A new addition to the New York Times annual Holiday Gift Guide has sparked a minor uproar after a blog devoted to critiquing the paper termed it "racist." Included in this year's guide, which was published in November, is a page titled "Of Color/Stylish Gifts." This first-time feature is described by the paper as "gifts created for and by people of color." After going virtually unnoticed by critics for a month, the guide's been widely slammed in the past week as a collection of "backhanded insults" which are "bordering on offensive" and "out of touch."
The "Of Color" section was compiled by African American reporter Simone S. Oliver and can be found inside the "Style & Travel" section of the 2009 Gift Guide. Its contents include:
- "The Mocha Guide to Military Life," a book for African American women with family members serving in the military.
- A "Wise Latina" t-shirt, an obvious play on a controversial statement made by Sonia Sotomayor that became an issue during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
- "Hair Rules," a product for people of color with "problem hair."
- "Baby Jamz," which was created by Beyonce Knowles' father and sister, is "an interactive hip-hop and rhythm-based toy line."
Predictably, media watchdogs and Times critics have pounced on the paper for its publication of a gift recommendation list for non-whites. The conservative website Newsbusters blasted it as a guide for "race-based holiday shopping," while the liberal-leaning media gossip blog Gawker.com called it "a celebration of the racist assumption that 'people of color' are defined by their colors." Mediaite questioned the paper's editorial process in putting the guide together, saying that they were "utterly amazed it made it past the editing process," adding that they're "baffled why anyone felt the need to separate these gifts from the more generalized categories into which all these items fit, to one based on skin color."
Yahoo! News spoke to multiple staffers at the paper who expressed divided feelings over the guide. One Times reporter who asked to remain unnamed was mildly flabbergasted, saying, "After seeing the gift guide, I'm guessing all that ink we spilled after the election of Obama about a post-racial America didn't get read internally. It goes right up there in the pantheon of tone-deaf boneheadedness." Another reporter who also requested anonymity pointed out that the guide was created by a person of color, saying, "Critics of the Times tend to do this -- they tend to attack something niche-y as if it was formulated and written by The White Powers that Be at the paper, like they're pushing some fetishized version of how black people think and what they would want."
When contacted by Yahoo! News for comment, New York Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty provided us with the following statement:
Our online gift guides are intended to offer holiday gift ideas for a wide variety of audiences and interests, with Times writers and editors making smart, informed choices that might appeal to those different audiences.
The "Of Color" guide, in the Style & Travel category, is in keeping with that philosophy, and with the efforts of a diverse Times staff to directly address minority readers with our content.
Of course, we expect our readers to use the guides however they choose, and we hope they'll find interesting ideas in many different categories. But we'll continue our effort to provide content that's relevant and appealing.
New York Times: Stylish Gifts for People of Color