Tag Archives: black

Pinboard Entry #5: Post-Race Covergirl

Ann Coulter Mugged Book Cover 2012

On her book cover, Republican commentator Ann Coulter appears to lean on the black band at the bottom of the book, which serves as her nameplate and also establishes her status as a bestselling author. Her blonde hair falls over her shoulders and chest, which are exposed by her tight, sleeveless dress. Her gold cross catches the light, and she gives the camera a tight smile. By all accounts, this is a glamor shot which would seem more appropriate for a memoir or a book about personal hygiene than one on race.

Mugged, which is Coulter’s eighth book to date, revises history by arguing that liberals have not historically been the champions of racial equality in the United States. The book was released in late September, and Coulter’s subsequent promotional television appearances clearly establish that she intended for it to have an outcome on the election. In addition to arguing that President Obama’s election in 2008 was more a consequence of white liberal guilt than a milestone in American political history, she attempts to show that Obama lost support among African Americans during his first administration. Coulter’s book is  an stunning example of what Bill Maher calls the “Republican Bubble”—an alternative universe where “facts” need have no basis in reality—and many public figures, including Maher and Whoopi Goldberg, have called her out on this.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, this book can be judged by its cover, which betrays the  insincerity of Coulter’s inquiry into race in the United States. The juxtapositioning of her title, “Mugged” in bold black typeface, which conjures images of urban violence, over her blond, blue-eyed head shot is a deliberate attempt to claim that white people are the victims—of decades of “racial demagoguery,” as her subtitle bears out. By casting her discussion of race in America in her own dyed, dieted and cross-bearing image, Coulter is targeting her audience: white conservatives who may be sympathetic to her spurious argument that racial inequality exists only in the imagination and discourse of liberal America.

Pinboard Entry #6: Black History Painting

Kerry James Marshall
Portrait of John Punch (Angry Black Man 1646)
source: artslant.com

In this disarming three-quarter portrait, the hulking figure of John Punch seemingly sways to the left against a black background. He is clad in a bulky tunic with an upright white collar that offsets the intense blackness of his face. His arms are pulled behind his back, indicating that he is not a free man, yet he confronts the viewer with a stare emanating from narrowed eyes. An errant lock of hair pulls to the far left of the frame. A red band runs across the top of the painting—the sole injection of bright color in this dark picture.

Punch is regarded as the first African to spend his life in servitude in the United States. The date included in the title of the painting, 1646, represents the year that he was sentenced to a lifetime of slavery by a State court. Punch is one of several historical black figures that the contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall  has memorialized as part of a larger effort to break up the supremacy of white figures on the walls of art museums. For Marshall, the fact that museums are dominated by portraits, history paintings and genre scenes picturing white people is evidence that painting is hardly a finished, outmoded media.

In addition to his critique of the over-representation of white subjects, Marshall uses paintings like this to highlight other ways that the revered styles and schools of the Western art canon have privileged whiteness  For instance, Marshall takes on Malevich’s white on white Suprematist Painting, proving that black paint has just as much potential for finely hewn gradations. In the Punch portrait, black skin is distinct from black hair which is distinct from a black background. Marshall’s body of work not only infuses the canon of Western art with a much needed constituency of blackness, it also challenges the assumption that whiteness is the norm rather than another racial category.