Tasteless Satire at the New Yorker

On the cover July 21st issue of the New Yorker magazine, the Obamas are the subject of extreme racial and religious stereotyping. Their patriotism, religion, foreign policy and character are all called into question through a controversial, some say tasteless, satirical cartoon.  Andrew Malcom, blogging at the LA Times, writes this description of the cover:

The cover of this week’s New Yorker magazine depicts Obama in one-piece Muslim garb and headdress fist-bumping his booted, Afro-wearing wife Michelle in camo clothes with an AK-47 and ammo-belt slung over her shoulder beneath a portrait of Osama bin-Laden while the American flag burns in the fireplace — in the presidential Oval Office.

The cover image plays into the “dangerous black man” and the “angry black woman” racialized and gendered stereotypes.   It also further fuels racist perceptions of the Obama campaign.  This cartoon adds one more racial reference, one more false identification of his religious background and another fabricated depiction of Michelle Obama.

Together, these combine into a powerful image of what many white Americans are already thinking about the first African American candidate for presidency. The problem with this image is its openness to individual interpretation that relies overwhelmingly on the white racial frame.  Regardless of the artist’s (and the magazine’s) satirical intentions, there will be voters who interpret the image as an accurate depiction of Obama will use it to bolster racially-based stereotypes already in place.  For others who realize that Obama is not what the cover suggests will get the joke, understand the punch line and perhaps, disregard it as tasteless (like both campaigns have done).  In many ways, this is related to the issue that Jessie posted about yesterday, about racism, satire and the questionable humor of the “technigga” incident.

The question becomes, when faced with tasteless and racist humor, how do you respond?   What do you think?

~ Amanda & Hannah

Amanda and Hannah are advanced undergraduate students at Texas A&M University doing a major research project on the numerous racial aspects of the current U.S. presidential campaign–with a special focus on the unique reality and impacts of having the first Black candidate for a major political party in the campaign. They will be guest blogging with us on their research findings over the next few months. ~ Joe


  1. JDF

    Thanks for the prompt post on this story. Interesting how a lot of comics, such as John Stewart, have criticized Obama’s respose to the cover. In order for satire to work, the context must be understood; I recall one columnist who said that the cover would’ve worked had the images appeared within a frame that was in the process of being drawn or painted by Limbaugh or whoever. But it wasn’t. These kind of images are eerily similar to that of white supremacist cartoons available over the net.

  2. Joe

    Well said. This is a good example of liberal racism. Whites at New Yorker do not understand how deep and widely held the white racial frame is.

    Note too that caricatures usu. aim at those caricatured, not as NY editors claim here, at those doing the negative caricaturing. Odd that.

  3. mgs

    I don’t see how this cover is going to get into the hands of many people who don’t get the satire. Its on the cover of the New Yorker, not USA Today. The piece is clearly making fun of the racist misconceptions people have about Obama. If pointing out, and laughing at, racist stereotypes is “liberal racism” then what on earth is someone with a sense of humor to do?


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