrom.

  10. Well, I agree with you: it’s pointless to argue about Sports Illustrated, because it’s not only about one magazine we are talking about; it is the whole entire [almighty] media industry the responsible for all this kind of contents.

    About the photograph, I don’t think it’s “beautiful” like you said. It means nothing. It’s empty for me. And most of all, ABSURD.

    A few years ago, mass media company Televisa (the largest in Latin America) did something like this, check it out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ror3hepR4HQ
    yeah, Chiapas is beautiful, but with those models it don’t make sense, it’s way too far from reality.
    Let’s just reflect on that.

    Saludos
    Ciudad de México

  11. Some people aren’t happy unless they’re offended about something. Meanwhile, there are real issues in the world.

    • I’m not surprised that a comment like yours made its way here. After all, the privileged have a history of denying the opinions of marginalized groups.

      • Aren’t you denying her opinion by making this comment? Aren’t you also judging her by calling her privileged? The idea that having a different ethnic background automatically makes your opinion illegitimate is absurd. Having a different culture or background didn’t prevent other authors from denouncing the photo shoot and it didn’t prevent you from agreeing with them.

        • haha nice try

        • I was just coming back to say something similar to this. Thank you, Tara. A lot of assumptions are being made around here. Just because someone is white and living in America, it does not mean they have not suffered, struggled, or wondered when they were going to eat again. The word privileged is being thrown around a lot, and unless you know someone and what they’ve gone through, you have no right to use that as slander against them.

          Also, “A white person’s perspective on racism? Oh” is a racist comment. Plain and simple.

          • You don’t understand racism, obviously.

          • The concept of “white privilege” does not mean that white people do not “suffer or struggle”. In the same sense that “male privilege” or “straight privilege” doesn’t mean that men or straight people do not “suffer or struggle”. Privilege, and its forebear racism are incredibly nuanced subjects that require a bit more thought than “I’m white I suffered therefore there is no white privilege”.

            • Exactly. Calling people out on their white privilege =/= saying that they are privileged in every way.

      • And I’m not surprised that a response like yours made it here, pretending you know anything about me or what I’ve had to deal with in the past. .

  12. I don’t see how more people don’t agree with you. I thought everything you just said when I first heard about the racism claims. Although I wasn’t as eloquent. It was more along the lines of, “It’s official everything you do or say is racist! Note to self: Do not go to other countries and pose for pictures with the locals as you will be deemed racist! PS. Stop eating Chinese, Indian, Italian and half of your Mexican food right away.” People need to loosen up. Not everything is racism. Also, if ‘this’ is racist, then they should have pulled America’s Next Top Model off the air a ‘long’ time ago!

    • I also think it’s funny that people are crying racism and poverty over it when it could very well be that those men in the photos are thrilled to be able to share their culture. We have a very egocentric view about the way life should be, and they are probably quite content with their lives.

  13. I can’t believe racism is the only issue you see here.

  14. Yesterday: Bookmarked this blog after it was recommended by another website as a smart site for women.
    Today: Read this post and unbookmarked the blog because it is clearly not for smart women.

    There is so much racism apologism, derailing, lack of research, and race-baiting in this piece that it’s embarrassing. You lost a reader in less than 24 hours. Good job.

  15. I agree, I don’t think it’s racist. I mean, would it be nice to see someone who is not white and photoshopped to hell and back as the empowered person in a photograph–yes. But it’s not racist implicitly.

    However, I do disagree with you on the “throwing racist around because it stings.” Thing. I’m sorry, but if someone is being racist and being called out for it, they’ve probably hurt more people with their perceived racism than the pain they’re enduring for having to live with being judged for it.

  16. A white person’s perspective on racism. Oh.