Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

06 March 2010

Seen Around Talla-Classy #6

I know I am constantly calling images and movies and narratives racist or homophobic or both. It's a habit of mine; and I'm probably not going to stop any time soon, so just go with me, okay?

Anyway, here's a new one. This is a billboard I have seen two places around Tallahassee so far. I snapped this picture on my way into work the other day: Your small white boy can grow up without any people of color around, too!The advertisement isn't hateful outright, of course. A small white boy, who is the focus of the advertisement, appears to be doing some kind of writing project while two white girls, who appear to be in a similar learning environment, look, not at their own assignment, but at the boy's assignment. Their middle-aged white teacher also looks directly at the boy's writing assignment. Everyone in the image appears to being enjoying the scenario. The boy (clever young man that he is) has obviously written or drawn something quite delightful.

From here, I look at the text in the advertisement. What do these happy white people want me to buy? NORTH FLORIDA Christian School ...Your best option. It is here where I start to get a little irritated. The phrase "best option" asks me to immediately imagine options other than the one in the image. And what are those options? Well, in Tallahassee, a city with a white population of 60% and an African-American population of 35%, those options would definitely include a school with at least one black kid, I am guessing. There are two middle schools that are fewer than six blocks away from this billboard and neither of them (OBVIOUSLY) has an all-white population. ...And yet this advertisement seems to say that an all-white education is an option. You don't have to send your kids to those other schools. Send them to our all-white Christian school!

The other element that I want to talk about in this image is the androcentrism of the image. Clearly the boy's education is the focus of this advertisement. The woman and the two girls have their attention focused on the white boy at the image's center. But where are the other boys? For that matter, are there male instructors at this school? The image seems to me—and you may call this a stretch if you like—to be deliberately avoiding any notion of homosociality between both boys and other boys or boys and grown men. What is going on here?

Perhaps it is the too-sensitive gay man in me, but I see heterosexism all over this image. Again, this has to do with the ideas the advertisement itself suggests. "Your best option" asks me what the other options are. And what are the other options? Aside from those options including people of color, they might also include other boys or perhaps male instructors. Instead, the image says that those options are not the "best option." Instead, send your little white boy to our school and we will make sure that he grows up without any other males around him! He will socialize only with women and he will grow up to love them and get married!

It should go without saying that the advertisement is not at all interested in the education of either of the two young women in the image.

I find this advertisement fascinating, even stunning. I suppose it is unremarkable, really, but I feel like I have never been around racism as much as since I have lived in the South. It is really intriguing to me. And I find that almost every time I see an image that strikes me as racist, that image is linked somehow with a privileged heterosexuality. I suppose, after all, racism and homophobia go hand in hand. An attempted sexual control over a population is necessarily and inevitably going to be related to a notion of racial purity. I mean, why else even bother with sexual purity except to keep my family from biologically uniting with that family over there.

What do you think?