As Obama Climbs, So Does Political Racism

Published July 15, 2008

Posted July 15, 2008 – It seems that NAACP President Julian Bond was dead on when he reminded Black America Sunday night that Sen. Barack Obama’s historic rise in politics doesn’t mean the end of racism in America. In fact, Obama’s political campaign has ignited a whole new round of racial controversy.

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As Bond said, in addressing the 8,000 delegates Sunday night, "we fared much better under the man who liked to be called 'the first Black president,' but then we watched him try to bring down the man who would be the real first Black president." But, since Bill Clinton allegedly tried to diminish Obama’s campaign by referring to a “fairytale” and tying his surprise success to that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson,  it seems that the racial barbs have gotten sharper and even more regular since then.

On Monday, for example, Obama found himself dealing with a racially insensitive cartoon on the cover of The New Yorker magazine. The illustration, drawn by Barry Blitt, shows Obama clad in a traditional Muslim robe, sandals and turban, while his wife, Michelle, is dressed in military fatigues, combat boots and has an automatic rifle slung across her shoulder while standing in the White House Oval Office. There’s a picture of Osama bin Laden hanging over the fireplace, which has an American flag burning inside. The Obamas are smirking at each other and bumping fists, as if they’ve just gotten away with duping the nation.

"The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. "But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

The left-leaning publication says that it mixed “a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are. The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall? All of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that's the spirit of this cover," the New Yorker statement said.

 But the fact remains that if these types of fears were not so prevalent in White America, the illustration would never have been drawn in the first place. And the fact that race is such a salient issue in America is what prompted another controversy over the weekend when John McLaughlin, host of the popular televised political roundtable, referred to Obama as an “Oreo,” a derogatory term for an African American who’s Black on the outside and White on the inside.

While discussing the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s recent remarks about Sen. Barack Obama, McLaughlin said, "Question: Does it frost Jackson, Jesse Jackson, that someone like Obama, who fits the stereotype Blacks once labeled as an Oreo – a Black on the outside, a White on the inside – that an Oreo should be the beneficiary of the long civil rights struggle which Jesse Jackson spent his lifetime fighting for?"

The question didn’t sit well with panelist Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Who knows what Jesse Jackson is thinking? But that's a completely unfair depiction of Barack Obama," he said.

Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women's Forum, agreed that McLaughlin’s characterization of Obama was troublesome. "I want to go back to the point you made about whether or not Obama is an Oreo, because if Barack Obama is an Oreo, then every member of this generation of African-Americans is an Oreo, because we stand on the shoulders of the people who fought for our rights, and all of us say that you cannot blame 'the man' or White racism for everything that ails the Black community."

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Written by BET-Staff

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