Rarely do magazine and website writers have much control over the art that accompanies their articles. But usually, the relationship between writer and editor or art director is such that an inherent trust of the latter’s final decision is warranted. A good editor ensures that the image and headline serve the copy.
If Elizabeth Salaam, writer for the San Diego Reader, had such trust when she penned the most recent issue’s cover story, it was misplaced. The editorial staff for the local periodical took her article about finding social and educational spaces near her community, where her children would be able to see people of color, and inexplicably titled it, “Afro Puffs.” They chose to run a photograph of a toddler pulling her natural hair. But most jarringly, they chose to run the following copy along with that image and headline:
The white girls like
the black guys,
and the Mexican girls
like the black guys,
and the Filipino girls
like the black guys,
and the black guys
like them, too.
But no one likes the black girls.
Huh? Though the article does open with the author referencing her daughter’s natural hair and her worry that someday soon her daughter may begin to wish her hair looked more like the straight, blonde hair of other women in her community, the article isn’t about hair at all. It’s about cultural identity, assimilation, and reinforcing positive self-image. Titling the essay “Afro Puffs” deliberately obscures those themes.
But the weak article title isn’t the real head scratcher here. The pull quote that accompanies the picture of a cherubic little black girl on the cover is the stranger choice. The quote is presented without context: It’s an observation the writer’s son makes about what he perceives to be the social dynamics at the middle school he attends. On the deceptive cover, it appears that the article will be about why “no one” (In San Diego? In America? In the world?!) likes black girls — and how their disdain is linked to their hair.
The image and article were posted online on July 11, and commenters have been similarly confused and offended by the cover copy. Others have taken issue with the content of the article itself; though it is quite long, it’s more diaristic than journalistic, and for the issues the author wants to engage, she’d need more than her children’s and friends’ opinions and experiences to speak to issues of cultural or racial stratification in San Diego. Though the editor absolutely chose the wrong quote to publish on the cover, Salaam did offer it, as one of a few anecdotes about her son’s experiences with finding a barber, fitting in at school, and worrying about becoming “bourgie.”
If she’d known it would be used next to a picture of a little black girl tugging her hair straighter, it’s a safe bet she would’ve edited it out.
Did you read Salaam’s article? Does it relate to the cover art, the title, or the pull quote?