Fortune's January cover story is about Amazon's plans for expansion into the Indian market. It's your average "India business" feature with one twist: an egregiously ill-advised cover depicting Jeff Bezos as a Hindu deity.
Bezos is depicted, by Australian illustrator Nigel Buchanan, through assorted conventions of Hindu religious imagery including blue skin and a jnana mudra hand gesture (signifying meditation and wisdom). (Under duress, I might say they were going for "Vishnu.") But his eyes, which are brown in real life, are conspicuously light, as if to assert his whiteness, that the iconography is just a visual gag.
Tech blogger Anil Dash tweeted about the cover on Saturday, and pointed out the poor taste of pairing the image with a headline reading "Amazon Invades India." “Also, many Indian people (like my dad) were born under colonial rule. So a headline discussing a corporate ‘invasion’ is probably not ideal," wrote Dash.
Fortune editor Alan Murray issued a non-apology on Twitter to "those offended."
Fair point, Anil. Apologies to those offended. @anildash— Alan Murray (@alansmurray) January 10, 2016
First of all, "those offended" is, well, everyone, because the design is in such poor taste. In the full cover, its neo-colonial, imperalist overtones are explicit: "How Jeff Bezos is conquering the next 'trillion-dollar market'." Oh, come again? India is reduced to a dollar amount under a white man's purview? Haven't heard that one before.
And the cover is part of a long, racist tradition of carelessly appropriating Hindu iconography for its color, traditions, and unique visual conventions while erasing its history and context to make a joke, a point, and/or a profit.
More importantly, it begs the question of what is the chain of command, or the high levels of a newsroom, where a cover like this gets green lights all the way to print.
This is why diversity in publishing matters, not just among writers, but among editors too. I can only imagine the clueless cadre of individuals who not only failed to identify this as offensive, but ostensibly found it a good idea, with creative merit.
Subject: January cover
Okay team, we're down to three options: Amazon drones flying over New Delhi, a pile of Amazon gift boxes at Diwali, or Jeff Bezos as Vishnu.
Re: January cover
Dude! Definitely the last one. I have a great feeling about this.
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