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March 11, 2010

Haiti: Strictly Bananas

Haitian-boy-selling-bananas.jpg

(Click for larger size)

Hmm, couched in a bunch of U.N. photos of peacekeeping troops patrolling "a notoriously dangerous slum on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti" (1, 2, 3 — this latter one particularly scary the way the gun points directly at the woman's head); and this one in the "Central Market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a sensitive area where security measures have been increased"; and also this one, of a "slum of Martissant in the southern hills of Haiti capital Port-au-Prince, where violence is rampant and security measures have been increased since a prison break of about 4,000 convicts," we find the photo above.

I guess the jungly vibe, and the crouch, and the turned-in fingers, and all those bananas — absent any hint of the so-captioned "newly-revived Port-au-Prince market" — are supposed to strictly reveal this boy as part of Haiti's rebound.

(photo: Pasqual Gorriz/UN. caption: Boy Sells Bananas in Newly-Revived Port-au-Prince Market: A teenage boy sells bananas in Port-au-Prince Central Market which is slowly reviving after the 12 January earthquake. 22 February 2010 Port-au-Prince, Haiti.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/brittanyfarmer Brittany Farmer

    I think what makes this picture distasteful is the “absen[ce of] any hint of the so-captioned ‘newly-revived Port-au-Prince market.” The photo certaintly doesn’t show that and the contrast does make one think that they really meant to stir up the “gorilla in a jungle” thing (if I can be so direct).
    But, when I looked at the picture before reading your analysis, I didn’t think that at all. I do see what you are saying: bananas, curled fingers, black skin, crouched position. But, that wasn’t my impression initially. On its own, I just saw a black man crouching with bananas. Is this because I’m insensitive? No. This happens sometimes with people of my young age (22) and mix-raced background: we don’t always see the “obvious” racial overtones of something because we ourselves know that race is not obvious. And, with so few people (in my area of the country, anyway) calling black people “monkeys” these days, the terrible association is not so closely linked in my mind.

  • Blue Shark

    Did anybody else get …”Hey Mr. Tally-man Tally me bananas”?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/serr8d Serr8d

    They seem quite bruised. When they ripen, their only good may be for puddings.

  • http://justbetweenstrangers.blogspot.com/ acm

    I don’t really understand your analysis. You offer:
    I guess the jungly vibe, and the crouch, and the turned-in fingers, and all those bananas — absent any hint of the so-captioned “newly-revived Port-au-Prince market” — are supposed to strictly reveal this boy as part of Haiti’s rebound.
    “strictly reveal….part of Haiti’s rebound”? you mean it’s supposed to look like he’s about to jump (for joy or otherwise)??
    I think it’s entirely of a piece with all the rest of the coverage depicting Haitians as savages — here overtly there’s a monkey/gorilla analogy being drawn, by both setting and pose — and thus entirely unhelpful to the development of any sane way of addressing the nation or its people.

  • black(tar)antula

    spider-manque

  • Deb

    Brittany, I’m with you. Only I’m 60, and am getting tired of us looking for racial messages where there are none. It’s beginning to have the opposite effect.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5dab11c970c www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562699569

    Perhaps Brittany and Deb don’t see it, but the editor(s) who chose the photo certainly did. You have to consider why, among the hundreds and thousands of photos coming from each photographer working in Haiti, the editor(s) selected this particular photo among the more routine shots of rubble, people carrying televisions, doctors examining patients in tents, etc. There’s a specific purpose to each and every photo, and each photo contains elements that themselves have a specific purpose. When evaluating news images you’ve got to consider at least what the intention is, even if you don’t really connect to it yourself. These images are chosen because they’re very good at what they are meant to do — they stir up associations and recall stereotypes and bubble up emotions that we all have buried within us by virtue of having been exposed to these themes and memes and stereotypes several hundred times a day from the moment we are old enough to watch television or read print.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/brittanyfarmer Brittany Farmer

    While I agree that this particular photo was chosen with racially motivated intentions (and I said as much in my original post), my point (and Deb’s, I think) is that, on its own and out of context, this photo (a black man crouching with bananas) doesn’t bring to my mind something racist. You say, “they stir up associations and recall stereotypes and bubble up emotions that we all have buried within us by virtue of having been exposed to these…stereotypes several hundred times a day from the moment we are old enough to watch television or read print.” My basic argument is that this (black man/gorilla) and many other racial associations are not “buried within [me] by virtue of having been exposed to these…stereotypes several hundred times a day.” I’m not and was not exposed to them hundreds of times a day and many other people of my generation have not been exposed to them hundreds of times a day.
    And, as evidenced by Deb’s remark, some people who have been exposed to these images several hundred times (I don’t know if Deb has been, but since she is older than I am and from a different generation, I would assume so) don’t necessarily associate these images with racial stereotypes either.
    Again, in this instance, I think the editor intended the association. In other instances, however, I think people are looking for these sensitive associations, not realizing that some associations are no longer at the center of the cultural conversation, could be innocent and are becoming/will become obsolete. That was my only point.

  • http://www.prisonphotography.wordpress.com Pete Brook

    The most interesting thing about the decision to publish this picture is the look of puzzlement on the man’s face. Why do editors publish images in which it is clear the person depicted has no agency or interest in the image-making?
    More than any analysis of the content, it is that gaze of his that says, “Why are you pointing a camera at me?” This picture to me is evidence of a disconnect between the reporter and his subject … and disconnected reporters are not what we want.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5dab11c970c www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562699569

    Thank you for your very clear and well though-out response. I have hope for the future then, if there are more young people like yourself who have thought about these issues as thoroughly as it seems you have.

  • thebluedame

    “I’m not and was not exposed to them hundreds of times a day and many other people of my generation have not been exposed to them hundreds of times a day.”
    This statement is poignantly optimistic even if a person your age has never watched television in all her life. But its optimism verges on Quixotical delusion. I really find it very difficult to believe that young people today “have not been exposed to them hundreds of times a day,” when racism, like sexism, are part and parcel of advertising /popular media culture, and an increasingly worrisome component of political culture, if the Tea Party rallies are anything to go by.
    Unlearning the racist attitudes of the past requires that we confront them in our present.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/brittanyfarmer Brittany Farmer

    thebluedame:
    What I specifically meant was that I am not/have not been exposed to the “black people as monkeys” racial slur hundreds of times in my life, not even on the TV shows and commercials I’ve grown up with, so that association is not in my/many people in my generation’s mind.
    I have, of course, been exposed to racism in my lifetime, both directly and indirectly. My generation will have to call out and deal with the stereotype that all black people (if we are to stick with one race here) are cool/over-sexed/amazing athletes/great dancers/sassy/thugs/ghetto/and always the “token” ethnic person in an otherwise white environment. But monkeys? Not really, no. I don’t think it’s Quixotic to suggest that some stereotypes eventually die out.

  • thebluedame

    Brittany:
    If only they did. As recently as last year, the monkey stereotype was invoked against both First lady and President Obama in separate incidents, and the Republicans have images of Obama as a monkey–google it. It’s painful, but these symbols continue to have currency.
    See http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/minor/2009/02/19/racist-obama-monkey-cartoon/
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/nov/25/michelle-obama-google-images-removed
    And in terms of racism and advertisement, this appeared in today’s Independent:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/advertising/racial-stereotype-bingo-ad-is-banned-1922553.html
    The fact that these stereotypes are banned supports your idea that we as a society are not receptive to them anymore, and that is encouraging. The fact that they keep coming up suggests that like they undead, they are ready to take on life when the occasion presents itself. It is one of the many legacies of the slaving plantocracy, and we close our eyes to it at the expense of a more human world.

  • PDG

    This picture has been taken by the United Nations. There’s no racist message anywhere. It’s just that simple.

    • Pasqual G.

      Thank you. I’m the photographer who took the photo, most of the time the racist approach has been made by the editors and their comments, like in this case. regards.
      PS I find that some comments quite disturbing and offensive.

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