Bloomberg Businessweek has sparked a torrent of criticism after its cover depicted exaggerated cartoon versions of Latinos and blacks greedily grabbing for money for a story about a housing rebound across the country.
“Oh wow, oh wow, that is very offensive,” said Aracely Panemeno, the director of Latino affairs for the Center for Responsible Lending, as she first opened up a photo of the cover on her computer. “It is highly offensive and inaccurate with an intent to promote and perpetuate the myth that communities of color were undeserving of the credit and housing they received and are to blame for the housing crisis, when in reality the opposite is true. They were targeted with predatory loans.”
Bloomberg Businessweek tells NBC Latino it regrets the cover, dated February 25.
“Our cover illustration last week got strong reactions, which we regret,” said editor, Josh Tyrangiel in a statement. “Our intention was not to incite or offend. If we had to do it over again we’d do it differently.”
A Pew research study found that Hispanic household wealth fell by 66 percent from 2005 to 2009 and African-American wealth fell by 53 percent, identifying the principal cause as plummeting house values, which led to the erosion in wealth among all groups. Janis Bowdler, the director of economic policy at The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) says this information along with the fact that by 2020 half of all first-time home buyers will be Hispanic, makes the Bloomberg Businessweek cover even more offensive.
“I found the cover shocking and incredibly insulting,” Bowdler says. “Not only does the cover not relate to the article, it’s incredibly ironic given the changing demographics of this country and somehow insinuates that by trying to have a small slice of American dream they’re money grabbers.”
Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) also took the magazine to task for their cover.
“The cover stands out for its cast of black and Hispanic caricatures with exaggerated features reminiscent of early 20th century race cartoons,” wrote Ryan Chittum, deputy editor of CJR’s business section. “Also, because there are only people of color in it, grabbing greedily for cash. It’s hard to imagine how this one made it through the editorial process. Compounding the first-glance problem with the image is the fact that race has been a key backdrop to the subprime crisis. The narrative of the crash on the right has been the blame-minority-borrowers line, sometimes via dog whistle, often via bullhorn.”
Matthew Yglesias, Slate’s business and economics correspondent, condemned the cover. “The idea is that we can know things are really getting out of hand since even non-white people can get loans these days!” Ygelsias said. “They ought to be ashamed.”
The Center for Responsible Lending’s Panemeno says her job is to look at data objectively but that she can’t ignore the realities of the families that live in her neighborhood and have been among those hit hardest in the country.
“For me this is also personal,” she says. “I live in Prince William County, Virginia, where 12,000 pre-dominantly Latino families lost their homes because of predatory lending, the subprime boom and over-development.”
Panemeno also questions the accuracy of the story’s claim of a housing rebound.
“If you concentrate on the hardest hit neighborhoods, they’re predominantly minority neighborhoods,” she says.
“If there is a rebound it’s escaping communities of color.”