Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Barack Obama, Racism and The Internet: An Annotated Gallery

racism-anywayRacism is hot. The media smells the blood in the water and is (finally) making some good cases about how anti-Obama sentiment is tied to racism. Some, not so good. Maureen Dowd pretty much called everyone opposed to Obama a racist. But race is a very small factor in what's going on.

Let's imagine that Hillary Clinton's tactics (some of which were racist) had worked better and she was today President. Would the climate be different? Not much. Spend enough time on right-wing websites and living in a right wing population and it soon becomes clear that hate for Obama is directly tied to hate for Pelosi and hate for Reid and is all part of a larger game. And while there are elements of racism, sexism and homophobia that currently drive the right, they are just the tools currently available with which to "win." Yes, it is all now a game, not so different from the NFL. And in this game the left faces an impossible task because the field (i.e., media landscape) favors the three-word, low-syllable-count language of reactionaries.

And that's what the right is; "conservative" is just a nice word for "reactionary." Being reactionary makes "No" an easy response with no lag time to consider or weigh anything. Health-care reform? No. Environmentalism? No. Economic reform? No. This is one of the reasons that some liberals who are willing to acknowledge that racism plays a role in the anti-Obama sentiment are uncomfortable jumping on the "they're just racists" bandwagon because a one-word reason is too much like the nuance-less tone of the right. It is. Dismissing anti-Obama sentiment as simply "racist" is lazy and demonstrates an unwillingness to even try to understand the very diversity of the right.

Its discomfort with Obama's race is real; but it is tied to its fear of condoms in the classroom, a perceived de-emphasizing of Christianity and the loss of decent blue collar jobs. (In fact, if Obama were stringently pro-life, many of these so-called "racists" would immediately embrace him and defend him despite almost any fault.)

These fears are not independent of one another, so an accusation against any single one fear does not make any sense to any of the hard-line right. They simply cannot see themselves as racists because they act on a conglomerated fear that has no single identifying trait of any one fear. Just look at the lack of focus in terms of how anti-Obama sentiment manifests itself: The Devil, Hitler, Stalin, The Joker, Darth Vader, etc. It uses anything-anything-that our society finds unquestionably evil, and then imprints it on him.

And to think most of the right is fundamentally any more racist than a lot of people on the left who voted for Obama is to ignore the unique depth of American racism. And numbers. Recent Gallup Poll data actually show that Obama's job approval ratings went up with those who self-identify as either conservative or Republican. But make no mistake. Racism in America is alive and well.

One focus of the anti-Obama racism commentaries are the racists running the show, such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Or are they? It's far more likely that they are opportunists who would just as easily embrace an all black audience if it were large enough to make them money and devoted enough to be unquestioningly loyal.

glenn-beck-as-jokerAn attempt to understand and explain Glenn Beck in particular is a dead end. To explain his actions would mean he has a motive. He does not. Beck's not a racist. He's an anarchist. He's that boyfriend you had and hated because he exists only to criticize and play devil's advocate. The image of Obama as the Joker from The Dark Knight has been taken up as a badge of the Beckian right's battle against what it perceives as seeping socialism. But the irony is that nobody could be more like that Joker character than Beck himself. In the film, the Joker says, "Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just… do things." And of him, Alfred says, "Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn." Now, is there anyone on the national platform that that describes more than Glenn Beck, a man who bills himself as a comedian?

It's amusing (not really) that many in the media, now latching on to "racism" as the cause for our absolute failure to have any kind of what might pass for civil discourse even in the Middle Ages, still see fit to ignore the only constant in all of our increasingly polarized political environment: them. In August, Talking Points Memo printed a leaked email that pretty much sums up the problem: "CNBC approached Tea Party activists, looking for angry protest events that would make good television, according to a leaked email from a Tea Party discussion group. And one Tea Bagger responded by flagging an upcoming event that, he said, 'should be a riot … literally.'" The story got little mainstream media attention, to the surprise of nobody.

Now, many want to silence what they see as racist. But, as Charles Davis, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, writes of another option: "As a near-absolutist First Amendment advocate, my prescription for hate speech is always more speech: Give the bigot a microphone as big as the hatred, I say, and watch as the marketplace of ideas works its magic." Basically, the old teenager-caught-smoking school of learning: Give everyone so much of something bad that it sickens them.

With that in mind, and also in keeping with the idea that propaganda has power and to ignore it is to do so at your own peril, what follows is a little gallery show (with grades!) of some of the "best of the best" racist Obama stuff floating around sites ranging from the mainstream and actively political to the downright, well, racist. Some images that follow are, of course, not safe for work.

73 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

Whitey sho is funny.

jfruh (#713)

If I were black, I'd probably have a much more complicated relationship with fried chicken than I actually do (if you can call insatiable all-consuming hunger a "relationship"). Is there no end to the benefits of white priviledge?

Bunx05 (#1,625)

I can tell you, it's a bitch. Every time I'm at a damn out door function with food.

"Do I eat the chicken? Do I not eat the chicken? But I want the chicken. I LIKE chicken. Oh shit…do they know I like chicken. Screw it. I'll go with the fish."

Unless it's Catfish. Then I'm SOL.

GiovanniGF (#224)

Ralph Ellison wrote about this dilemma in Invisible Man. "What a group of people we were, I thought. You could cause us the greatest humiliation just by confronting us with something we liked."

Friends Don't Let Friends Photoshop While Racist.

slinkimalinki (#182)

that was rather amazing.

The racism coming from the right fuels their pre-set antagonism to every left wing figure. They'd oppose any democratic president, but with some (not all) the extra spice of racism (and with Pelosi, sexism) pushes them over the edge into crazy land. And of course it can be cynically manipulated, as per the tea party organizers.

What confounds me more was it's manifestation on the left. Not that I thought it was free of racism or anything, far from it, but the insanity of the PUMA contingent was a little reality check of how deep denial of one's true motivations can run. Their reasons for turning away from all their professed political ideals towards any other (white) candidate than Obama grew thinner and thinner and thinner until only "yeah, you're racist" remained. They probably still think they're not racist, or crazy, or both.

Wow, I had forgotten the PUMAs. Like literally, had wiped them from my mind. HOW WEIRD WAS THAT EPISODE OF AMERICA?

sigerson (#179)

I opposed the war in Iraq but couldn't march with the crazies waving Saddam's flag and holding up pictures of the American President as Hitler. No way.

So of course there is principled opposition to the current American President and it's not even partly racist.

But when you peel away any rational argument for the Republitards position (czars, birthers, tea baggers, Addison Graves Wilson and the "illegals" contretemps), then you're dealing with either a political hack who will do anything and say anything to win, or a straight racist or an ignorant bumfuck.

Or all three.

Regardless, this IS about winning, Abe. I suggest you grow a pair and get ready for the assault on the beaches. I'm with Rahm on this one. Open up the flame throwers and scorch the earth until all the Republitards have left are a few congressmen from the deep south and Sarah Palin.

It would be fascinating if the White House went all Rahm on this shit. The end of it might be ugly! But… well, cable news ratings would be huge.

sigerson (#179)

It's already starting. Better get your popcorn.

"Trying to beat back a furor over whether President Obama's centerpiece initiative would subsidize health care for illegal immigrants, liberal supporters of an immigration overhaul on Monday called a main proponent of that claim a "hate group," citing its founder's ties to white supremacists and interest in racist ideas, such as eugenics."


Abe Sauer (#148)

Despite these (warlike?) fantasies the political spectrum is too well matched to have this actually happen. To those who live in heavily blue states ot cities and get all their "right" exposure from… The Awl? TPM? CNN? — it might certainly seem like conservatives are all nutcases, that's hardly the case. Furthermore, your fantasy of putting the right under the knife is made impossible by the dullness of said knife; is it just an accident that the left takes nearly as much corporate money as the right? Money likes it when we're all distracted and upset about whether Perez Hilton should shiv Carrie Prrjan or if a tea party sign is racist or not.

Mindpowered (#948)

I don't know. It's getting to the point where it's starting to bite back. It's now a moral climate where it's ok to kill people for not believing what you believe in (re:abortion). It's not so long ago AIG employee's were getting death threats.

Aatom (#74)

"Money likes it when we’re all distracted"


Abe Sauer (#148)

I agree and I think you'll feel the swing is on. Beck is being boycotted which is going to kill him eventually as his rage cannot be maintained (see the French thing). When the molasses big media start asking ?s like "is it racism" I think the heat is on. Christ, CNN did a whole segment today on racism and that witch doctor image at the rallies. Obama's approval numbers are climbing again. Not that we're all fine. We're not.

As for the abortion thing. Many condemned that AND it was already happening. The abortion debate is a whole other animal that, while somewhat tied to recent events, is a simmering beast that will never die.

Mindpowered (#948)

I don't know. In my opinion it seems to be a trick of the American right(though it has been used by all extremists since the dawn of time), to create an environment where it is morally correct to murder those who disagree with you by painting them in blackest terms, and making them enemies of the state (in whatever form they currently are). I'm quite certain that those killing abortion doctors would make the case that those Doctors were unamerican, jewish, communist etc as well.

sigerson (#179)

This is about using rhetoric to paint the Republitards as connected to white racism, ignorance, terroristic militia and incompetence. All of that is true and if it takes a "low brow" campaign of simplistic, exaggerated and even misleading propaganda to drive those impressions into the minds of independent voters and secure a progressive majority, then I wholeheartedly endorse it as a noble endeavor.

These wonderful pieces of photomontage aside, racists these days don't even generally think of themselves as racists. Instead they think of themselves as (bizarrely) victims of racism.

I love it when folks in the aforementioned camp level the charge of "that's just reverse racism". There's no such thing as "reverse racism", there's just "racism racism". But the semantics of the term "reverse racism" belie the very racism at the core of the argument. This notion that somehow the tables have been turned and now innocent white people are the victims of "racism" presupposes a racist grudge against white people for prior acts of racism on the part of white people. But, were it not for those prior acts, where would this perceived resentment stem from?

This fear that after 3oo years of oppression, black people might be "out to get them", seems to highlight a something of a guilty conscience on the part of people who would see themselves as oppressed. If there were truly parity between blacks and whites, as many on the right claim there is, then why would someone be afraid of being singled out and persecuted?

I couldn't have said this better myself.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Agreed. The right is rife with victim complexes… And yes, many of them are set in racism. I would add that the not that not all of my wonderful images here come from right-wing sites. For example, the pimp cup one comes from an Obama VOTER! Should racists be called out? Yes. Does the right have more racists? Sure. So… it's a numbers game?

Also, people hear "racism" and we all look for the black person. Meanwhile, many Obama supporters totally miss Asian racism when it pokes up the same way right wingers don;t see their own racism. It's not arguing for ignoring the increasingly blatant displays (the opposite: they should be focused on and broadcast because, while you'll never eliminate racists, you can certainly shine a light on them and marginalize them)… but the commonality of only seeing racism on "the other side" is infuriating.

butter (#1,643)

Racists are like hipsters. We all know a bunch, but no one will admit to actually being one.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Exactly, all of you. The right are essentially the only ones who still trudge out the term "political correctness" these days because they can both play the victims and make fun of others for portraying themselves as victims. They have their cake, eat it too, and whack the empty pan upside their opponents' heads.

HiredGoons (#603)

'a dilution of its racist appeal with the "drinking the Cool Aid" suggestion.'

No, I'm pretty sure they're saying black people like to drink Kool Aid.

Abe Sauer (#148)

mmmmmaybe. But right wing sites lately make heavy use of the cool aid man and the term "drink the cool aid" in reference to Obama's policies.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I.e. Jonestown

slinkimalinki (#182)

which i find kind of irritating, because if i drank the jonestown kool aid, i'd be dead. why does the right want to accuse me of being dead? huh?

HiredGoons (#603)

they only want you dead above the neck, your body they can use for toil and labour.

HiredGoons (#603)

Oh, I'm familiar with the term and its connotation.

I'm also aware of the racist stereotype that black people drink sugary drinks such as Kool Aid, Grape/Orange Soda, or Fruit Punch.

Perhaps two birds, one stone?

Abe Sauer (#148)

I was not aware of that stereotype as all my knowledge of black people comes from Boys in the Hood and they never did beverages. But yes, not only would that be "2 bird" but it also allows them to deny racism "er…. it's about Jonestown!" Genius!

IBentMyWookie (#133)

I am a pedant therefore I must: it's Boyz 'n the Hood. DO YOU WANT STREET CRED OR DON'T YOU?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Good point. My interesting BoyZ n the Hood anecdote is that as a teen I drove very far to find a theater showing that movie and then watched it in a packed audience in which I was the ONLY white person. Which… ok… no big deal. But for a kid who grew up in an all white small town it was my largest to that date exposure to a black population and I admit I was… not scared… but very aware. Some may find it pititful but that kind of exposure os very important and many any kids from where I grew up don;t get it and never will and the results are.. well.. see the gallery above. But then, everyone watched the film (and clapped! Remember how important that film was at the time?!) and then we all went our merry ways to go home and try to remember that scene where Cuba Gooding makes up a story for his dad about how he lost his virginity and almost got cought because… wow….

Bunx05 (#1,625)

You have street cred in my hood. Any white guy who saw Boyz 'n the Hood in an audience full of black people and admits it, is cool with me.

Not mention, this was a great post; really well thought out and of a much higher caliber than I've seen elsewhere.

Kudos from Black Folk.

EvilMonkey (#1,063)

It's Grape Drink, dammit. Can't afford no Kool Aid. Damn, get this shit straight.

HiredGoons (#603)

Mostly I distrust anyone who DOESN'T like Orange Soda. Shit is dank.

Aatom (#74)

Obama and Sharpton actually did eat together in Harlem, and I'm pretty sure that's a real image, am I missing the joke there?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Yes. That is the joke. It is actually posted some places, no doctoring needed (HA! HA!)

Aatom (#74)

Oh. My irony meter is malfunctioning.

butter (#1,643)

Oh, they're DEFINITELY saying black folks like Kool Aid. It is, after all, the champagne of quarter waters.

Fredrick (#268)

Gawd, I'm only now realizing it, but I haven't drank Kool-Aid since I was like, 11, and the racist connotation is most definitely why.

Fredrick (#268)

Anyway, trying to reason with someone who refuses to even understand themselves always sucks. You just can't ignore these people (like you could an idiot at a bar) because there are policies and lives at risk.

Baroness (#273)

"Maureen Dowd pretty much called everyone opposed to Obama a racist."

Not really, she didn't. Her Sunday column was surprisingly uncatty and cogent for a change, widely noted in certain precincts of the Net. She did not do what you are saying she did. Quite specific about referring to the ugly and theatrical aspects of Obama's opposition.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I think that it ENDED that way. But when she starts:
"I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer â€" the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids â€" had much to do with race."


"But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president â€" no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq â€" convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it."

That's all before she gets to business "targeting" her essay with any details.

Baroness (#273)

Ah, I do see your point, Abe, on a second look.

I mean, I guess on the Internet we always need lolz and lists and pictures and shit like that to keep people paying attention and clicking through and not going to jerk off to whatever porn they've got open in their other tab, but I feel like the writing on the first page of this is so smart and sincere and thoughtful and that then the rhetorical appeal that it makes is undermined by the dumbass jokes and "grades" in the image gallery on the second page. Just my opinion, though.

ericdeamer (#945)

I sort of agree actually.

Fredrick (#268)

It's like the movie Audition. You think you're getting a romantic drama, but what you actually have is a horror movie. The gross images are meant to impress the point upon you, and you probably have acquaintances who have seen these images in a non-ironic capacity.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I really DID (do) worry the "dumbass" jokes detract from the appeal of the fore-sincerity. But in the current media environment the battle between "show tits" to get attention for a good cause verses write a powerful essay for a good cause is… vexing. Maybe I did not make the best decision. If I were paid per page-view (or at all!), and not myself, I might just have posted your exact opinion. So… my ultimate point here is that I an torn between agreeing with your opinions on absolutes and "by any means necessary." Sadly, or at least OKly, I went with the latter.

Ooh! You know, when he filed, I was like "But the popular stuff is in the back and all the long intelligent words are up front–that's not how it's supposed to be on the Internet!"

Then I gave my mind a long, hot Silkwood shower, because I'd forgotten for a second where we are.

So, I don't think in this case it's about LOLs to keep clicking. Because by the time you've got the LOLs, well, there's nowhere else to click. So I was really please that Abe had clearly thought about this and come to the right format decision.

Also I would like to pay Abe. Everyone close your eyes and click twice!

Abe Sauer (#148)

Gawker latency. Remember it's "Be Less Stupid" not "Be Less Gawker"


Bunx05 (#1,625)

I would argue there are no LOLs in this piece. The comedic commentary is a counterweight to the sheer malevolence of the racist displays. So essentially, everything balances in my opinion. I wasn't laughing, but at least I wasn't crying.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I would also like to add (because I found no place for it and I was already going Loooooooong): The left's sudden discovery of "Racism!" in the Obama kerfuffle is hard to stomach (for me, anyway) considering he lives in a city with a pro football team called the REDSKINS, which nobody, including those now throwing around racism accusations, seems to have a publishable problem with. Certainly, one wrong does not make another wrong unworthy, but it's disgustingly selective.

sigerson (#179)

WHAT???? I can't believe you just threw this up. Do a little research, Abe! http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/Downloads/Political_Communication/naes/2004_03_redskins_09-24_pr.pdf

NINETY-ONE PERCENT of Native Americans are not bothered by the name of the Washington Redskins football team.

The team is named the Redskins out of respect. It's an homage to brave and fearless warriors.

You remind me of the numbnut NCAA officials who banned Native American names and icons in college football but somehow forget to ask the Seminole Tribe in Florida (never surrendered), who overwhelmingly approve of the Florida State name.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Wow. Sigerson, do you live near me and are upset with the impending Fighting Sioux retirement? I suppose the recent Texas Tech pamphlet depicting the fleeing Indian on horseback was out of respect as well? Cleveland's Chief Wahoo? Honorable. And the image of the jiving black man was one of admiration for entertaining dance talent. Maybe that study should have asked Native Americans living in the Washington area… oh yeah… right.

Bunx05 (#1,625)

Abe is my new favorite person today.

Mindpowered (#948)

Ah the relationship between US (and Canada) with their aboriginal inhabitants is fraught one, but a whole other ball of wax. It's not just the Redskins, it's the Braves, the Chiefs, the Indians ( don't forget the tomahawk chop!), Winnibagoes, Pontiacs, Cadillacs, The Blackhawks, Jeep Cherokee's etc..

But it's a very different racism. Aboriginal North Americans were defeated but never enslaved. It's their place names which predominate from Montauk to Chattanooga to Seattle. They have a very different engagement with "White America" than any other group and in many ways have been honoured by being symboligized as manliness, power, freedom etc in a way Black America never has.

ericdeamer (#945)

I think it's pretty well-established that "Redskin" historically was a pejorative and a racial slur, so I don't think it's exactly accurate to equate it with team names that simply are the actual names of native american tribes.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I agree it is different. But it still fits into "racism" as it's being used widely recently to denote distrust of the unknown other. I would take issue that many native Americans have been "honored" with their symbolization as this only comes in the form of "savage." It's like honoring black americans by ONLY acknowledging then as great athletes or Asians as great math wizards.

Mindpowered (#948)

2 house keeping notes: Damn you guys are making me stay up late. Do you want me to randomly click some razors?

Eric, have you seen the Cleveland Indian's logo? Or the tomahawk chop the Braves fans do? Moreover, in many cases the name now, is the wrong name, eg the Tribal name "Nahanni" means "People who speak like ducks"(obviously not the name they gave themselves). Do you think the Cherokee ever got a dime from GM?

Abe, it's very interesting that they are honored that way at all. In Canada for instance you never see the Hamilton Huron, The Montreal Montegnais or the Vancouver Sto:lo. Aboriginal's are most definitely not represented in the culture or in sport. It's like the whole 500 year period of engagement bounced off the Canadian psyche except for the place names.

But this is digression.

Bunx05 (#1,625)

Quick question: how many white people do you know who claim some native american ancestry? Me? A LOT. But when you ask them to self identify, they're white, good ol' home grown american white. They aren't multiracial.

My point is, native american culture, in the US at least, is treated as a prize. Because white people won back in the day, the idea is now that they are able to appropriate parts of that culture in anyway they like. This is only a little more subtle of a form of racism.

tfey_hawbz (#36)

I wish I knew a wise Latina to break this all down for me.

lizp (#1,347)

This piece, and the commentary following it, are just so good. The best thing by far I've read on the place of race in the political climate circa mid-2009. Thanks, Abe, Choire & commenters.

zidaane (#373)


What's that Chris Rock joke? "Washington Redskins? That ain't nice, that's a racial slur. It's like having a team called The New York Niggers."

But yes and all, fine piece of writing Abe. There are more nuances to all these things than people, perhaps, would like to admit, it allows for difficulty. Fantasies of purging the enemy, of fighting hatred with hatred etc., are appealingly direct and are thus doomed to failure.

Baboleen (#1,430)

Great article and responses. There is a right-wing radio jock in new england (won't say his name) who always mentions that liberals base their votes on their feelings and conservatives base their votes on facts. That statement may have seemed true where fiscal outcomes were concerned, but, I get the sense from this article, that the tide is turning.

Bittersweet (#765)

That radio jock seems about 10 years out of date, Baboleen. These days, that level-headed, fiscally conservative New England Republican is just about extinct.

Dave Bry (#422)

I'm very late to this. But I want to compliment Abe, too. Such a terrific piece. The Glenn Beck = The Joker bit is amazing. Dead on.

HiredGoons (#603)

I didn't think he could looke pastier/more bloated, but I stand humbly corrected. Nice work Abe.

Bunx05 (#1,625)

This was a great article and the discussion here after is great also.

I'm new to the site, but I have really enjoyed it over the past few days. And already I feel less stupid. I'm telling my friends about it.

Mindpowered (#948)

I know. I've shaved at least 6 hours off my path to Nirvana.

Renate (#360)

This was a really excellent piece.

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