September 20, 2005

Team Colors


If you’ve been following the BAG, you know I’m interested in the way race relates to visual politics.  At the same time, however, I’m even more interested in the way politics relates to visual politics.

With Katrina suddenly inviting inspection of the “two Americas” (whether defined by rich/poor, white/non-white, white/black, or some other criteria), I’m wondering to what extent a serious examination is possible.

So, here’s “Exhibit One” (followed by questions for you):

DKos featured a post on Sunday attacking Bush for a White House photo op with the Superbowl champion New England Patriots.  The post, by a person called Troutfishing, pointed out how Bush was primarily grouped with the white players.  Although failing to venture an explanation for this, the author provides a statistical analysis giving the chances of the whites and blacks being this randomly separated as being under 1%.

The photo Kos posted is the one above.  This version just below is the one the Administration ran as part of a White House photo gallery.


So, here are my questions:

1.  How fair, possible or probable is it to explain the racial arrangement primarily in terms of politics?  And then, how would you go about doing it?  For example, as much as someone could say that Bush wanted the company of the whites, couldn’t you also assume that the black players were looking to keep their distance from Bush?

2.  How much might the distribution be the result of normative social and racial dynamics?  For example, is it reasonable to expect that the white and black players would be more co-mingled?  Don’t the races in America tend to cluster together?  And, if so, isn’t it as much by choice as by other factors (including economics or prejudice?)  (Or, is this incorrect?)  If this were the situation, could we expect to see the black guys more front and center only if the President was black?  (By the way, the owners and the coach are front and center — not the players.  Addressing their ethnicity, however, would open a different can of worms.)

3.  If the black/white distribution could not be random, might it be explained more by practical factors?  For example, how much could the arrangement be determined by height and/or what position the person plays and/or personality factors (shy in back versus outgoing up front, for example)?

Just to make things more interesting, by the way, I thought I’d throw in this photo as well.  Because the Patriots also won the Superbowl in 2004, here is the White House photo from last year featuring Bush with the same team.  If you notice, the black and white players in the 2004 shot seems more evenly distributed.  Of course, that could partly be the result of different personnel.  However, doesn’t it seem to argue for a more trivial explanation?


4.  Finally, I think it’s important to ask if this photo (from last April, by the way) is even a worthy subject for Bush opponents to devote attention to?  (I partly ask because a number of people emailed me the other day concerning Bush’s pastel-lit speech in New Orleans’ Jackson Square.  Specifically, I was asked to take a position on whether I thought Bush’s shirt was correctly buttoned or not.  …According to my eyes, by the way, I think it was.) 

If we are going to take a serious look at race in America, perhaps the first question we should be asking is exactly what it is we should and shouldn’t we be looking at.

(thanks to Dan)

(image 1: attribution unintellible.  image 2: Eric Draper for The White House. April 13, 2005. image 3:  Paul Morse for the White House.  May 10, 2004.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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