That New Yorker cover, a round up

// 15 July 2008

nyorker.gifSo, the New Yorker ran a blindingly offensive cover (see right). It’s meant to be a satire of the racist & sexist bullshit aimed at Barack and Michelle Obama, but as you can see, manages to indulge and replicate that same bullshit in the caricatures.

Reactions from around the blogosphere:

Michelle Obama Watch has a number of responses, including this from Gina:

Well folks here we go again with the “satire.” IE Liberals excuses to engage in racist depictions of Black people because they have a really good point to make.


My current live-in partner, who works at the New Yorker, just couldn’t believe that so many people responded so angrily at the cover at the Daily Kos and other sites. He “wanted to see [my] reaction.” When I emphatically told him that I didn’t find it funny, he said, “You’re so angry.”

“Of course I’m angry. What do you expect? This is my reaction is to your employer doing something so racist.”

“I’m trying to have some fun here.”

Humph, you gotta love hipster racism.

I define hipster racism (I’m borrowing the phrase from Carmen Van Kerckhove) as ideas, speech, and action meant to denigrate another’s person race or ethnicity under the guise of being urbane, witty (meaning “ironic” nowadays), educated, liberal, and/or trendy. This racist and sexist balderdash that’s the New Yorker cover fits squarely into that definition. So, honestly, does the behavior of my partner, who prides himself on coming from a California family of educators who taught him to be colorblind and on working at a magazine renown for being, well, urbane, witty, educated, liberal, and trendy yet likes to view me as the Angry Negress.

Satire isn’t a synonym for “mockery”. It isn’t something that is easy to do right, and it certainly isn’t accomplished by simply rehashing elements that have been used by a group that’s in political opposition to the person doing the satire. It’s not enough to say it’s satire because “everyone” knows the object of mockery is ridiculous, especially when there are plenty of people who obviously don’t.

Feminocracy asks why the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype was called into play:

Could you tell me what the point of Michelle’s curly afro is? How about that flag burning in the fireplace? Please. You can’t have satire without the introduction of the “angry black woman” trope complete with gun and reduced bustlines-remember, black women aren’t really women. They’re too masculine and angry. Good thing no one really believes this sort of thing nowadays, its so good to live in a world where black bodies aren’t subject to ugly stereotypes and we can safely poke fun at the beliefs of racists by drawing images that adhere to their beliefs…wait.

Echidne of the Snakes says:

Using exaggerations as a way into sarcasm about the wingnuts is almost impossible, and that should tell you how extreme they are

TransGriot considers the ramifications:

In the context of a racially polarized electorate contemplating putting an African-American in the highest political office in the land for the first time in our country’s history, and the historical course-changing stakes of this election, the cover was irresponsible as well. One of my fears is that this cover has the potential to possibly do damage to the Obama campaign because it comes from a so-called liberal magazine.

Pam’s House Blend links up a response in the original medium.

Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at the lead article the cover alluded to.

What Tami Says did just that, and what she found sits uncomfortably with the New Yorker’s satire defence:

And about that cover story…Its contents convince me that the sum of the cover image and article were meant to tarnish Barack Obama in some way. In my eyes, admittedly the biased eyes of an Obama supporter, there is too much sly allusion to how well Obama plays the political game, his cockiness, his uneasy relationship with black folk in the form of the civil rights industrial complex…too many interviews with people who clearly have axes to grind…oh, and Bill Ayers and Tony Rezkco make obligatory appearances. I realize that Obama has his flaws and that good journalists have a right…no, duty, to reveal them as they relate to the candidate’s ability to run the country. But this piece of journalism seemed specifically written to dismantle specific aspects of Obama’s public persona that are seen as benefits.

Charcoal Ink:

The editor of the New Yorker really should be ashamed. Where is Malcolm Gladwell when you need him?

Richard Adams at CIF says the cover is a distraction:

Rather than worrying about this cartoon – a story that will disappear in a day’s time – there are far more toxic examples of journalism that have appeared in such supposedly sensible organs as the Washington Post and the New York Times – places that might actually influence voters. In fact, of the “Obama = radical Muslim?” treatments out there, few can top the Washington Post’s front page piece last year, headlined “Foes use Obama’s Muslim ties to fuel rumours about him”, which managed to air every crackpot notion in even-handed prose – a piece so bad that the Post’s own cartoonist satirised it. Then this year the New York Times ran an astonishing piece by Edward Luttwak on its op-ed page, which stated baldly that Obama was a Muslim apostate and so vulnerable to assassination. The paper’s own ombudsman later rebuked the NYT’s editors for running the piece when it turned out to be wildly inaccurate.

Comments From You

Anglofille // Posted 15 July 2008 at 12:21 pm

In your intro, you claim this cover is “blindingly offensive.” Don’t you think your readers are smart enough to interpret the cover for themselves? As a feminist, an American and a writer who believes in freedom of speech, I do not find it offensive at all. I see it as effective satire.

I think it’s very scary when (so-called) liberals try to force everyone to think a certain way on a particular issue and then label those who disagree as racist, as some of the blogs you’re linking to are doing. What makes this even more disheartening is that many of these people who are outraged about this cartoon were completely silent when Hillary Clinton was subjected to non-stop misogynist attacks during her campaign.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 July 2008 at 12:26 pm

Anglofille – Indeed, everyone can make up their own mind. However, giving our own, strongly worded, opinion is stock in trade for this blog.

Some of the bloggers I linked to were front and centre in efforts to identify and condemn the misogyny aimed at Hillary Clinton. I don’t know exactly why you’re bringing that into it.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 15 July 2008 at 12:56 pm

If the authors of this misogynstic, sexist and racist piece of purile propaganda really wanted to be satirical why then did they not have a cartoon featuring white men and have them proclaiming their presumed superiority to other ethnic groups and women in general. The reason of course is that if such a cartoon were published it would cause a huge backlash of protests that white men are being trashed and portrayed as racist and women-hating.

So, instead these authors have deliberately used racist and misogynistic insults and then claim ‘oh but it is satire and is challenging white groups’ beliefs concerning black women and men.’ Oh yes – so I could claim the moon is made of green cheese and even when I am told it is not I can still claim ‘oh but I was just being satirical!’ This is how misogyny and racism operates by claiming to be ‘satirical’ but always such ‘satire’ depicts groups which are not the dominant white male one.

Likewise why on the rare occasions when white men are subjected to satirical portrayals immediately there is a wave of protest and claims such representations are ‘sexist’ and degrading to men. Answer is because it is ‘acceptable’ for white men to define other less dominant groups but never, ever the reverse.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 15 July 2008 at 1:07 pm

If ‘a picture says a thousand words’, there will be people who only ever see the cover. It makes no difference that it’s “satire” or that there’s any kind of scholarly/intellectual defence because they’re not going to read it anyway.

It’s dangerous and irresponsible.

Anne Onne // Posted 15 July 2008 at 7:42 pm

It also looks NOTHING like them. I’m really shocked that a top publication would run such a lousy characature that succeeds in being inredibly offensive, whilst not actually looking like them.

It’s another level of insult to all of the above, because in addition to looking like it supports, rather than characatures the Obamas being labelled Islamic Terrorists (TM), it also suggests that it’s fine to draw them as simply being black, and that that’s enough to identify them. Would a characature that looks abolutely nothing like McCain (save presenting a white, middle-aged man) be printed like this? I doubt it.

Anglofille, you can say you don’t find it offensive, and whatever your experience in anti-racism circles, and wherever you fall on the skin colour spectrum, that’s your right. Whether anybody else finds it offensive, particularly if they are the ethnicity that is being ‘characatured’ is another matter entirely. And in the end, those that are being insulted have the last say. Not all o fthem, even, would agree, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with having discussion about how society treats race.

Satire has to prove it’s satire. That’s the thin like you walk when you try to be edgy and present an opinion that is supposedly the opposite of your own. And essential to proving that you actually don’t, is apologising when you offend, since you supposedly didn’t mean to offend anyone. When people claiming to be ‘satirical’ are reticent about apologising, and insist they did nothing wrong, it makes me suspicious.

Because nobody with any sense, who truly did not want to offend someone, would refuse to apoligise when it was clear they had.

Renee // Posted 15 July 2008 at 8:41 pm

@Jess you know this is not the first time I have seen Hilliary brought up in reference to this cartoon. Those that do it, don’t recognize it for the silencing behavior that it is. Of course we cannot talk about racism in a meaningful way because we haven’t dealt with sexism yet. Playing the oppression Olympics asserts that sexism is infinitely more important than racism, so what is the point of talking about systems of oppression and marginalization in any other context. Ultimately is a way of not acknowledging white privilege. This election has made a big show of talking about race but it has only done so from one angle…how blacks are marginalized by racism and not in the ways that whites benefit from racism. This of course encourages so called liberal allies to believe that they can produce work like the New Yorker cartoon in the first place.

Anglofille // Posted 15 July 2008 at 9:49 pm

Renee: Funny you don’t recognize your own “silencing” behavior. Implying that people who disagree with you are racist is exactly what that is.

Hillary Clinton is relevant to this because throughout this presidential campaign, she was attacked from all sides in a very misogynist way. Many bloggers wrote about the unfairness of this and some articles appeared in newspapers, but the outcry was relatively small. However, when Obama’s side feels attacked, it becomes an international news event. Such double standards are sickening.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 July 2008 at 11:41 pm

Anglofille – Seriously, please don’t. What are you getting so het up about? Here at The F Word, we’ve posted about sexist attacks on Hillary, and sexist and racist attacks on Michelle Obama. You’ve made your feelings clear. You’re not being silenced. There are your comments, for everyone to read. You’re not on your own – plenty of people have been defending the cover in the last few days.

When we write about things like this New Yorker cover, we are writing about sexism still – look at the way that Michelle Obama has been portrayed.

Let’s call an end to the oppression Olympics – what exactly does it accomplish except for alienting us from each other when we should be standing in solidarity.

Leah // Posted 16 July 2008 at 12:46 am

you excerpted blogs that make inflammatory statements regarding this magazine cover, using words such as ‘racist.’ words like this should be used carefully. how can you expect readers not to react to this in a passionate manner? your commentary on this is one sided.

Renee // Posted 16 July 2008 at 8:31 am

@Anglophile if the shoe fits wear it. You don’t get to tell me as a woman of color what I should view as racist. Your desire to continually reference Hillary Clinton when this incident is in no way connected to her, is a clear indication of privileging one oppression over another. To be clear oppression is oppression and there is no such thing as a good oppression, but to refuse to have a dialog about race when that is clearly what this issue about is not only silencing it smacks of the inability to own racial privilege.

Daily I interact with WOC who are disenfranchised with feminism and attitudes like yours are exactly why. If you cannot validate the experience of others, that means believing that their truth has value there is no place for marginalized bodies in feminism. You can disagree with me and scream I’m not listening until the end of time, but be aware that your own statements have already convicted you.

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 July 2008 at 10:59 am

@Leah – hell yes. Again, this is stock-in-trade for this blog, which regularly calls out all sorts of stuff as objectionable and offensive because it is sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.

Of course it’s one-sided. We shouldn’t be afraid to call out this shit as racist when it patently is. I’ve yet to feel the need to quote Rush Limbaugh to counterbalance my posts, and I’m not going to start now.

Leah // Posted 16 July 2008 at 12:10 pm

it’s clear that people who disagree with the moderator here get lectured and patronised. meanwhile, commenters who agree with your analysis can portray other commenters as racist without an objection from you. that’s not cool.

interesting that you feel this image is ‘patently’ racist and that the only other possible view is equivalent to rush limbaugh. this is evidence of such a simplistic way of thinking that i won’t bother arguing with it.

Cruella // Posted 16 July 2008 at 12:59 pm

Well you should note that this blog isn’t moderated by an individual but by a group who often discuss comments at length before making a decision. There is honestly nothing that won’t get published as long as you express yourself calmly and politely.

Not speaking as a comedian who writes and performs political satire every week I don’t think it’s funny and I do think it’s offensive. If you want to ridicule the way in which the right wing press portray Mr and Mrs Obama – you do it by doing a characature of the right wing press, not of the Obamas. I probably wouldn’t be offended by seeing a version of that image with two “artists” in front of it drawn to resemble O’Reilly and Hannity with palettes discussing how to make the image more offensive.

Anglofille // Posted 16 July 2008 at 1:13 pm


Please show me where I told you what you should view as racist? I see no evidence of that in this thread. Do not make charges against me that have no basis in fact.

Is it really necessary to personally attack me with phrases like “if the shoe fits wear it” and “your own statements have already convicted you”? Am I on trial?

So much for “standing in solidarity,” eh?

Lynne Miles // Posted 16 July 2008 at 1:19 pm

@ Leah: People who disagree with the moderator here get debated with. Who’s lecturing? To be honest, I don’t know what you’re really expecting Jess to say. She thought the cartoons were racist, she said so, she linked to other people who thought so too.

There is a big difference between labelling something (or someone) racist and concluding that anyone who disagrees with you must therefore be racist too. IMO, Jess has done the former but not the latter.

And it’s ridiculous to say she thinks the only alternative is Rush Limbaugh – it should be pretty obvious that she was just using that as an extreme to make a point. I mean, I hope we have some integrity, but this blog is basically where we express our personal opinions (and others can disagree with them), not some place where we have to endlessly counterbalance every point made with an entirely neutral counterpoint.

Lynne Miles // Posted 16 July 2008 at 2:31 pm

Leah – I think I misunderstood you – I now think you meant Renee was implicitly calling Anglophille racist which it does seem like she was and which would not be OK on this board – although I’m not entirely sure whether that was what was meant. Renee, do you want to clarify? I have removed the post in question in the meantime (NB – I should clarify that Renee is not a moderator)

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 July 2008 at 3:13 pm

I didn’t state that there’s only my opinion and Rush Limbaugh’s and nothing in between – in fact, I said specifically that Anglofille is certainly not alone in her opinion. I chose not to link them up, but there are plenty of liberals defending it as satire. I disagree, and just like with any other issue I write about, I hence present my own take on it.

I haven’t gone into an in depth description of why I think the image is racist, but I linked to a massive list of other commentators who have done so. Lots and lots of people of colour in the US have reacted to the image as racist, and that is within the context of the satirical intent expressed by the New Yorker. People understand that, and are saying that it has misfired. Lots of feminists of all races have done the same. I got an email in my inbox from NOW calling for everyone to write into the New Yorker and demand they pull the cover.

I basically agree with Renee that jumping down the throat of a blogger who says something is racist and sexist, saying ‘what about Hillary!!!’ is sending out the message ‘why are you talking about race?’ Doesn’t that seem problematic?

I’ve made my position clear, politely, that it is possible to object to both. To be honest, I question what’s behind the seemingly reflexive reaction of bringing up Hillary and complaining about media attention to an incidence of racism and sexism against Michelle and Barack Obama, as though it’s a bad thing.

In actual fact, if anything I’ve felt bad for posting less about coverage of the Obamas than I did about Clinton, because at this stage I’m experiencing some serious election fatigue – it is, after all, not as immediate an issue for me here in the UK as it is for US voters.

Shea // Posted 16 July 2008 at 7:28 pm

Weighing in late to the party, as ever……

I think Jess and Renee are right to call this out. Having been called out on this site about many posts I’ve commented on (especially about immigration- I cringe in retrospect) I can only think its a good, conscience raising thing. Its not lecturing or patronising but defending a standpoint which can never be entirely value neutral.

Can we stop bringing Hillary Clinton into this? That ship has sailed. The irony is the person in all this who deserved the most censure was Bill, the white man, who got the least criticism. That to me reiterates Renee’s point, lets stop silencing the real debate here. This isn’t as has been pointed, out a race to see who can be the most offensive (or offended). Its pointing out that racism, even from liberals is still racism and perhaps all the more insidious for it.

I wonder if part of the problem arises from the different approaches to politics, in the UK we seem to be more partisan, perhaps because of the “party” political system, as opposed to the cult of personality in the US, where you get to elect the president. You ‘re unlikely to get views at each extreme of the spectrum represented here, thats just not how it works (and really I’ve yet to see such generosity from more rightwing blogs).

I think this is incredibly offensive, not just that, but plain stupid. They should look up the definition of satire, I believe it requires a degree of intelligence.

Anglofille // Posted 16 July 2008 at 9:31 pm

I think there is a disconnect here that probably can’t be overcome. The majority of people commenting here and elsewhere have stated definitively that they think this image IS racist. That’s much different than saying it may be *interpreted* as racist. This point of view that the cartoon IS racist means that, by default, those who are white and see nothing wrong with the cartoon must be racist themselves or at the very least, too blinded by white privilege to notice racism. Because of the way this discussion is framed, we don’t have conditions wherein a civilized debate is even possible.

My point of view is that this image is successful satire. To me, the NY’er cartoon successfully satirized the right-wing attacks on Obama. I do not find it to be racist or sexist. The New Yorker magazine has a long, rich tradition of running cartoons and satires. I don’t think it’s a “misfire” and just because NOW and others with very loud voices think its racist and sexist doesn’t mean they’re right. There is a bandwagon effect here, which plays out against very complex issues in the US surrounding race relations. I can understand people may be offended by this — satire often offends, unsettles, shocks. That is its purpose. I am a writer that often uses satire. I am frequently misunderstood and attacked as a result. Personally, I admire people who want to shake things up, who want to make us see things in a new way. I think that artists can and should play the role of provocateur. Unfortunately, it seems that today many people believe that we should live in a world where no one is ever offended by anything.

So to answer the question of why Hillary is brought into this, please let me explain. This presidential campaign has made many people very bitter. There are many Hillary supporters, like me, who have a lot of resentment towards the Obama campaign and many of his supporters for the way we were treated. These wounds are still fresh and they don’t disappear just because Obama won the nomination. It takes time. I’ve already explained that I don’t see this cartoon as racist, I see it as successful satire. Because of this, I see the response to this cartoon to be a gross overreaction. The intense media focus, the attacks, the campaign against the NY’er, etc., upsets me because from my point of view, whenever anything is done to Obama, it’s a major issue. It’s like he is a sacred being that no one can criticize or satirize. I think back to Hillary, when she was attacked non-stop with nutcrackers, the group calling itself CUNT and blatant media attacks that were in no way satirical. What accounts for the disparity in the reactions to these different situations? Apparently, even wondering about this makes me a racist. [Yes, I know feminist blogs covered the Hillary attacks in depth. Unfortunately, feminist blogs cannot compete with major media outlets.]

Jess wrote:

“To be honest, I question what’s behind the seemingly reflexive reaction of bringing up Hillary and complaining about media attention to an incidence of racism and sexism against Michelle and Barack Obama, as though it’s a bad thing.”

You state definitively that this is an incidence of racism and sexist. As I’ve explained, I don’t see it that way. Therefore, my bringing up Hillary is not a way to downplay or minimize racism. I don’t see any racism here. I know many people disagree, so we’re just not operating from the same place.

Renee // Posted 17 July 2008 at 3:08 am

I know many people disagree, so we’re just not operating from the same place.

Isn’t that just the point exactly…seeing racism from the point of view of the othered and marginalized. At what point do the voices of POC get validated. Black blog after black blog has called these images racist as well as discussed how this fits into the wider narrative of race and social hierarchy yet somehow we are to accept the view point that it is satire? Please! Our feelings count for something. Since it is our bodies that are being attacked excuse me if I believe that we should have the final say. This is like allowing a man to decide what is and isn’t sexist against women. Those that are impacted by oppression are in the best place to speak about oppression.

aulelia // Posted 17 July 2008 at 2:35 pm

Jess, thank you for the link.

Anglofille, I really feel like you are not acknowledging like the image is racist for people of colour.

I am a black woman and quite frankly, I was absolutely gobsmacked when I saw how they characterised Michella Obama’s hair.

It is violently important for us as women to look at markers like hair and see how racism and sexism fit in. By overexaggerating Michella Obama’s hair into an Afro (where she clearly has relaxed hair), the New Yorker cartoon is not being satirical. It is directly implying that black women with Afros are all of a sudden “militant” and headstrong.

Furthermore, the cartoon completely misses the point about the dap between Michelle & Barack.

I find it obscene how a publication can think it can make such a brazen and quite frankly irresponsible attack under the so-called defence of satire.

If racism was satirical, would we all be defending it?

Co-sign with Jess & Renee on loads of points.

aulelia // Posted 17 July 2008 at 2:40 pm

Might I also add that another reason why I think this image is extremely offensive to black people and people of colour is the historical context of cartoons in the US must be taken into account.

Has anyone seen old-school ragtime piano sheet music covers from the early 1900s where black people were cariactured in extremely horrible ways?

I am in no way comparing this NY image to that but it also gives a background as to why this image cannot be taken at face value.

We must look at the history of issues. We cannot just say “get over it” and “move on”.

Images of eurocentrism have hurt many people of colour and I am sorry but this NY cover is not satirical, it is a victim of an extremely one-sided view on who the Obamas are.

I don’t business how old or how so-called eminent the New Yorker is. I refuse to agree with a magazine that defames the fantastic ethnic role models in Michelle Obama and Barack.

Anglofille // Posted 18 July 2008 at 12:14 am

@Renee: I don’t see how your point of view isn’t being validated. Your point of view is the dominant one, as this blog post and most of the comments here proves, not to mention most of the coverage in the media. Also, I don’t think that anyone has the “final say” on this cartoon. There is no judgment to be made about this in a court of law. Each person decides for herself what she thinks. Furthermore, journalists, writers and artists are not restricted to writing about people of their own race and gender. That is not the way the media works and it never will.

@Aulelia: I know African-Americans who do not find this image to be racist. Therefore, I don’t think it is accurate to claim that this image IS racist for people of color. Each person is entitled to make up her own mind. If you think this cartoon is racist, then that is your right. But I don’t think any of us can claim to speak for anyone but our individual selves.

aulelia // Posted 19 July 2008 at 12:01 pm

To be quite honest, I would be concerned for any person of colour, especially black women who would not find the characterisation of Michelle Obama & Barack offensive.

Some people would rush to call them “Uncle Toms”. Others may not. Like you said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But so what??? Why can’t we debate an issue without throwing the tired old “everyone-is-entitled” phrase in? That much is obvious and that is good because it has us debating.

As far as I am concerned, that image is racist to me and it offends me as a woman of colour and as a black person.

I don’t care if other black people do not find it offensive. The fact is it will affect those black people just like the way black people were cariactured all those years ago as “coons” and “pickaninnys” in the US. Just because people think that image is satirical does not mean it is not racist.

An image can be satirical and racist.

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