This is the latest cover of the National Review.

I don’t even know what to say.  Ann pretty much has it covered.

But, if Sonia Sotomayor actually was South Asian, I’d still find this an incredibly racist cover.  And of course, she’s obviously not.  As the cover itself acknowledges, she is Latina (specifically, Puerto Rican).  But apparently any ethnicity and culture that isn’t white just blurs together with all the others, and is too confusing to sort out.  A woman of color is a woman of color is a woman of color, right?  When you need a racist stereotype — and how could we ever talk about women of color without using racist and likely sexist stereotypes?, the media asks incredulously — any old one will do.

There’s a whole lot of levels of wrong here.  Incredibly racist wrong.  I’m pretty much speechless.

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41 comments for “Speechless

  1. June 5, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    They needed a condescending way to refer to Sotomayor actually having the nerve to think she (a stupid Latina) could ever have anything relevant to say about anything, and of course because they only understand her in the context of race their attention turns to the “wise Asian person” stereotype, which is still applicable to a Latina because who can tell them all apart anyway.

    I think it’s that insidious sneer that digs at me the most — the fact that they have decided the most relevant criticism to make of her is that she would dare think that she, like, has a brain, and might, like, have some insight on stuff. She is a woman of color, and we all know Latin@s are stupid and simple, therefore it is laughable that anyone might think for a second that this clearly-Latina-person is anything other than stupid and simple. I really don’t think their thought goes much beyond that. And you know what, we have a word for that.

    Thing is: this is reflecting attitudes that are already widespread. The NR has not done anything exceptional or out-of-line — this is what our culture IS. But of course we will gasp in shock and it will be widely condemned and then we can go back to thinking we’re all colorblind and this was an exceptional, not representative, incident. But it’s not. It’s not.

  2. June 5, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Astoundingly offensive. And the GOP wonders why they can’t connect with non-whites.

  3. piny
    June 5, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I think it’s also meant to imply that she’s fat. But at some point, I guess you stop keeping score.

  4. June 5, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Racist cover = the National Review marketing to the base. This publication defended segregation. I’m not even shocked. I got into with with Mark Steyn for calling him on a homophobic remark against Andrew Sullivan. He got pissy and another Corner blogger made another homophobic diss at Sully. The sad thing all five of their readers think it is an intellectual rag.

  5. June 5, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    It’s the “This person has a brain, and is not stupid and simple, and might have insight on stuff” = “This person thinks sie is the WISEST PERSON EVAR and KNOWS EVERYTHING and IS BETTER THAN YOU” thing, ugh. They jump straight from a challenge to their racist stereotype to “Well, because you think you don’t fit in our stereotype, that means you think you are SUPERIOR.”

    I’m having trouble articulating this.

  6. piny
    June 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Would, “Can’t win for losing?” cover it?

  7. June 5, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    My jaw is on the fucking FLOOR.

  8. June 5, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    The most amazing thing about this picture is that they dressed her up in South Asian scenery and wardrobe (Siddartha at deer park, specifically) but then decided to give her super-slanty eyes… exaggerating her features in what most people would recognize as having racist overtones… because why, again? All asians = slanty eyes? Sotomayor has almond-shaped eyes? Looking at too many east asian statues of the Buddha? I mean, what?? That’s what really puts it way over the top in my opinion, as opposed to run of the mill incoherent, furious privilege-rage racism.

  9. June 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    And the GOP wonders why they can’t connect with non-whites.

    You know, I often say that, but I really don’t think they do. They’re happily racist, proud of it, really. Just don’t call them that; as Jeff Sessions will tell you, it’s terrible to be called a racist, just because you call black staff members “boy” and spike civil rights cases.

  10. June 5, 2009 at 5:53 pm


  11. Tlönista
    June 5, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Awww, they think they’re the New Yorker.

  12. Gwrthryfel
    June 5, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    It’s like they were specifically trying to be as offensive as possible. I mean, you have to really be that effing racist.

  13. June 5, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Awww, they think they’re the New Yorker.

    They aren’t?

  14. SEK
    June 6, 2009 at 12:07 am

    So over at The Corner, they’re laughing at people this offends. Why? Because those people don’t realize that the National Review is, like, duh, comparing her to Buddha. What they fail to realize is that if you look at an actual statue of the Buddha, not only are the eyes not slanted, they’re obscenely flat . . . which means the folks at the National Review who think they punked the aggressively PC crowd will have to acknowledge that their anti-racist stereotype (“She’s a wise Latina, which not only means she must not be Latina at all, but that she’s some sort of brown God.”) is pretty crassly racist, just not in the way they imagined it.

    I’m at wit’s end trying to imagine what that staff meeting was like: “Wait, you guys, I have this great idea: why don’t we dress her up like Buddha, but give her some ‘O Hri! I hrappy Sino-Jap!’-eyes.’ The wetbacks know how much better we like the slant eyes, how could they not take it as a compliment?”

    Because really, that’s their defense: Asians are better than Latinos, so you can’t call us racist if we compare Sotomayor to an Asian.

  15. evil_fizz
    June 6, 2009 at 12:34 am

    I only saw a thumbnail of it originally and thought she was wearing Hawaiian dress and that the flowers around her were some sort of lei. Then I sat for several minutes and tried to figure out if this was some sort of oblique dig at Obama for having the audacity not to be born in the continental US.

    It’s sad, pathetic, and nauseating that my analysis makes about as much sense as the actual cover.

  16. Nia
    June 6, 2009 at 3:49 am

    I think there is something worse than the stupidity of mixing up two ethnic origins as different as South Asian and Latina (WTF??). “Wise” is a racist way of negating she’s intelligent, because white men can be intelligent, intellectual, and non-whites or women are “wise”, intuitive; their intellectual power comes from experience or religious inspiration. There is no room in racist thought for a intelligent non-white. That’s why they’d rather identify her with a religious leader of a culture totally alien to her (again, WTF?) than with anything that actually relates to her.

  17. June 6, 2009 at 4:23 am

    I suppose the charitable reading of this is that they thought: “Buddha = wisest of the wise; we are calling this Latina wise, therefore we should make her look like the Buddha.” But that, of course, just makes them as dense and illuminated as a neutron star.

    After all, if they wanted to call someone White wise, they would not have chosen a PoC archetype to use (probably someone like Einstein or Jesus (and yes, I know Jesus was almost certainly a PoC himself, but look at modern iconography and you’re not likely to see that portrayed…))

  18. eastsidekate
    June 6, 2009 at 8:01 am

    On the plus side, they didn’t refer to Judge Sotomayor as Maria– at least not on the cover.

  19. June 6, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I’m speechless. Holy shit.

  20. paradoctor
    June 6, 2009 at 9:15 am

    The problem is a subtle one. The trouble with Sotomayor’s comment is not that she claimed to be Latina, but that she claimed to be wise. But the truly wise tend to doubt their own wisdom; so maybe Sotomayor displayed overconfidence.

    But how does one depict overconfidence? Or wisdom? If true wisdom had a look, then every fool would adopt it; if fake wisdom had a look, then every fool would avoid it. Therefore images cannot capture wisdom.

    NR ran afoul of this problem. They could have posed her as The Thinker; but instead they gave a compliment/insult to Buddhism. You see, to National Review, Buddhism is exotic; and so is wisdom.

  21. June 6, 2009 at 9:24 am

    My (white) interpretation was similar to Snowdrop’s speculation (I wish there were a concise way to say that without rhyming). I don’t see the Buddha as Asian specifically, although of course he is; I wonder if it’s possible everyone is giving the NR too much credit. But I recognize the limitations of my perspective.

  22. Kai
    June 6, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Well, I see why Holly says this image alludes to Deer Park, where Gautama Buddha delivered many of his most famous talks, but I think that might give the producers of this art too much credit. It also alludes to the Bodhi Tree under which the young Siddhartha meditated. I’d actually shy away from pegging this image as specifically South Asian, since such iconography is actually more common in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and East Asia than it is in South Asia, where Buddhism flourished under the reign of the Emperor Ashoka but then declined almost to the vanishing point in subsequent centuries. Throw in the slanty eyes, big teeth, and pale skin, and we’re looking at a catch-all orientalist yellowface caricature without much cultural specificity. White supremacism is a fluid ideology of power, not a coherent cultural statement, so whiteness has always and will always mix and match its pieces and parts to produce its Othering racist tropes to suit the moment’s imperative to dominate and degrade. Thus have I heard.

  23. umami
    June 6, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I am so confused. Is this some kind of secret racist code? Because I mean…


  24. umami
    June 6, 2009 at 10:23 am

    OK, after wrinkling my brow in concentration for several minutes and reading the link, does the “joke” of this cartoon really boil down to “Heh heh, her skin’s a funny color. Tee hee, she’s not a white person?” Like, really?

    Either it’s some kind of new and complicated racist stereotype, or they’ve just distilled racism down to its pure essentials. It’s dumbfounding.

  25. June 6, 2009 at 11:10 am

    One of the most disgusting pieces of shit I’ve ever seen… I wondered if they would regress after the death of William F Buckley, an old-style gentleman who disliked “cartoon covers”–comparing them to MAD magazine.

    I guess now that he’s gone, the boys on the staff can go hog wild.

  26. W. Kiernan
    June 6, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    I know no editor at National Review ever intended to make Maria Sonia Sotomayor look good. The one and only thing they can dredge out of her entire history that they think might do damage to her (or rather, they don’t give a damn about her per se, they just want to beat up the Obama administration) is this single, lonesome quote containing the words “wise Latina”. They figure that to the typical Republican-voting cretin, the word “Latina” is threatening in several dimensions, and the word “wise” is an outright slap in the face. So since the first day Sotomayor was nominated, they’ve been monomaniacally obseesing over The Quote on all news media 24 hours a day; like Major Kong on his H-bomb, they intend to ride “wise Latina” all the way to the ground, hooting and hat-waving all the way.

    But. We’re not tallking about the subliterate commentary that is printed in the magazine, we’re just talking about the cover illustration. You people are obviously going to disagree, but I think that, both as a work of colorful cartoon art but also as a political caricature, that is an awesome painting and as flattering a portrayal of any political figure as any I’ve ever seen anywhere. For crying out loud, the painter pictures Sotomayor as a Bodhisattva, supernally wise and full of spiritual strength! The only things he left off was a halo and a chorus of angels.

    The editors are mad racists, yes, and they did want Sotomayor to look bad, but when we move beyond the creepy malign trolls in the editorial office to the studio of the artist they contracted, I frankly think National Review got screwed.

  27. June 6, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    One of the most disgusting pieces of shit I’ve ever seen… I wondered if they would regress after the death of William F Buckley, an old-style gentleman who disliked “cartoon covers”–comparing them to MAD magazine.

    Buckley is part of the problem. He published his share of racist crap.

    A 1957 editorial written by Buckley, “Why the South Must Prevail” (National Review, 8/24/57), cited the “cultural superiority of white over Negro” in explaining why whites were “entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where [they do] not predominate numerically.” Appearing on NPR’s Fresh Air in 1989 (rebroadcast 2/28/08), he stood by the passage. “Well, I think that’s absolutely correct,” Buckley told host Terry Gross when she read it back to him.

    A 1960 National Review editorial supported South Africa’s white minority rule (4/23/60): “The whites are entitled, we believe, to preeminence in South Africa.” In a 1961 National Review column about colonialism—which the magazine once called “that brilliantly conceived structure” (William F. Buckley, John Judis)–Buckley explained that “black Africans” left alone “tend to revert to savagery.” The same year, in a speech to the group Young Americans for Freedom, Buckley called citizens of the Congo “semi-savages” (National Review, 9/9/61).

    National Review editors condemned the 1963 bombing of a black Birmingham Church that killed four children, but because it “set back the cause of the white people there so dramatically,” the editors wondered “whether in fact the explosion was the act of a provocateur—of a Communist, or of a crazed Negro” (Chicago Reader, 8/26/05).

    Buckley does not deserve praise as a voice of reason. He planted the seeds of racism in TNR. The Sotomayor cover is carrying Buckley’s legacy.

  28. Phrone
    June 6, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    …..What the hell?

    It’s hard for me to be offended when I’m just….confused. So, as a Latina, I guess I’m now….South Asian?

  29. sophiefair
    June 6, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    The problem is a subtle one. The trouble with Sotomayor’s comment is not that she claimed to be Latina, but that she claimed to be wise. But the truly wise tend to doubt their own wisdom; so maybe Sotomayor displayed overconfidence.

    uhhh, no. she said that she hoped that a “wise latina” would be able to render better judgements than a wise white man who had not had the same experiences. she did not directly speak of herself at all, as in “as a wise latina, i can render better judgements…” it was hypothetical.

  30. FashionablyEvil
    June 6, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Buckley does not deserve praise as a voice of reason.

    I doubt Daisy was defending Buckley. Just saying that he wouldn’t have allowed that cover to go to print. No telling what the text inside would have said…

  31. June 6, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Umm, Michael, I know who Buckley was and what he was about. You might enjoy my obituary of him.

    Is there some reason you think I don’t know that stuff? I think I probably know more about Buckley than anyone on this thread, but don’t let that stop you from patronizing me anyway.

  32. Grendel72
    June 7, 2009 at 4:22 am

    The National review was founded in opposition to integration, and through it’s long existence has never taken a single step back from its founding racism. Ignoring how tasteless and blatant this is, they’re demanding a benefit of the doubt that they have consistently for their entire existence gone out of their way to demonstrate they do not deserve.

  33. Lyonside
    June 7, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I don’t blame a newstand or bookseller for carrying the publication – free speech, market conditions, publication adn shipping agreements, franchises, blahblahblah.

    But I would heartily applaud any store manager who decides to pull this edition and place it behind the counter with the Penthouse and the Playboys with a little sign saying, “This edition of the National Review is available at the front desk.”
    ‘Cause most people DON’T need to see this crap, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to explain it to my daughter.

  34. anonymous
    June 7, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    i’m a south asian woman, and that cover doesn’t bother me. i don’t think it’s racist.. i think the cover is just using the buddha as a symbol of intelligence and enlightment — just as we use the symbol of the owl. the mockery of the buddha is silly, but inline with how the national review has disdain for all things not-White.

  35. June 8, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I’m with anon #37. I think the cover was tone deaf regarding race, rather than racist. Most people, OK all people, who are sensitive about issues of race might think — OK I’m satirizing someone based on the word “wise,” how should I depict her — maybe a wise Buddha. Because “wise” as opposed to “smart” suggests an enlightened kind of smart. But hmm, Buddha introduces a racial element and that’s best avoided here because it could appear to be satirizing race as opposed to the “wise” statement.

    I think NR is tone deaf on race and therefore didn’t form that last conclusion. And as pretty much all depictions of the Buddha show his eyes closed or half closed in prayer/meditation.

    Not to exculpate NR, but I think this is negligent stupidity rather than reckless malice.

  36. June 8, 2009 at 9:12 am

    As a PS — in saying NR is tone deaf on race, it remains true that some NR commentators have indeed made racist statements. I just don’t think we have enough information to claim that this is one of them.

  37. Dreamweasel
    June 8, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    While it may well be possible to compare Sotomayor to Buddha in a non-racist fashion – even sarcastically – this cover illustration ain’t it. Note the slanty eyes and the buck teeth, both of which are endemic to racist caricatures of Asians (and completely absent from the image of the Buddha himself). I can’t fathom how the above characteristics, along with the devlishly pointed chin, could be intended or interpreted as “flattering” in any way.

  38. Cody
    June 9, 2009 at 11:08 am

    The cover shows the “wisdom” of Sotomayor’s comment. When something like, oh say, a magazine cover, is chosen by people who all share the same viewpoint, a viewpoint that is informed by maybe, their identity, they could misunderstand the effects that it may have on a population of people whose identity differs from theirs. I for one think that a wise Latina editor with the richness of her experiences would more often than not chose a better cover than a white male who hasn’t lived that life…. (great video here) http://www.newsy.com/videos/wise_latina_cover_to_cover

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