Esquire magazine found itself the target of some social media backlash today after releasing a March issue featuring a cover store about just a regular ol’ (Trump-supporting) white American boy.
That’s not an especially under-represented demographic (think of all the coverage of Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann), and it is Black History month, so the optics aren’t great. Actually, that last bit alone is a pretty good indication that the magazine knew exactly what they were doing—they certainly got enough people reading the article and talking about them.
Esquire is trolling. They absolutely knew what this story would do.— Chris Black (@donetodeath) February 12, 2019
The magazine profiles 17-year old Ryan Morgan from West Bend, WI, with a headline reading, “An American Boy: What it’s like to grow up white, middle class and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity and a divided country.”
The profile is meant to be the first installment of a “series on growing up now—white, black, LGBTQ, female—that will continue to appear in coming issues.”
It seems like maybe the straight, white, male angle has already been covered sufficiently, though?
In a letter accompanying the article (“Why Your Idealogical Echo Chamber Isn’t Just Bad For You”), Esquire editor-in-chief Jay Fielden wrote:
“We disagree as a country on every possible cultural and political point except, perhaps, one: that private life, as a result, has also become its own fresh hell. This has made the very social fabric of modern democratic civilization—watercooler BS, chats with cabbies and total strangers, dinner parties, large family gatherings—sometimes feel like a Kafkaesque thought-police nightmare of paranoia and nausea, in which you might accidentally say what you really believe and get burned at the stake.”
Really? “Fresh hell”? “Kafkaesque”? Because people frown on the use of racial slurs?
Twitter spent the day taking Esquire to task and mocking Morgan (but again, the magazine ultimately got all the attention they were looking for).
black history month:— jaboukie (@jaboukie) February 12, 2019
esquire: irish people were slaves too
“I have to think twice before doing what I want. TWICE.” pic.twitter.com/i5jErdRQ2I— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) February 12, 2019
If you're Black, queer, trans, a woman or any further marginalized you have to literally change the world before you become a cover star, but Esquire shows us that white cishet men and boys get to simply exist and be seen as worthy.— Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) February 12, 2019
spoiler: the opening to the Esquire piece on the white kid is about him fighting a girl in high school and him and his mother talking about all the ways girls lie about getting beat up. Enjoy!— David Dennis Jr. (@DavidDTSS) February 12, 2019
I went to school with a fuckton of boys like the kid in that Esquire article. Knowing what they can't do rarely stopped them from doing it.— Siobhan Thompson, mysterious European heiress (@vornietom) February 12, 2019
I started reading the Esquire article, but had to stop once I started trying to imagine my black ass coming come with a 1.8 GPA in high school and my parents allowing me to have *friends*, much less a longtime significant other.— Entirely Too Much. (@KendraJames_) February 12, 2019
Having read that Esquire piece, it is remarkable to me that someone decided that you didn't need to apply even the slightest skepticism to a 17-year-old's declarations about literally anything that he says has ever happened to him. Just repeat it all as fact, just as he says it.— Linda Holmes (@lindaholmes) February 12, 2019
the esquire editors letter does a great job talking about how kafkaesque these thought police nightmares are. many people are saying they're the most kafkaesque they've ever been— keep golgotha weird (@Mobute) February 12, 2019
“I used to threateningly ask people in the service industry if they knew who my father is. That doesn’t even scare them anymore - what happened to my America?” pic.twitter.com/TchgLmLOKo— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) February 12, 2019
Esquire Kid is Donald Trump Jr. Jr. pic.twitter.com/eitUzIFvAI— Orli Matlow (@HireMeImFunny) February 12, 2019
*inside Esquire conference room*— Father Sean Misty (@seanieviola) February 12, 2019
Esquire CEO: “we should probably do a cover story for black history month, any suggestions?”
Editor: “there’s a white boy in Wisconsin who’s sad”
Esquire CEO: “run it” pic.twitter.com/g4XN5AB6TP
I lack sympathy for someone whose classroom is this well-supplied pic.twitter.com/onFEmuXJxV— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) February 12, 2019
finally, the representation we've been waiting for pic.twitter.com/xhB33fagZU— Fran Tirado (@fransquishco) February 12, 2019
The author of the profile, Jennifer Percy, explained to CBS that the article was meant to show “how much work we still have to do to educate boys about inherited white male privilege. It also shows that the teenage years are an ideal time to make change.” She claimed that she didn’t have anything to do with the image or text on the magazine cover and that she “found the presentation misleading.”