Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obama, Racism and the New Yorker

How do I feel about the New Yorker cartoon depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as machine gun toting followers of bin Laden who wear big afros and burn flags and use fist bumping terror signals? I have just a few words of advice for the New Yorker. Leave satire to the Onion, they do it better.

I get that it was supposed to be a parody of the email smear campaigns and the Fox News endless lies spread by the racist, right wing dead enders. Yet if the intent was to parody those people, the cartoon should have depicted them and their delusional hate. It should not have depicted the Obamas at all.

America is a nation full of very stupid people who don't have the capability to think seriously about anything, much less understand satire. Add endemic racism to the mix, and snarkier than thou satire ends up being nothing but stereotyping a still despised group of people.

But it must be pointed out that defending Barack Obama from racist attacks is not so simple. Part of Obama's appeal to many white people is his own denunciation of black demands for justice, or even the memory of past injustice. Ask Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama denounced him and officially left his church because Wright had the gall to state the truth of America's history of white supremacy, wars of empire and glorification of manifest destiny and the mass murder that goes along with it. My friend and fellow blogger Arthur Silber hit the nail on the head when he dissected the Wright episode and racism directed at Obama.

"This places Obama's would-be defenders in an unusual predicament: they want to defend Obama on an issue about which Obama refuses to defend himself. Obama has told us there is nothing of any significance he needs to defend himself against. In this way, Obama has removed the weapon from his defenders' hands. He has told them -- as he has told Wright -- to shut up and keep quiet about it. Obama doesn't want Wright to discuss it, and he doesn't want you to discuss it.

This is a monumental problem. Because Obama seeks the highest elective office in a society which is based on and still revolves around the myth of American exceptionalism in numerous and often complex ways, it is probably the case that he has to deny the truth. That does not change what the truth is. If you choose to defend him against viciously discriminatory attacks, and if you go so far as to suggest that those attacks are systemic and widespread, you call into question certain of the critical premises underlying Obama's campaign (that he is the "post-racial" candidate and similar claims).

He doesn't want you to defend him too strenuously on this issue, if at all."

Obama still continues his campaign of denouncing all black people and making us the fall guys and girls for all of the country's ills. At the NAACP convention yesterday he had this to say.

"So yes, we have to demand more responsibility from Washington. And yes we have to demand more responsibility from Wall Street. But we also have to demand more from ourselves. Now, I know some say I've been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff. But I'm not going to stop talking about it." (Aren't we lucky.)

"It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth; and teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."

Good advice to be sure, but does any of it ever apply to white people? Are white girls victimized by negative media imagery? Do all white boys respect women? Are all white men good fathers? Will white people ever get the responsibility speech? No, they won't. There is no political advantage in pointing out white people's flaws, so they are safe from Obama's finger pointing. The New Yorker spread negative stereotypes about the Obamas and about all black people, but Barack Obama has made a career out of doing the very same thing.

So don't cry for him too much. His campaign is a thing of marketing beauty and will overcome any and all attacks. He will be president and black people will have more denunciation to look forward to.