Atlantic Cities

Bloomberg Businessweek's Racist Cover Also Gets the Housing Crisis Backwards

Bloomberg Businessweek's Racist Cover Also Gets the Housing Crisis Backwards
Businessweek

Thanks to Matt Yglesias, we've been staring at this recent Bloomberg Businessweek cover for most of the morning, and we still can't decide what's most offensive about it: the caricature of the busty, sassy Latina, the barefooted black man waving cash out his window, that woman in the upstairs left-hand corner who looks about as dim-witted as her dog?

The whole scene is rightly enraging the Internet today (the cover was first floated on Feb. 21, but sometimes Twitter's metabolism is strangely slow). Businessweek is selling this scene above the headline "The Great American Housing Rebound," by which the magazine seems to be suggesting that free-spending minorities who should never have been given mortgages during the last housing bubble are now at it again, pumping their houses for straight cash.

This suggestion is particularly problematic given the actual history of the last housing crash, as the Columbia Journalism Review writes today:

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.

It’s a narrative that has, not coincidentally, dovetailed with “Obamaphone” baloney, the ACORN pseudo-scandal, and Southern politicians calling the first black president “food-stamp president,” and is meant to take the focus off the ultimate culprits: mortgage lenders with no scruples and the Wall Street banks who financed them.

The last housing crash, as we've written before, was characterized by a kind of reverse-redlining that disproportionately targeted minorities – a reality to which Businessweek's cover seems entirely tone-deaf. But the most perplexing part of the whole affair is the fact that the magazine's cover – and the story insinuated by it – bears no relation to the actual article contained inside (which has a notably less sexy headline online: "A Phoenix Housing Boom Forms, in Hint of U.S. Recovery"). That piece makes no mention of the racial dynamics of the housing market, or the role of predatory lending.

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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