08 June 2009

The "All White Jury" at PDN

Life here in bucolic Western NY has been unusually wacky lately. So I am late calling attention to this matter. But the inimitable Stan Banos has pointed out something odd about the emperor's new suit. And he has rightly chastised me for not speaking out too. Stan has (now repeatedly) pointed out the exclusively Caucasian character of panels of winners and judges at PDN (Photo District News). Most recently he has pointed out - here - that the panel of 24 judges that named the "players" in the 2009 PDN Photo Annual is completely, totally, without exception white folks ~ an "all white jury" as he named it. Stan's observation has been taken up by a number of bloggers - David White and Benjamin Chesterton at duckrabbit have offered a $1K bounty for anyone who can rationalize the pattern Stan observed, and Pete Brook at Prison Photography, Rob Haggart at A Photo Editor have been egging everyone on. Good.

The issue here is not quotas or tokens. The issue is change. Sure, one can lament (even sincerely so) the disproportionately small numbers of racial and ethnic minorities in any field of endeavor. (As an academic, this is a standard lament.) Photography is not alone in that. But in part the problem is to find ways to alter that state of the world. And hand wringing is not enough. Having people of color* in positions of influence when prizes are decided upon, grants awarded, short lists compiled, photo-spreads assigned, shows mounted, Kudos bestowed, and so forth is a good place to start. For those are the very people who are more likely (I suspect) to notice the otherwise invisible - the young, the aspiring, the overlooked or obscure.** And, as I have mentioned here before, there are good systematic reasons to claim that diversity contributes to better decision-making in groups and organizations period.

And, by the way, Pete Brook suggests that the pattern Stan observed is "passive racism." I tend to disagree. Why? Because Stan had already called their attention to the matter - in a letter to the editor that they published last year. This seems like more or less conscious indifference on the part of the folks at PDN. And if the members of the jury - this goes for each and every one of the 24 members - sat around a table (or, if they didn't meet physically, even simply looked down the list of names) and did not recognize and object to the obviously monochromatic composition of the group, are we to suppose that they simply failed to notice? If they did why should we want their judgment on anything ? Perhaps worst of all, thus far no one from PDN or the jury seems to have the gumption to even address the issue. Could it be that they simply and truly do not give a shit?
__________
* Before all the resentful cries arise, need I say accomplished people of color? Let's grant that there are plenty of mediocre white guys in positions of influence across the professions, photography included. We surely don't want to replicate that state of affairs. I am not suggesting having African-American or Hispanic or Asian members on the jury just because they are of whatever particular variety they happen to be. I am suggesting that accomplishment - as photographer, editor, curator, gallery owner, or whatever - can be your first filter and race, ethnicity, gender and so forth a second.

** Sonia Sotomayor is right about that with respect to judges more generally.

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13 Comments:

Blogger Stan B. said...

I googled "passive racism" and incredibly, could not find a single site with a working definition. You mentioned "conscious indifference" was at work here, and I'm certainly not about to belabor the point, but perhaps the working definition I sought was more "callous indifference."

Fifty some years into it, and the very concept of integration is still anathema to some.

09 June, 2009 00:23  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

This seems to be a class issue more than it is about race. There's a very small pool of people out there deemed to have the "right pedigree" to judge art -- editors of national publications, gallery owners, academics from prestigious art depts., etc. There aren't very many people who fit this criteria, regardless of color.

What I think we need as a society is diversity of background, not color. I'm not at all impressed with the Sotomayor nomination or Obama's election. They are both graduates of Ivy league colleges. Let me know when a person of color from a TRULY humble background achieves something noteworthy, i.e., someone who went to a city or state college, or maybe didn't go to college at all.

This article is pertinent: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/us/politics/09ivy.html?hpw

09 June, 2009 06:38  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

I just wanted to add that there are more than a couple of Jews on the PDN panel and Jews are not white.

09 June, 2009 09:57  
Blogger Matt said...

One of the difficulties is that there are two steps to move beyond 'passive racism'. The first is recognition and acceptance of a need for diversity. The second is the more active step of enacting a plan to do something about it - and without significant pressure (most likely from outside pressure or new leadership) this is unlikely to occur.

Speaking from what I know, the Baltimore Sun ran this story http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/education/bal-md.academy09jun09,0,6779167.story today which shows an increase in minority freshman entering the Naval Academy this summer. While the DoD has consistently pursued a diverse officer corps for the past twenty or so years, it took a very aggressive effort over the past two and a half years to yield a significant increase in minority applicants to the academy. The push came from a new school superintendent and a new dean of admissions.

09 June, 2009 11:22  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I think you'll find that Jews are people who subscribe to the Jewish religion. They can be any color.

09 June, 2009 12:03  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

@ Benjamin: Unlike Christians or Buddhists, Jews are an ethno-religious group -- one that happens to be Semitic. People lump Jews in with Caucasians because they've successfully assimilated into the mainstream and they mostly have white skin. Using that logic, Sotomayor should be white, too.

09 June, 2009 13:58  
Blogger Joerg Colberg said...

I Googled "passive racism", too, and I actually found quite a bit, for example:
http://www.class.uidaho.edu/amst201jj/glossary.htm
where it says:
"Passive Racism: Beliefs, attitudes and actions that contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating violence of oppression. The conscious and unconscious maintenance of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that support the system of racism, racial prejudice, and racial dominance."
or see http://www.enotalone.com/article/18687.html
which says
"There is an absence of hospitality, a distance, a hesitation, a suspiciousness directed at black Americans that is unbecoming of a place called home. Instead there exists the sense of being on shaky ground, the awareness of hostility and confrontation bubbling just beneath the surface. A feeling that at any moment the little dance of tolerance may be abandoned and there you'd have it: a full frontal assault of prejudice, fear, anger, and deadly assumptions even though, these days, the attack may be so subtle and shifty that it is difficult for even the beholder to discern, let alone for its targets to indict. It is, in its modern form, what might be called 'passive racism.'"

As the study I linked to in my post (and the CNN summary) makes clear many people are not aware of what passive racism really means and how it manifests itself. It seems to me the best way to address this problem is to work on people becoming more aware and to work on showing where passive racism is actually at play and what it means. Then fix things.

09 June, 2009 14:17  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

"There is an absence of hospitality, a distance, a hesitation, a suspiciousness directed at black Americans that is unbecoming of a place called home. Instead there exists the sense of being on shaky ground, the awareness of hostility and confrontation bubbling just beneath the surface. A feeling that at any moment the little dance of tolerance may be abandoned and there you'd have it: a full frontal assault of prejudice, fear, anger, and deadly assumptions even though, these days, the attack may be so subtle and shifty that it is difficult for even the beholder to discern, let alone for its targets to indict. It is, in its modern form, what might be called 'passive racism.'"

I would hardly attribute the quote above to the folks at PDN!

09 June, 2009 15:28  
Blogger Joerg Colberg said...

I'm not attributing any quotes to PDN, I'm pointing out that there are quite a few definitions of what "passive racism" is or how it could/can be defined online.

09 June, 2009 15:50  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Joerg, why don't you just ask Stan Banos, or Pete Brook, the two people who used the term and can explain the context in which they used it.

09 June, 2009 15:51  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Gentlemen- I'm going to suppress my desire to nitpick several of the comments made above.

A response has finally come in... It was agonizingly long in coming, and I'm more than thankful for the discussion it helped initiate. I can only hope that the conversation now progresses to how best resolve the problems and issues that PDN has itself (damn the plural) acknowledged, problems and issues which were readily visible for anyone to see.

09 June, 2009 22:50  
Blogger beatriz said...

passive racism is maintaining the status quo and infected with political correctness. passive classicism is more to the point. For example, a mexican acquaintance looked at an award winning photo of "poor mexicans" and read it in an entirely different way than i would have....every detail carried culturally specific meaning. When the going gets rough for photographers, they can't eat their cameras...but should be aware that doing photography is a privilege beyond comprehension for their subjects. The art-media world is selling a project that has a certain appeal to privileged people. eat your camera...eat your contest...eat your magazine...eat your white jury....But for some, it has no relevance.

11 June, 2009 21:00  
Blogger Amanda said...

PDN has not responded to the accusations of passive racism, so it is hard to say whether it is an oversight on their part, or something more sinister. It appears more to be a symptom of the culture.

Amanda
my site

25 June, 2009 14:41  

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