Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Black Baby with Blue Eyes as Advertisement Lead-In

I've been paying more attention to my Facebook ad suggestions, mainly because I'm convinced that Facebook is spying on me. No, I don't mean spying on my online life (I know it's doing that), but spying on me in the real world. How else do you explain an ad for Liquid Plumber mere hours after I said (out loud, in my hallway, not even in the same room as the computer) that we needed to call a plumber about our stubbornly stopped bathtub drain? I digress.

So, I've been looking at the ads to try to figure out how it determines what to show me, and today I saw this:

After poking around on the internet, I found out the photo came from this collection by Terry Green. The little boy in the advertisement is Laren Galloway. His parents are from New Orleans and had to flee the city during Hurricane Katrina.

Apparently, Laren Galloway became quite an internet sensation after this photo shoot. There are YouTube videos of these pictures, a blog from the photographer called Little Blue Eyed Brother, and follow up posts showing Laren as he aged. There's even a Twitter account with one of the baby pictures. The description of the account says "Laren Galloway is one of the most striking examples of a black person with blue eyes." The account links to yet another blog featuring "updates" about the boy and tweets Bible verses.

In the short amount of time I spent looking at this, I saw posts discussing how the pictures must be fake, references to this being the most beautiful baby in the world, and discussions about genetic "mixing" that must have occurred to allow the child to have blue eyes.

I also found this blog post that suggests negative reactions to Galloway's picture have demonstrated racial bias in both black and white commenters.

I was initially looking into this because I was confused by the lead-in for the advertisement. What does half of a baby's face have to do with looking for financial aid to go to college (which is what the advertisement was trying to convince me to do)? Shouldn't there be a picture of a collegiate building? Some smiling co-eds? A graduation cap? A stack of books? Even a stack of money? What does a close-up of a black baby's blue eye have to do with going to college and getting financial aid?

But once I started looking into the origins of the picture, it became clear that the advertisers were using the picture because so many people were drawn to it. The plethora of comments and attention these pictures have drawn make the picture a lead-in whether it is relevant or not.

And that disturbs me.

It made me think of those interchangeable billboard signs (like at gas stations or fast food places). One of the tactics to get people to look at them is to intentionally reverse one of the letters or numbers. People notice the "flaw" and their eyes are drawn to it.

Is that what they're doing with this child? Capitalizing on his physical appearance? Making a commodity out of an oddity?

I agree that the child is beautiful, but I don't think that's why there are dozens of websites devoted to his face. There are lots of beautiful children. Placing this child's picture in advertisements for products that have no contextual connection to a baby's face suggests an exploitation.

The comments on the YouTube video (which I do NOT suggest you read, as they are--well--comments on a YouTube video), fall into two basic camps:

  • "Oh my God. He's so beautiful."
  • "What an abomination to race purity."
Obviously, people who look at this picture and immediately feel the need to defend the "purity" of their "race" have deep-seated issues and racist ideologies.

But what about the people who are going out of their way to point out how beautiful this child is? Isn't that still objectifying him based on purely physical attributes? Isn't that still a race-based judgment (as it is the contrast of blue eyes with dark skin that draws their attention and the factor that is used to promote this child on the blogs and in search engines)?

And I can't help but wonder who's profiting off of these images by selling them to advertisers. Is it the boy's family? The photographer? Someone else?

And what does this obsession say about us as a society? How far away is a fascination with a black child's blue eyes from the disturbing racial histories of the tragic mulatto myth or the Hottentot Venus--other examples of focusing on a race-based portion of someone's identity at the expense of recognizing full humanity?

Can a comment that someone is "beautiful" really just be a veiled way to point out difference?


  1. How advertisers, and by this I mean all manipulators of visual media for profit or pleasure, use physical oddities to direct the gaze reveals/conceals the fetishes of the society. The images of beauty, particularly human beauty, in any period form a complex matrix of desire and objectification which always includes the element of "oddity" or otherness, be it a mole, or, in this case, blue eyes on a brown child. Racists will see the "oddity," which is perhaps not nearly as rare as we might think it is, as an abomination, while others will see it as something just short of revelation. In either case,the operative word is "see," and that is precisely the advertisers' first priority. The gaze is prefigured by desire - attraction or revulsion, it is still desire. So, in some ways the ubiquitous blue-eyed brown baby is not that much different from other models in advertisement except that this one, like many other models, suggests a racial surprise that evokes response. How one responds to that surprise is conditioned by the way one sees the elements contained in the surprise.

  2. Blue eyes on black people while not common is not unheard of, any ethnic person can have any eye color, the only reason why it's more common in people with less pigment in skin color is because blue eyes are an absence of pigment in the iris. Actually th amount controls the color. Individuals who have a propensity for less pigment are also more likely to have the mutation for lack of iris pigment. Actually, all humans had brown eyes until about 10000 years ago, the mutation that causes blue eyes also is the one they causes albinism.

    In any case you need not have anyone who had blue eyes in your family history in order to be born with them.

  3. Cletus Bouregaurd Belafonte IVMarch 30, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    This mudrace bastard child is an abomination to all things good and holy! What part of "dont be unequally yoked" do these horrible race mixers not understand. This just flat makes me sick.

    I wish we still had a negative eugenics policy in this country so this terrifying abomination could be castrated before it went out and impregnated unsuspecting females.

    This America is the legacy of Obama and all of the uppity rave traitor libtards.

    I hope to God this baby was born in a state where race mixing is still illegal so they can throw the parents in jail before they pop out any more of these things.

  4. Cletus Bouregaurd Belafonte IVMarch 30, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    You need to keep all of that evolution stuff to yourself, for God sakes there are good God-fearing women and children on the internet who dont deserve being exposed to this satanic mumbo jumbo.

    I hope you enjoy hell, you horrible, horrible person.

  5. You are coo-coo. You only believe that because your ignorant KKK grandpappy taught you that foolishness. And please don't call your self a Christian. You are an insult to all of those who accept Jesus as their lord and savior....

  6. You are a complete NUTCASE and MORON. I pray to God you haven't reproduced. LOSER!

  7. Please have yourself sterilized for the sake of the human race.