NYT Dreaming of a Colored Christmas

mocha-manual-to-military-lifeThe New York Times‘ “Of Color” holiday gift guide, featuring is drawing some bemusement from all corners of the blogosphere.   But it’s a pretty good idea.

The premise is both amusing and self-contradictory:

Somali fashion, do-it-yourself henna kits, children’s books that draw inspiration from the lives of Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor: it’s not hard to find gifts created for and by people of color this holiday season.

Well, if it’s not hard, why create a special section in the NYT?

NYTpicker thinks it blatantly “racist” because “this page is the only one aimed squarely at readers whose skin isn’t white in color — and it’s the first time we can remember a gift guide, anywhere, openly defining its offerings by their appeal to a specific racial group.” Mediaite‘s Glynnis MacNicol is “not sure I’m willing to go that far. But badly, terribly thought out, bordering on offensive, absolutely.”

But, in fact, we live in a predominately white society and most children’s books, toys, and the like are created with a white audience in mind.  That’s especially true of the classics, some of which are decades old and depict an all-white world. Several of Katie’s books were first published fifty or sixty years ago and the illustrations are from that period.  All the characters, down to the street sweepers, are white.    Most of her Fischer-Price “Little People” are white, too; the handful of exceptions are from playsets introduced in recent years rather than old-time favorites.  (My wife tells me that African-American replacement figures are available online.)

If you’re black or Hispanic and want to find items featuring kids that look like yours, then, you might want some ideas.

Here are some of the items highlighted in the guide:


Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen aren’t the only twin designers. Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim, identical twins, are the creative force behind Mataano (which means “twins” in Somali). Their designs are infused with their East African and American heritage. If you’re looking for a special gift that expresses sophistication, culture and style, a Mataano piece is a good bet.

Baby Jamz

Solange Knowles and her father, Matthew Knowles (yes, Beyoncé’s sister and father) have teamed with Planet Toys to create an interactive hip-hop and rhythm-based toy line. The line includes a Mix Master Music Chair that allows children to be their own D.J.’s, a Move ‘n Groove dance mat, a Jammin’ Microphone and other items. There is also a singalong DVD series, featuring the voices of the Knowles sisters singing remixed versions of your favorite nursery rhymes.

‘The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color’ by Iman

In her early days as a model, Iman went through some rough patches with makeup artists who had trouble matching her skin tone. Those encounters inspired her to start her own makeup brand and write this beauty tome.

Ash Kumar’s Bollywood Henna Kit

You can emulate your favorite Bollywood star or come up with your own ideas with this henna kit for body and hair. It’s a perfect do-it-yourself gift for those wanting to satisfy a creative itch and is certain to add a glam touch at holiday parties.

‘The Mocha Manual to Military Life: A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends and Female Service Members’ by Kimberly Seals-Allers and Pamela M. McBride

Do you know an Army wife, or someone who is dating a person in the military? Do they need advice on how to manage a long-distance relationship? This handbook may help. The authors cover a range of topics, from how to cope during deployment to mastering military protocol.

The last of these is drawing the most attention because of the illustration.  It initially puzzled me, in that there are few obvious (to me, anyway) reasons that “mocha” wives and girlfriends would have different needs in this regard than those of other colors.  But it turns out that there is a whole series of “The Mocha Manual to” books.

Mary Katharine Ham argues that “some of the gifts are nice, but they’d be nice for any number of New York Times readers, not just for their minority readers. For instance, a Barack Obama children’s book could likely be enjoyed by white liberals as much as by black people. I know I may blow the New York Times‘ mind, here, but there are also black conservatives who might not appreciate it. Imagine that! White folks could, and even would, buy nail polish created by people of color. The designs of Somali twins Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim look lovely for people of all hues.”

That’s fair enough, although the products are clearly designed and marketed to people of color.  Sure, Iman’s expertise in beauty products would be useful to white girls; but it’s nonetheless true that different products and techniques are more likely to enhance dark skin than light skin and vice-versa.  For the most part, the products listed in the guide largely strike me as ones that might be difficult to find, would not be of much interest to white folks, and might help sell some newspapers.

via memeorandum

FILED UNDER: Media, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fausta says:

    Here’s a hint, James:
    No “Wise Latina” t-shirt for me.

  2. I don’t think it’s about selling papers so much as it’s about selling ads.

    Basically special sections like this allow the NYT to offer more targeted demographics to advertisers. It’s a sort of crude version of what the web does more easily.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m not entirely sure what the beef is here. Is it that the NYT didn’t produce a “White People’s Guide”? That might be fair comment.

    Is it that the NYT produced it at all? Should such guides be limited to magazines or newspapers that have a largely black readership? Jet? Ebony? The Chicago Defender? Would that be more or less racist?

    Is there some problem with targeted marketing by race?

  4. James Joyner says:

    Fausta: Duly noted

    Michael: Yes, good point

    Dave: I think conservatives have gotten tired of defending the notion that all mention of race is not racist and have therefore started poorly aping the PC crowd. It’s the “how come black people can say this and I can’t?” meme in a slightly different context.

  5. gustopher says:

    Dave, what makes you think that the New York Times doesn’t regularly produce the White People’s Gift Guide?