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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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44 Responses

  1. rhiain
    rhiain March 30, 2008 at 9:36 pm |

    I wasn’t one who initially saw the cover as racist, but holy crap, that’s the same picture.

    Not to mention, the Vogue cover is just plain weird. Both stances seem so forced.

  2. misskate7511
    misskate7511 March 30, 2008 at 9:37 pm |

    Wow. Oh wow.

    With these two visuals side by side… one has to wonder whether the Vogue people had a copy of that recruitment ad on hand to work from. Good god.

  3. prairielily
    prairielily March 30, 2008 at 9:51 pm |

    Jill, I really didn’t see the King Kong comparison in the other thread, so I just didn’t comment. It was definitely animalistic, and that was creepy in of itself, but I didn’t see King Kong.

    But yesterday I was at a drug store, and saw the cover in person, and I got it. I couldn’t really see the way he was holding her until I saw it in person. And this? This clinches it.

  4. JB
    JB March 30, 2008 at 10:09 pm |

    Lebron has pretty much the same facial expression as “the brute”—something I wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t pointed out.

    But Giselle doesn’t seem to be restrained in the same way as the woman in the poster is. And she’s smiling, having a good time. Because of this, I don’t really see the “King Kong” symbolism. Of course, I would never call anyone a racist for disagreeing with me.

  5. Pinko Punko
    Pinko Punko March 30, 2008 at 10:15 pm |

    J-

    I forgot to show back up and say that I am now convinced that the image was certainly designed to look like the King Kong. I think that the history of racist images makes the image kind of racist by a lot of definitions because we can’t live in an alternate universe where this history doesn’t exist. I wonder if the photographer were feeling particular “enlightened” and was trying to be ironic or “post-racial.” Obviously it is a total mess. I don’t think the image has to convey racism to every viewer, but it certainly will to many, and I’m certain that the composition was on purpose, so it comes down to intent, which is not and should not be a get out of jail free card. What about someone e-mailing to photographer and asking what sort of image they were going for? I would love to get a quote on this. I also noticed that an ESPN.com columnist specifically discussed this image.

  6. rhiain
    rhiain March 30, 2008 at 10:28 pm |

    Someone posted this in the other thread. It’s too bad; looks like most of the pictures were deeply weird (and for goodness sake don’t read the text), but the inside shot of Giselle and LeBron is actually really appealing to me.

    They couldn’t have put that on the cover?

  7. Eliani
    Eliani March 30, 2008 at 10:42 pm |

    She’s not white, she’s brasilian? Hmm that is indeed her nationality as it is mine but she is a ‘white’ brasilian.

    As for the cover, i just sucked in my breath and mumbled something like, “well whose brillant idea was that?”

  8. Kristin
    Kristin March 30, 2008 at 10:46 pm |

    Thank you, Jill. I had to stop reading the comments in that last post. You’re right–the “you’re the racist one” garbage was beyond stupid.

  9. Felicia
    Felicia March 30, 2008 at 11:06 pm |

    Has Leibowitz spoken about this photo? It’d would be interesting to hear her back peddle from this one.

  10. Amy
    Amy March 31, 2008 at 12:08 am |

    The resemblance is uncanny. I can’t believe the people at Vogue didn’t realize that this cover is in poor taste. I’m glad that at least others did.

  11. Manju
    Manju March 31, 2008 at 12:47 am |

    Well, this looks like a Frankenstein moment to me. Progressives have worked so hard to create so many rules designed to entrap so many people into the racism camp; only to find themselves accused of that which they police.

    So those who hear dog-whistles are accused of whistling one themselves. And why not? Its plausible that some of those who object to the picture are the ones who immediately associate a black man with an ape. Live by the dog-whistle, die by it too.

    Reminds me of that old joke about the patient who says her analyst after a Rorschach test: “I’m perverted? Who’s got all the dirty pictures?”

  12. denelian
    denelian March 31, 2008 at 12:54 am |

    i actually ended up having a looooooong discussion with a friend about this cover.

    i don’t, MYSELF, think it was MEANT to be *insulting* or specificly *insultingly racist*, but i do (and did at the time) totally see where everyone SAW the racism implicit in it.

    but i am not sure that it was INTENDED to be that way. we, all of us, walk around with so many random cues in our subconscious that make no sense when combined… i am willing to give the benifit of doubt to the people who designed it, who just let different images mesh without thinking beyond what they were TRYING to say to what actually came OUT.

    the editor, on the other hand, needs a smack :p

  13. signthelist
    signthelist March 31, 2008 at 2:01 am |

    They talked about this on the radio the other day. The DJ said he didn’t think it was racist, but that he was a white guy, so how should he know and would other people call in and share their comments. I didn’t hear the whole thing, but by the time I stopped listening, 100% of the people who called in said it wasn’t racist to them. One said that when she saw the picture of King Kong (not this one, the first one you posted) she guessed she could kind of see it, but that probably the people who immediately thought of that were just big ol’ racists themselves and just wanted a reason to compare black men to giant gorillas.

    Now I’ll be honest: I initially saw it as racist because he looks so angry, not because a poster for a movie made 50 some years ago had the same composition as this cover. Yes, it’s probably intended to just be a competitive sports expression and maybe viewing it as anything other than that makes me racist and sexist towards men, but it looks angry to me (or at the very least, aggressive). An angry man (of any race) gripping a woman around the waist isn’t a good picture to choose because how in the world would that sell more copies to a female audience? But because he’s a black man and historically white Americans have accepted the idea that black men are intrinsically violent (especially towards white women), that makes the cover an even worse idea. Even if Vogue says, “Oh, no, we’re not a racist. Why, look, we even have X number of black people on staff!” or whatever, publishing images (on the cover no less) that perpetuate a racist stereotype is one of those actions that speak way louder than words. Like the deal with blackface — yeah, lots of people put on white makeup for a character and it’s no big deal. But it IS a big deal when people put on black makeup for a character and that’s not because “racism against whites” is okay. It’s because historically, blackface has been used by white people to perpetuate negative stereotypes about black people. It’s not cool in our culture to use images of angry black men gripping white women to sell magazines because ideas like that has been used for years and years and years to justify creating a second-class people.

    Also, now that I see this second King Kong image, the similarities seem a little much to be accidental. I gave Vogue the benefit of the doubt because honestly, I wouldn’t have ever even made the connection to that movie had it not been been discussed by others. I’ve never actually seen the movie (and in fact, I typed Godzilla instead about 3 times while writing this) so to me, that immediate connection wasn’t there. But I’m also pretty sure that a magazine like Vogue has people who have to approve everything that goes into the magazine and people who focus on teeny tiny little details and people who decide what articles and images will create a PR nightmare so it seems like composition of the two images seem way too similar to be an oopsie oversight.

    I don’t know. I’m sorry if my line of thinking is way off base or anything. I’m a white girl and I’m not even going to pretend like I don’t have my own issues with race and privilege. Usually I just read conversations like this (and on non-white blogs dealing with race) because well, what do I know, really? I never did call into that radio station but I’ve been trying to sort through what I think about it and what I’m allowed to say about it without making myself a know-it-all white person. Obama was right that we should talk about stuff like this, but seriously, where do you start really? My only answer is, “I’m really sorry that my ancestors and relatives treated your ancestors and relatives like shit and I’m really sorry that white men get to be in charge of everything all the damn time, and I promise that I will check my prejudice and privilege as much as I can and I’ll be open to other people calling me out on it and I’ll call other white people out on it when I hear prejudiced conversation and PS, I’m pretty sure that I totally would have been a part of the civil rights movement if I was alive back then so….can we call it even now and all be friends? And also, am I allowed to put my white girl hair in twists because it looks really cool on you…” And if that isn’t making it all about me, I don’t know what is.

  14. Donald Taylor
    Donald Taylor March 31, 2008 at 2:42 am |

    Yes, I too noticed that this First World War propaganda poster is the proper source material for the Vogue cover. When you stop trying to assimilate the cover to the only vague King Kong cells and turn to the correct source, I believe all these disputes evaporate. The resemblance is such that there can be no accident. In fact I would venture that Annie Leibovitz would have had to show LeBron and Bundchen the poster in order for them to get the resemblance so close. And a lot of what’s strange about the Vogue cover, e.g. why Ms. Bundchen is posed so awkwardly (because that’s how the woman in the poster is posed), is explained.

    But more to the point, I think the also goes a long way to answering the question of is it racist imagery. When you consider the history of this sort of propaganda and the body of ideas that it was paying upon — which I do here — it’s fairly clear that the image is racist. The Germans are portrayed as a Gorilla with slightly Africanized features to sweep into the wartime fervor the surrounding ideas regarding the relative levels of civilization and barbarism of the various races of the world, Europeans included. The same thing would be repeated during the Second World War when Japanese would be portrayed with African features. And then the woman is thrown in to heighten the sense of horror, sexual peril and barbarism.

    Sure, a number of features of the Vogue cover disarm the racist imagery — not the least that it was produced by a liberal Manhattan sophisticate. Still, it seems to me that our discourse on race has become more subtle and taciturn — more hidden in images and narratives — without becoming any more enlightened or constructive.

  15. Psychobunny
    Psychobunny March 31, 2008 at 4:56 am |

    The juxtaposition certainly makes it a lot more obvious, but I stand by what I said in the original thread (or thought and wanted to post, I can’t remember). Even IF the intention/mimicking/overt racism wasn’t intentional, even IF this just accidentally came out as a really, really bad cover … shouldn’t someone in the whole editing process have NOTICED how bad it could look and done something about it?

  16. R.E. Silvera
    R.E. Silvera March 31, 2008 at 5:58 am |

    Oh, Manju you’re so clever! Please, keep telling us all how wrong we are or how silly Progressive politics are! You can alternatively shut up, since you’re just trolling.

    Anyways, I was beaten to the comment on Gisele Bundchen. She’s brasilian culturally but with German ancestry, so yeah, she’s ethnically white.

  17. Dennis
    Dennis March 31, 2008 at 7:56 am |

    Not only is LeBron depicted as a screaming animal, but Giselle’s apparent lack of dismay at his affection for (ownership of?) her is some classic hypersexualization of black men. It reinforces some really tenacious stereotypes in a very ham-fisted way, AND it does so in such a way that the image will probably be blown up without modification to poster size and used at KKK conventions for years to come, not only to demonstrate that black men are animals, but also they’re coming for our precious white virgins and turning them into negro-loving whores.

    I’d actually feel a lot better about it if the racism were intentional… at least then, I might be able to take it as some sort of Dave Chappelle-like satirical hyperbole. However, for this sort of thing to just emerge non-ironically from a photoshoot for a fashion magazine cover just shows that these stereotypes we’d expect from a character in American History X are alive and insidious in a much larger part of the population that many of us realize.

    tl;dr: I’d readily accept this if accompanied by an insightful editorial comment on perceptions of race in North America, or if there were any contextual reason to presume that it was offered in the spirit of critical commentary. However, that doesn’t appear to be what’s going down.

  18. Holly
    Holly March 31, 2008 at 8:35 am |

    Most imagery that’s produced for artistic, commercial or entertainment reasons draws on something that has come before. We often describe a striking new image that’s just been made as evocative, powerful, or suggestive: all of those words suggest a connection with something that’s already in our experience, our culture. Whether we perceive that connection consciously or unconsciously, that’s how images can have meaning for us: in context. In other words, as much as we vaunt creativity and newness, we really can’t pretend that a new image exists in a vacuum.

    Our culture has a history and a legacy of racism. Heck, in more ways than I can count we still have a present-day of racism too. But regardless of what you think is behind us or marginalized and what you think is with us even in the mainstream, racism is deep in the soil of this country.

    This is why it doesn’t matter whether it was intentional or not, it doesn’t matter whether the photographer and designers involved in the production of this cover were directly inspired by or mimicking King Kong or a World War I recruitment poster. There are currents and ideas — tropes, you can call them — that run much deeper than any particular instance. Again, I think we ought to resist the tendency to individualize. Annie Leibowitz could easily (and quite possibly truthfully) claim that she’s never seen that poster before, that it’s a coincidence. But quite seriously, “big dark brute clutches white slip of a girl” is a trope that’s been around for a long time, in any number of old movies, posters, in literature, etc. If we set some librarians and historians and retro pop culture buffs on it, we could dig up dozens of examples and construct a history of the idea and its expression through images (in fact, maybe someone already is doing this).

    If a creative person wants to be responsible to struggles against racism and against racist, stereotyping images in this society, it’s their responsibility to be aware of the history of the kind of images they’re making. Not just the history of photography, and not simply trying to make sure they’re not copying something — that’s not the point. The point is: you can’t simply perpedicularly extend the arms of a cross in a clockwise direction and claim that it’s your own new design that has no particular meaning because you’ve never seen a swastika before. You really ought to know what a swastika is if you’re, say, designing a new logo for a company or a t-shirt.

    The swastika is just the most obvious, blatant example. Blackface, coolie hats, you name it — there are plenty of charged images in our cultural landscape. You can’t just make them go away by covering your ears, either; there are reasons why an image like this magazine cover has power, why the photographer was drawn to it consciously or not. Those reasons are tied up with stereotypes about black men and about sexual relations between people of different races. A photographer with the experience and skill of Leibowitz is likely to be aware of them — or if she isn’t she really ought to be.

    All the “no, you’re the racist, I’m colorblind” bullshit is simply the desperate cry of people who want to believe that the way to eliminate racism is simply to deny that there is a history, pretend we live in a totally different world now with no connection to our past, act like if we hear no evil and see no evil, there simply won’t be any. But what they really end up being blind to is not color but racism: congratulations, you’re racism-blind, which makes them pretty damn useless for actually doing anything about it; for understanding the history of it and how that history shapes our present; and for producing or discussing images that have to do with race.

  19. tayari
    tayari March 31, 2008 at 8:43 am |

    It’s so funny how you can be branded “racist” for noticing racism. That drives me nuts.

    I have to say, though, that I am working hard to be driven nuts less often. I think you should just fight the impulse to respond to the rude comments. If they are over the line, delete them and keep pushing. Worrying about this sort of stuff just undermines your productivity and creativity while the person who made the comment is probably sitting the park enjoying a corndog or something…

  20. Kiru Banzai
    Kiru Banzai March 31, 2008 at 8:59 am |

    It seems like this particular image is unusually common.

    http://img240.imageshack.us/img240/1923/xismre6.jpg

    Either that says something more complex about the intersection between racism and sexism, or I’ve just spent too much time looking at X-Men covers.

  21. SarahMC
    SarahMC March 31, 2008 at 9:22 am |

    Well nowadays, it’s “racist” to point out instances of racism. It’s also “sexist” to point out instances of sexism. Actually BEING racist or sexist is fine; but opposing racism and sexism makes you a bigot.
    I could’t participate in that thread; I was just too shocked by all the bullshit that surfaced almost immediately. Talk about privilege.

  22. Kate Stone
    Kate Stone March 31, 2008 at 10:19 am |

    It is meant to skewer racial stereotypes.

  23. harlemjd
    harlemjd March 31, 2008 at 10:46 am |

    Kate – and how does it do that? Seems to me like it plays into them.

  24. Things You Shouldn’t Discuss with Friends « alicia dk

    […] </strongdavid:<strongdavid:In light of all this, it made me feel a little better to read this post by Jill at Feministe: But if I have to read “The fact that you see racism means that you’re the racist!” or “We […]

  25. Melanie S.
    Melanie S. March 31, 2008 at 11:39 am |

    I think we need to have a list of things: “No, It Isn’t Actually Racist/Sexist When I…”

    1. Notice other people’s racism or sexism
    2. Know history

    Others?

  26. LadyTess
    LadyTess March 31, 2008 at 11:57 am |

    What I see is playing Sports gets you pretty women. “Hell yeah!” he says.

    But the king kong thing is creepy as fuck. Jeez, was it on purpose?

  27. Rachelgbd
    Rachelgbd March 31, 2008 at 1:50 pm |

    Melanie S,

    3. Encourage a dialogue about racism or sexism

  28. Cara
    Cara March 31, 2008 at 2:19 pm |

    You know, I didn’t see the King Kong reference in the cover at first glance (I just thought the picture was really weird), though I did immediately see it once it was pointed out. But yesterday I was in the supermarket with my husband, and that magazine was on the rack at the checkout. I saw him looking at it and said “yeah, that hasn’t gotten the best reviews in the blogosphere.” He basically said “holy shit, you think? what the fuck how does that get published?” and “there’s no way that the king kong reference is not what they were going for.” So yeah, he saw it in about 2 seconds flat with no prompting. I somehow doubt that it’s all in the imagination of a handful of whiny liberals.

  29. Kevin
    Kevin March 31, 2008 at 3:41 pm |

    I’m really glad I was away and didn’t see that other thread. How to Suppress Discussions of Racism comes to mind.

  30. Green SAHM
    Green SAHM March 31, 2008 at 4:45 pm |

    I’ve only seen the cover online, and on hearing the controversy my first thought was that it had to be much worse in person than on a monitor. On a monitor the first thing I notice is that it’s generally a really rotten picture, a poor choice for a magazine cover. I’m not surprised to hear from those who have seen it that the racist aspects are more apparent in real life.

  31. Jasi
    Jasi March 31, 2008 at 8:44 pm |

    I don’t think it was intended to be racist. But racism is so deeply ingrained in our upbringing that most of us do or say something without even knowing it. I hear the neighborhood kids say messed up shit all of the time. The friendly neighbors slip. Everyone has some sort of prejudice it seems.

    And (before I get banned) none of it is right. None of it is healthy. None of it should be accepted, allowed or supported. We all just have to try harder.

    But honestly, wish I knew ONE person who was free of this entirely. Would be cool.

  32. Holly
    Holly March 31, 2008 at 8:50 pm |

    I don’t think it was intended to be racist. But racism is so deeply ingrained in our upbringing that most of us do or say something without even knowing it. I hear the neighborhood kids say messed up shit all of the time. The friendly neighbors slip. Everyone has some sort of prejudice it seems.

    And (before I get banned) none of it is right. None of it is healthy. None of it should be accepted, allowed or supported. We all just have to try harder.

    This is an excellent point about racism that needs to be made more often — why would we ban you??

  33. Kristin
    Kristin March 31, 2008 at 9:27 pm |

    My only answer is, “I’m really sorry that my ancestors and relatives treated your ancestors and relatives like shit and I’m really sorry that white men get to be in charge of everything all the damn time, and I promise that I will check my prejudice and privilege as much as I can and I’ll be open to other people calling me out on it and I’ll call other white people out on it when I hear prejudiced conversation and PS, I’m pretty sure that I totally would have been a part of the civil rights movement if I was alive back then so….can we call it even now and all be friends? And also, am I allowed to put my white girl hair in twists because it looks really cool on you…” And if that isn’t making it all about me, I don’t know what is.

    Signthelist: I thought your points were interesting, responsible, and self-reflexive until this part at the end. I am curious what you intended to accomplish here?

    The reason we can’t “call it even” is that it isn’t even. Whether or not you’re gleeful about your privilege isn’t really the point. The point is that you have it. This doesn’t mean you’re an evil person or that you can’t fight inequality or anything like that… It just means that inequality is a very real problem, and it can’t be swept under the rug with trivializing comments like, “can’t we just call it even and be friends?” It’s not a good idea to make comments like this one.

    And the thing about corn-rowing your hair (It’s called corn-rowing, not twists.). Um… I’m really not clear where you’re going with that. Um… Did you think you were being funny, amusing, or somehow charming? A word of advice: Leave cute little jokes about cultural practices out of serious discussions about racism.

  34. piny
    piny March 31, 2008 at 9:37 pm |

    “I’m really sorry that my ancestors and relatives treated your ancestors and relatives like shit and I’m really sorry that white men get to be in charge of everything all the damn time, and I promise that I will check my prejudice and privilege as much as I can and I’ll be open to other people calling me out on it and I’ll call other white people out on it when I hear prejudiced conversation and PS, I’m pretty sure that I totally would have been a part of the civil rights movement if I was alive back then so….can we call it even now and all be friends? And also, am I allowed to put my white girl hair in twists because it looks really cool on you…” And if that isn’t making it all about me, I don’t know what is.

    I think that you’re allowed to make it “all about you” in a sense when you’re figuring out what you’re going to do with this new information. Questions like, “How will I vote?” and “How will I speak?” and “What will I say the next time my coworker makes some crack about Barack Osama?” are not selfish. It’s just that these are questions you might need to work a little bit to find the answers to; you won’t have difficulty finding discussions between anti-racist activists, but you might not be able to find it in any particular comments thread on any particular blog.

    I think that Kristin pretty much said it all about “calling it even,” (or even calling it a day). It’s more a matter of agreeing not to ignore the past or its continuing consequences. Again, there’s plenty of stuff to do with all this information, and plenty of ways to get out of paralyzing guilt. They just don’t have much to do with setting history aside in order to ignore its moral ramifications. All that ever accomplishes is willful ignorance of the present.

  35. Kristin
    Kristin March 31, 2008 at 9:43 pm |

    To Signthelist:

    Oh, I guess you may have meant dredlocks too. Whichever one you meant… My point stands.

    And while I’m clarifying things, I really can see that you’re well-meaning and thoughtful about this. But I would urge you to be even more thoughtful about the way you say things. A discussion about the history of American racism and the way that Black men continue to be stereotyped as animalistic–not at all the appropriate place for hair jokes. Actually, I’m not really sure there’s ever going to be an appropriate place for you, a white person, to make hair jokes.

  36. Feministe » I know Vogue isn’t exactly racially conscious, but…

    […] there, or that the people who do see it are the “real” racists. And please check out this update post on the Vogue issue, which I think visually clarifies the imagery a lot […]

  37. rosa
    rosa April 3, 2008 at 8:42 am |

    singthelist, you are one person that really make me belive a little more in people.
    if the cover is racist or not, i still don´t have a grip on my feelings about it (since racism is for me a very emocional subject) but the talk is what matters.
    ah, and as some fellow brazilian said, Giselle IS white, and not only by “brazilians standards” (wich are very twisted, at times, in this issue) but by anyone who knows a little about her. She is a german-descendent (hence her last name) and from both sides of her family (in Brasil we hear a lot about her and her family, her dog, her manager, her friends, her love life…). Just so you understand we do not have a etnicity that is dominant, as in America.

  38. Racism Fatigue at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

    […] And for good measure, check out this old U.S. Army recruitment poster (H/T Jill at Feministe): […]

  39. pablo
    pablo April 27, 2008 at 11:36 pm |

    I think it’s disgusting that he is portrayed as a stereotypical basketball player. There is no reason in this day and age that we should still be seeing such anachronistic images of a black man as an athlete.

    Thank god there are other people to tell him he’s being used, and that he shouldn’t be forced to be associated with basketballs just to get publicity.

  40. Ion
    Ion April 28, 2008 at 5:38 pm |

    In the prior post, Jezebel states that “just because you don’t see racism, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there”, and then she goes on in this post to state how “stupid” many of the posters are that disagree with her. This is why so many Americans have a problem with Feminist theory – the adherents and proselytizers of it tend to prevent open and honest discourse through just such ad hominem attacks.

    Jezebel absolutely fails to take an opportunity to post something more intelligent and more insightful to the many readers who, as she seems to understand, are not well versed in feminis theory.

    By claiming that those who disagree with her are “stupid” she circumvents the many arguments that attempt to force her to confront the Orwellian nature of her above quoted assertion.

    Just because you don’t see terrorists in our midst, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Quick… suspend Habeas Corpus…

  41. docweasel
    docweasel April 30, 2008 at 8:22 am |

    “both stances seem so forced”
    How’s this for closer?
    If they were basketball fans, instead of women, they’d know that far from being a put up job by racist Vogue editors, LeBron probably made the face himself, naturally. Its one of his signature “grimaces” after he scores or makes a big play:
    http://docweasel.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/whine-on-you-crazy-feministe/
    that was on the first page of google images, I’ll wager there are 50 more where that came from. I’ve seen him do it dozens of times, and they don’t telecast Cavs games down here very often, I’m a transplanted Ohioan in Florida. He’s becoming such a big star, they might start, though, thankfully.

    But still, if you want to make something out of nothing, or assign motives where they don’t exist, I’m sure this won’t stop you.

  42. On Becoming a Sexual Female, via Miley Cyrus « don’t ya wish your girlfriend was smart like me?

    […] Lennon that surprised our gender expectations. She has recently become more known for replicating racist images of the recent past, and now this. And while, as I said “they’re not that bad” (isn’t is sad we […]

  43. These things are relevant to my interests too. « Zoe Writes

    […] decline of Annie Leibovitz or Americans seeing racism everywhere these […]

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