Monday, July 14, 2008

The New Yorker Cover: "Michelle" and "Obama"

Thank God for Web 2.0 and the possibility of voicing reactions and comments to media as soon as it hits the stands or appears online. The July 21, 2008 issue of the New Yorker entitled “The Politics of Fear,” features a satire of the Senator Obama and his wife. Reminder of a working definition of racism I use in my work on Agree to Be Offended™ : Curious Connections in Conversations of Race:
  • The learned practices, attitudes, thoughts, expressions, suspicions (and now I must add representations) that maintain an inferior view of the dominated group.
  • The stigmatizing of difference along lines of ‘racial’ or physical characteristics real or imagined.
  • Making others different in order to justify an advantage/ invalidate a disadvantage.
Here is a description of the cover courtesy the DISH RAG by Elizabeth Snead (LA Times):

"Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's campaign is furious over a New Yorker mag cover illustration of a Muslim-garbed Obama fist-bumping his wife, Michelle, wearing an Angela Davis afro, a camo jumpsuit, and a rifle slung over her shoulder. An American flag burns in the fireplace.

Obama's camp calls it 'tasteless and offensive.' So for that matter does presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain's camp.

The New Yorker insists it's just satire."

Oddly enough, the New Yorker's website features this black-and-white pic of Barack Obama registering an older black women. A much more safe, conventional shot of photojournalism evoking a more staid interpretation of black men in politics.

I've been thinking about how to invite more people onto my blog and into a conversation, a national conversation, about the impact of life in the U.S. on black relationships and how what happens in black relationships between the sexes might be significant to the nation as a whole.

Why can't we support and empower healthy relationships between black men and women? As I've mentioned in previous posts, stats show that each sex among black people is increasingly remaining single (not just women). I've joked recently about an online dating service I use which I suggested renaming BLACK PEOPLE DON'T MEET. What messages does this cover leave people with about the state of racism in America and its impact on intimacy, esteem, and credibility in the public sphere between the races and sexes? I can agree to be offended but I won't be silent about it.


JB said...

Hey Kyra,

It is a sad day in American when this cover hit the public eye. This cover will put us, and by us I mean African Americans back to the days of jim crow to the more ignorant minds. The New York fully knew what they were doing and they have not apologized. I do hope those who have a better understand of who the Obama's are and what they stand for will distance themselves from the likes of New Yorker and just see it as an ugly and hateful publicity stunt.


Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D. said...

My first legit post. Woo-hoo. Been getting hits but all lurkers. That's for tipping my blog over the edge. LOL

Now all you others, join in!!

To what do I attribute the honor? TWITTER BABY!
Tweet! Tweet! Tweedle-dy deet (thanks Michael Jackson)

Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D. said...

Found this response by editor on Ta-nehisi's blog at

"UPDATE: So David Remnick went ahead and talked to Huffpo about the cover and why he chose to run it:

>What I think it does is hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark imaginings about Barack Obama's — both Obamas' — past, and their politics. I can't speak for anyone else's interpretations, all I can say is that it combines a number of images that have been propagated, not by everyone on the right but by some, about Obama's supposed "lack of patriotism" or his being "soft on terrorism" or the idiotic notion that somehow Michelle Obama is the second coming of the Weathermen or most violent Black Panthers. That somehow all this is going to come to the Oval Office.

The idea that we would publish a cover saying these things literally, I think, is just not in the vocabulary of what we do and who we are... "