Black Astronaut
Dey's Calls it Satire - The Obamas' New Yorker Cover (A Negromancer Delight)
By Leroy Obama Douresseaux
Jul 21, 2008 - 10:40


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Mr. Charlie #120 wants to say some things about what should fall out of New Yorker magazine’s “Obamas” cover:

The recent furor over artist Barry Blitt’s cover for the July 21, 2008 issue of New Yorker magazine is dying down, but I’ve come to pick at that corpse, too.  The cover in question, which depicts Barack and Michelle Obama as radicals/terrorists, is still before our eyes, and even after this particular issue disappears from the newsstands, African-Americans will still need to deal with the issues this cover raises.  It certainly has made me think about the media and the way it depicts African-Americans, especially young black men, and the way it portrays African-American politicians and activists.

Yeah, I get it.  Ah’s not a complete dumb darkie!  The New Yorker is the child of Juvenal and Horace.  It’s satire!!! Yea, me!  Barack in the now-stereotyped garb of a Muslim terrorist!  Michelle wearing an afro and dressed like a cross between a Castro guerilla and a Black Panther, with her camouflage pants, a rifle (AK-47?), and an ammo belt slung over her shoulder.  See the loving couple share a “terrorist fist bump” (term courtesy of one of FOX News’ resident dumb bitches, E.D. Hill).  In the background, a photo of Osama bin Laden hangs over the fireplace, a fireplace in which the American flag burns.  Satire in the house!

This cover image, which I’m including with this column, is so over-the-top that we just can’t possibly take it seriously… should we?  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!  Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!  Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho!  Oh, lawdy, how droll!  How witty! How urbane!  I have to laugh.

Hold up!  I’m not willing to buy into the notion that this New Yorker cover was solely meant to satirize the kind of underground, somewhat web-based, whisper campaign against Barack HUSSEIN Obama – that he is a closeted Muslim – a sort of al-Qaeda version of The Manchurian Candidate.  This cover is as much a publicity stunt as it is simply a smart magazine being on the cutting edge of social commentary.  The New Yorker is probably bleeding readers and subscribers for its print version just like many magazines and newspapers, which is a shame because it truly is a great magazine.  Perhaps, this sort of cover will at least get more people talking about the New Yorker.


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That cover

However, this controversy got me to thinking.  In what we would call the halls of power of American media, African-Americans are scarce.  With just a few exceptions, black people aren’t calling the shots.  Blacks aren’t deciding what’s on the cover of major magazines.  When it comes to coverage of politics, society, and culture, black commentators are mostly tokens – if they appear at all, although I must say that it’s better than it was even just two years ago.  One of the good things that came out of Don Imus’ controversial remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team is that Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton loudly raised the issue of the absence of faces of color on network and cable TV political programs.  I think that’s paid off with more African-Americans, including liberals, moderates and conservatives, showing up as experts and commentators (at least on CNN and MSNBC).

I look at the New Yorker “Obamas” cover and see a vulgar cartoon depiction of a black man and his wife, and I wonder where the balance is.  I know that I’m not alone in this, but on the web, on TV, and in the press, we had a lot of white people explaining to black people what blacks should think.  Sure, this cover may be satire, but many black people see something else – the perpetuation of negative images of black people.  Too many white people don’t understand the anger over that cover because they simply can’t or won’t see things from the perspective of many African-Americans, a group of people who have not only been second class citizens for most of the United States’ existence, but also has been subject to a non-stop barrage of destructive portrayals in the mass culture.

But I’m not going to “blame whitey.”  Far be it for me to treat African-Americans as a monolithic group, considering that there are so many regional/cultural variations of the descendants of the African Diaspora.  Speaking in general terms, however, we’ve failed to grasp control of the existing media or develop enough strong media of our own to counter a mainstream media that for decades has mostly portrayed black people in America as shiftless, murderous, lazy, illiterate, second class citizens, or at least possessing opinions that will not be heard unless we march or stupidly burn down our own neighborhoods.

Back in the late 1980’s, columnist George Will declared that racism was over in America because of the popularity of Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan.  Will’s golden age, however, was marred by Willie Horton and just a few years later, North Carolina U.S. Senator Jesse Helm’s infamous “hands” campaign ad.  As Spike Lee would point out around that time: FOX’s then-new series, “COPS” just furthered the image in many white Americans’ minds of black men as criminals or criminals just waiting to be arrested.  To be fair to “COPS,” they were just perpetuating what local and national news had already been doing practically forever – demonizing black men.  [I don’t even want to get into how black women are denigrated.]  What media gave African-Americans a voice where they could protest race-baiting politics and the hateful imagery of the culture?

We’ve simply failed to counter that.  Magazines like Ebony and Jet present positive images of African-Americans, but can’t really counter a deluge of images in print and electronic media of black men as hulking, drug-dealing, baby-making, gang-banging sub-humans.  Sadly for most of the last two decades African-Americans that gained a voice in pop culture have chosen to continue to abuse the image of African-Americans for the sake of personal wealth with misogyny, trashy movies, and violent entertainment.  As Kanye West said, “They made us love their wealth and hate ourselves?”

So the New Yorker cover, seen from the perspective of many African-Americans – even the few of us who are semi-literate enough to get the satire – is merely a lite version of the historically despicable depictions of black people that seem traditional in American media and culture.  While we battle pop culture, we must also battle for our voices to be heard in politics – so that our satire will be as potent as and perhaps will be a balance to something like the New Yorker’s cover.  I’m not talking about separate but equal, but if black people are going to be portrayed in a way that balances positive and negative and reflects the diversity of African-Americans, it seems as if we’ll have to do that on our own.

That’s why I hope that former Congressman J.C. Watts is able to find funding for his black public affairs and politics cable network that was announced earlier this year.  We can’t blame white people when we haven’t taken the initiative to not just participate in media, but also develop more media in which we call the shots.  BET, The Source, and The Final Call just ain’t gonna cut it.  Don’t blame.  Take the lead.  I think Barack and Michelle would agree.




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