This is a guest post by a white swpd reader named Sarah.*
I'm a graphic designer at a company that makes Christmas cards. More specifically, I’m head of the design department. One of our most popular products is a catalog of holiday photo cards, which are available in hundreds of retail stores nationwide.
Over the years, we have produced three catalogs with about twenty-five cards in each catalog. Almost every card includes a photo of a family or some children, which I purchase from stock photography websites. Out of all those cards in our catalogue, maybe two have ever used photos of black families. Before I was hired, there were none.
When I set out a month ago to begin designing a new catalog, I realized I had been remiss not to push for more POC in our books. I set a goal to include as many POC as I could get away with, knowing that at some point I would meet some resistance. However, I had no idea this resistance would begin after including a whopping two photos of black people.
After the second photo was added, several people made comments like, "what's with all the black people?"
"You mean, all two?" I would say.
After adding the third photo, the owners of the company started to refuse photos featuring black people, but they did so by citing minor imperfections, which I believe would have gone unnoticed if the families had been white. When I would show them the designs that incorporated black families, there would be this long silence where I could almost hear the gears turning in their heads, trying to find some reason to reject the photo without acknowledging it was because the people in it weren't white. They would say things like, "there's just something about this photo I don't care for."
Keep in mind, we don't even use model types, we have always used photos that depict "real" looking people, at the owners' behest. But now all of a sudden, none of the black people seemed to be attractive enough. It became really important that we find "better looking" people. So, we went back and forth three or four times. They would keep rejecting photos, and I would just select another black family photo.
"You’re so funny," one of my bosses said as I handed her another photo of a black family.
Finally they realized that if they were going to stop me, they would have to state out loud that they didn't want any more photos of black families. (One of them got really close to doing just that, talking about how we know what our clientele looks like, and then she thought better of it and started backtracking.)
At different points during the project, some of my coworkers would try to find ways to get me to remove the black people from the album, and I would politely refuse. For example, one girl said, "In this one the top of the man's head is cropped off, so you should pick a different photo."
I pointed to about thirteen other cards with white people where the top of the head was cropped off and wondered aloud why no one had said anything about replacing any of those photos. "How strange," I said in mock confusion.
And then, the kicker. One of my (more blunt) coworkers came up to my desk, noticed that I had designed yet another card featuring two adorable black children, and then she said, "I'm sick of all these black people. Black people don't buy our cards."
I calmly told her that even if that were true, it wouldn't be a good enough reason not to include them in our line. After she left I started to feel woozy, like I was literally going to throw up at my desk. I was really surprised and disgusted by what was happening. Like I had looked under my living room rug and found a huge colony of maggots or something.
So, at the end of the project, I have one photo of an Asian-American family, three photos of Latino families/children, and three of black families/children, out of roughly twenty-five photos. That's way less than I was shooting for, partially because we ended up making a smaller book than I had originally planned on, but I am confident that I will succeed in adding more POC to successive catalogs.
* By the way, the title of this post is by me, macon d -- I say that because I wouldn't want anyone to think that Sarah's patting herself on the back or something for fighting racism in her workplace.