Racial Theme of New Yorker Cover Sparks Furor
A painting of a black woman and a Hasidic Jew embracing and kissing on the cover of the New Yorker magazine drew criticism Monday from leaders on both sides of a racially divided community.
The artist, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman, and New Yorker editor Tina Brown said the Valentine’s Day cover advocates replacing conflict with love.
Spiegelman, in an accompanying commentary, acknowledged that his image is a dream that is “knowingly naive” and that the problems besetting Jews and blacks in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section “cannot be kissed away.”
“But once a year, perhaps, it’s permissible, even if just for a moment, to close one’s eyes, see beyond the tragic complexities of modern life, and imagine that it might really be true that ‘All you need is love,’ ” he wrote.
Tensions between the community’s blacks and ultra-Orthodox Jews erupted in August, 1991, with two deaths and days of racially fueled violence. Conflict continues, with alleged bias attacks from both sides.
The cover of the Feb. 15 issue, which appeared on newsstands Monday, may do more harm than good, said the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a black activist.
“I think that instead of healing anything, there will be anger emanating because of this,” Daughtry said.
Daughtry and Rabbi Joseph Spielman, chairman of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, both called the painting “unfortunate.”
“Rather than healing, this just makes everything ludicrous,” Spielman said, pointing out that Hasidim may not even kiss their wives or show them physical affection in public.
Spiegelman said the negative reactions from both groups made him sad. But he added, by telephone from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., it ultimately may have a positive effect.
“If it unites both communities against me, at least we’ve gotten them united,” he said.
Brown, who took over as editor last year, defended the cover.
“Art Spiegelman’s beautiful image, representing as it does his dreamlike vision of comity and love, speaks for itself,” she said.
Daughtry said he doubted that the magazine would have used a cover showing a black man kissing a Hasidic woman. Spiegelman said he considered such a picture and conceded racial stereotypes affected the final version.