Racializing Fonts

From a while ago in the Fall/Winter 2004 issue of Letterspace, but worth a read:


By the mid-1940s, long after Art Deco had left, Neuland’s use in African-American texts remained. Famous African-American books such as Richard Wright’s Native Son and Wulf Sachs’ Black Anger (Plate 20) use Neuland on their covers. Critic Ellen Lupton notes, “Neuland has appeared…on the covers of numerous books…about the literature and anthropology of Africa and African-Americans” (37). Even today, books that fit into the category that Lupton outlines bear Neuland or Lithos on their covers (Plates 21). While the stereotypes associated with the fonts have remained, their applications have, in fact, increased in the present day beyond just book publishing. Neuland has found its way into Hollywood, used in such films as Jurassic Park, Tarzan, and Jumanji. Subaru used Lithos prominently in the logo for their new car, the Outback. Both fonts appear frequently on all sorts of extreme sports paraphernalia. These uses seem to indicate that in addition to Neuland and Lithos’ prior associations with informality, ineptitude, ugliness, cheapness, and unusability, they have since acquired qualities that suggest “jungle,” “safari,” and “adventure”—in short, Africa. Moreover, “stereotypography”—the stereotyping of cultures through typefaces associated with them—has been increasing as graphic design becomes a greater cultural force: just this year, House Industries, a type foundry in New Jersey, released a family of typefaces called “Tiki Type,” which is meant to signify Polynesia (Plate 22); at the same time, Abercrombie & Fitch, a clothing store catering to twentysomethings, created shirts with meaningless Chinese ideograms on them, meant to look as if they came directly from New York’s predominantly Chinese garment district.

[H/t: Linta Varghese]