News Type: Event — Mon Jul 14, 2008 8:17 AM EDT
There is an awful lot wrong with the latest cover of the New Yorker which portrays the Obamas as terrorists residing in the White House and paying homage to Osama bin Laden while the American flag burns ominously in the cosy looking hearth. The fact that it was placed on their front cover was meant to be sensationalist and designed to attract maximum attention. Trying to bolster credibility, the New Yorker’s press release said, in the most blase manner, that its cover: “satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign”, just like the scare tactics and misinformation they were using themselves, I suppose. They forgot to add that it was highly offensive, derogatory, biased and incredibly racist, unless we see a matching portrayal of John McCain and Cindy in una-bomber attire shortly, for example. After all, he was White.
The main question to ask about that cover is this one: Had the Obamas not been Black, would they have been portrayed in that offensive and derogatory way, no matter what point was being debated? Well, as I have yet to see a White politician in this election being presented in those openly racist terms, one has to assume that, no, they would not. In fact, John McCain appears to have been treated with a lot of dignity and respect, even when he is being criticised, which is what all politicians are entitled to, regardless of their colour. So one has to ask if this is the modern day revival of Jim Crow and symbolic media lynchings of Black public figures when fear stalks racist mindsets?
It is a very disturbing caricature primarily for two reasons:
First, the divisive message it gives out to all Americans that being Black, per se, is anti-American, anti security and pro-terrorist. That Black people are not bona-fide American citizens who also fear for their own safety, but are simply waiting to destroy the world of White America in the form of a pro-terrorist Black president. That is a very powerful, negative and racist message, as though only a White politician or president would be anti-terrorist.
Second, the one thing all Americans, and those watching keenly internationally, would hope for(speaking personally as a Brit and a great admirer of that country), is: whatever the outcome of this historic election, that it was fought fairly and squarely by all concerned, with all politicians treated equally.
But how is this fair to Obama and his wife? Two highly intelligent, qualified professionals who have given a lot to their communities, being depicted to the public in such fearful terms simply because of their colour? All the New Yorker has proven is that when the chips are down, racism lurks menacingly under the media psyche, a biased perspective that is prepared to use any cowardly means at their disposal to instill fear in the minds of ordinary Americans who simply desire a free choice of candidates without being influenced arbitrarily.
As to this cartoon being ‘satire’, that’s the real laugh. It is completely out of context, it certainly does not make anyone laugh, except the racists who might agree with it, and it is depicting a threatening situation which not many Americans, White or Black, would wish to laugh at or find remotely funny. Satire is not about cherry picking certain people because of their colour – and certainly not a possible president of the United States – and using them as the butt of racist jokes. That is well below the belt and a very serious matter.
In reply to a concerned Obama supporter who expressed his hurt and distress, the cartoonist Barry Blitt said his drawing was “intended to appear preposterous and ridiculous”. He added, “I cannot actually believe this cartoon, which was meant to mock the bigots and xenophobes who spread lies, will actually give them license.”
Perhaps if it were placed somewhere else in the magazine with an appropriate article, in context, one could accept that amazing degree of naivete. But that response beggars belief.
Shame on the New Yorker for stooping to such gutter politics. Is it time for their readers and advertisers to ask if that is the kind of magazine they wish to support? It has certainly crossed an ethical line. One hopes that members of their audience and sponsors, who were offended by that blatant racist image, one which tarred all articulate Black people with the same innuendoes, will gradually decide what else to do with their hard earned cash when they have considered the implications and confronted that offensive racism for themselves.