The social media people at the American Political Science Association recently sent a sizeable portion of our discipline into existential angst tweeting an irrelevant and offensive photo promoting an article recently published in an association journal. Wendy Wong, a co-author of the article the tweet promoted, has explained it better than I can in her post at The Duck:
Instead of contacting us to request a photo, or choosing a stock photo that reflects the subject of our article, APSA decided to accompany this promotion with a photo of a random Asian woman.
I was stunned.
So it’s pretty obvious to me why this is offensive, but let me spell it out.
- What does the Getty Image “Portrait of a young woman smiling” have to do with INGOs? Or authority? Or politics?
- What happened to my co-author?
- What kind of search terms were being used to even generate such a photo that APSA found worthy of posting not just on PSNow, but tweeting?
- Has all of my work on INGOs boiled down to some irrelevant stock image?
- Is it that hard to Google “NGO” for images related to the work being advertised?
- Yea, “all Asians look alike,” but REALLY?!
My daughter, who advises on social media campaigns for her PR firm, had this response when I shared the story with her.
What. What what what?! What would possess someone to do that? The photo doesn’t relate to the copy!
To which I replied:
We know what possesses them: white othering. It is horrifying, but the PR person is a normal white person: neither her/his parents nor society taught her/him otherwise. Still lots of that out there.
Cue the white males at Inside Higher Ed!
I know, you are thinking there is noooo fucking way a blog that covers higher education will add insult to injury covering this story.
Au contraire! From central casting I offer you Scott Jaschik, a founding editor for the site.
Here is Jaschik’s coverage:
I’m gonna let John Stewart handle this.
Following Wong’s lead, while it is obvious to me why this is offensive, let me spell it out:
- Political scientists, men and women, were angered and expressed their frustration on social media.
- Framing a story as a “women’s issue” story recreates the insidious media practice of treating so-called “[white] male” politics as “normal” and “other” topics as “speical interest,” which is to say, of lesser import.
OK, I need to run and teach a class, so I will leave it at that rather incomplete, but hopefully minimally acceptable list.
To the best of my knowledge Jaschik does not yet understand his gaffe: he has engaged in no ownership, made no correction, nor offered any apology I am aware of. And yes, I did tweet at him last night, so there is some reason to believe he is aware that some of non-women are miffed.
 A majority, no a super majority, right? Please let it have been a super majority!