Impact vs. Intent

In having to come up with something to write about on this blog every day of Lent, I’ve found other people’s blog posts to be a great source of inspiration. Today, I came across the below post on MistressoftheInk’s blog. It’s about the recently published prenup photos of Phillipine couple Coleen Garcia and Billy Crawford and whether the photos are racist. You can see two of the photos in the post. I suggest looking at the photos before you read my comment on the post, as I don’t want to influence your opinion.

Here’s my comment:

When it comes to determining if something is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., the determining factor is impact, NOT intent. The impact of these photos is the Ethiopians look like props used to show the contrast between them and the glamour and beauty of the engaged couple. So yes, these photos are racist.

Even if this wasn’t the couple’s intent, once the photos were taken, and before they were published, no one noticed this was the effect given how the couple and the Ethiopians are posed? Furthermore, if the couple wanted to display the beauty of Ethiopia, they could have taken photos featuring only the country’s beautiful landscape, not local citizens. The point of engagement photos is to highlight the couple, these are actually the first engagement photos I’ve ever seen that feature other people besides the couple. I’m not sure if that’s common in other countries (I’m American).

At the end of the day, it’s important to call things what they are. That’s the only way things are going to get better.

I did a little research on the public’s response to this and the photos are consistently referred to as “prenup photos,” which seems to be a different thing than engagement photos, so that’s the phrasing I should have used in my comment. In my research, I also found Crawford’s response to people’s negative reaction to the photos. He said the couple was invited by Nigerian Airlines to do a shoot in Nigeria as part of a tourism campaign. He said their tour guide invited them to include Ethiopians in their shots.

Crawford apologized for the negative reaction caused by the photos: “We do apologize for how it might have translated, and we’re sorry again to those who we have offended. I grew up in a diverse city (Roosevelt Island), and had experienced bullying and racism in my youth because of my “being Asian.” Trust me, we mean no harm.”

I have several issues with this apology. First of all, how it “might” have translated? You know very well how it translated, that’s why you’re apologizing.

Secondly, you having experienced racism is irrelevant. That doesn’t mean you can’t do or say something racist. Scratch that, Crawford’s experiencing racism is relevant. I expect someone who knows the sting of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. to do better and be more cautious about what he says and does.

Finally, he ends the apology by mentioning the couple’s intent, which I’ve already established doesn’t matter.

The problem with celebrity “apologies” is they’re often somewhat disingenuous and try to shirk responsibility for the celebrity’s actions. Hopefully, Billy and Coleen will be more careful next time.

4 thoughts on “Impact vs. Intent

  1. First, the picture is stupid. Honestly, it’s hard to fathom what was really intended and why the shot was taken. Was it racist? To say yes is quite a jump.
    The contrast of class and socioeconomic status is much more at the forefront. You have the glamour and glory that the riches of celebrity bring, contrasted to the poverty and destitution of the unnamed.
    Then there’s the contrast of pair bonding and what seems to be a single mother. (Of course she may not be single, but that’s the impression the photo gives.) There’s not a father figure / man in the picture. But you have the majestic couple in contrast.
    You’ve argued that the impact of the photos are racist because the impact is more important than the intent. However, if this is true, then your post is racist. This is because the impact of your analysis was racial, when there were many other variables that went ignored. The impact of your post was a disposition on race, even though you may not have intended to ignore the other variables. Or if not racist, then the post was classist.
    The definition of racism provided in Inkblots and Icebergs “Racism means “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” is a better definition. “…directed against someone…” requires intent. The end result of our actions, while oftentimes foreseeable, are in fact, unknowable. But our intent is knowable.
    I don’t think your post, which impact was demonstrably race-determinative, was racist because I do not believe you intended to be racist. It seems you ought to give others the same benefit of the doubt.


    • Rob, from your response, it doesn’t seem you are a person of color. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Since I’m a Black woman, I’m going to take my opinion on what is and is not racist over yours.

      You mentioned the glamour and glory of the celebrity couple. I mentioned their glamour and beauty and that the Ethiopians look like props next to them. This is a comment on class as well as race.

      First you said my post was racist, then by the end of your comment, you said it wasn’t. Which one is it, Rob? Discussing race and racism, including calling something racist, isn’t racist in and of itself.

      The positioning of the people in these photos implies the glamorous, beautiful Phillipine couple is superior to the Ethiopians pictured. Hence, racism.

      This may be the first post of mine you’ve read, Rob, but if you had read others, you would see I don’t believe ANYONE is entitled to the benefit of the doubt when she/they/he does something that has a harmful impact. Not even me.

      Though we have a difference of opinion, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this post, Rob. Have a good day!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob, I think you are missing the difference between racial and racist. Racism involves a power differential — a person of a race that society deems superior or favorable is capable of doing bona fide harm to a person of a race that society deems is inferior or less favorable. In this situation Sheena is analyzing, the Philippine couple embodies a race that is deemed more favorable than the Black persons in the photos. You rightly point out that class and wealth seem to be factors here in addition to race, but the racial power differences make the staging of these photos a racist (specifically anti-black) act. Do you believe the couple would have taken these photos with White Euro-Americans? Poor or wealthy White folks? I don’t believe that would fit with the theme they set up that positions them as superior to the bodies around them. The superiority is constructed visually on the basis of both race and class.

    As for the theme of intent and impact: people of color (especially Black folks) have to think about how to navigate race and racism all the time. All the time. Many White people (and white-adjacent people of color) don’t have to think about their race (and even erroneously see themselves as without race). To claim that intent is what matters is to say it’s okay for people to not consider impact. If this couple had thought about impact, they might not have taken these photos. Intent is only absent because some people have been conditioned to not consider impact. What would it look like if everyone considered it their responsibility to think about impact? Let’s stop excusing ourselves by claiming we had good intentions.

    Liked by 1 person

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