In a column this morning for TownHall.Com, David W. Almasi calls me a "race-monger" for pointing out the racial implications of the LeBron James/Gisele Bundchen Vogue magazine cover. Annie Leibovitz's photo was a recreation of a famous World War I military recruitment poster, with James in the role of the woman-lusting gorilla and Bundchen as his prey. People who see King Kong in the cover are not far off the mark.
Citing Chris Rock's Saturday Night Live character Nat X, Almasi, the executive director of the right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research, races to this conclusion:
Rather than judging James -- and, by extension, other blacks -- by the content of their character, skills or intellect as Vogue intended, the race-mongers instead seem more interested in bringing things down to the lowest common denominator. There never seems to be a party where they don't want to be a skunk.
After all, Nat X said that's what we wanted to see.
I contacted Almasi last week after his think tank issued a press release declaring there was "no racial double-meaning" in the cover. I wanted to see if his opinion would change after he saw the poster, which Leibovitz was clearly referencing in her shot.
As you might expect of a person who makes his living holding a rigid ideological position, Almasi didn't budge an inch. He scoffed in email at the notion there's anything racial going on, since the poster's gorilla is a German kaiser.
Surely Almasi knows that the portrayal of a black athlete as a simian is a racially provocative statement. Less than a year after Howard Cosell called an athlete a "little monkey" on Monday Night Football in 1983, a comparison he made previously of other non-black athletes, he was gone from the program. Less innocently, racists have often compared blacks to monkeys and apes.
If Leibovitz had not worked directly from an iconic gorilla/woman poster, we could have the argument Almasi wants to have about how controversies like this are drummed up by people seeing racism in places it doesn't exist. I think he'd still be wrong -- the black journalists who first spoke out against the Vogue cover have a right to find it offensive -- but it's more open to debate.
Instead, Almasi finds himself in the position of pretending there's nothing racial going on when Leibovitz intentionally cast LeBron James in the role of a gorilla.
To paraphrase Nat X, that's what she wanted us to see.