Sunday, November 19, 2017
The New Yorker and Old Racism
By Eric Lee
Published July 17, 2008

On the front cover of the latest issue of the New Yorker Magazine, America’s first African American presidential nominee from a major political party is satirically caricatured as a Muslim “fist bumping” his wife, Michelle Obama, also satirically caricatured as an Angela Davis look-alike with an automatic assault weapon slung over her shoulder. (I always had a crush on Angela Davis).

Satirical caricatures are common place when it comes to high profile politicians. However, characterizations that implicate a person’s religious convictions or ethnic identification cross the line when it comes to satirical messages. Particularly, when the satirical message does not even represent the views and religion of the person(s) (Barack and Michelle Obama are Christians, not Moslems as portrayed in the cartoon.

Either the New Yorker is clueless about the racist overtones of such characterizations, which reflects the unconscious racism that plagues many White Americans, or they are arrogant to the point of using main stream media to engage in a modern day “Sambo-izing” of the presumptive democratic presidential candidate and his wife, who happen to be Black Americans.

The New Yorker editor, David Remnick, defends his decision of authorizing such a controversial cover by saying that the New Yorker is “not even satirizing the Obama’s, we’re satirizing these rumors, the lies that have fed into the politics of fear”. The editor’s seemingly analytical assessment of the “politics of fear” is inconsistent with his inability to assess the historical and existing undercurrent of racism in American culture. Additionally, the trend of comments from many White conservatives and liberals alike regarding the satirical characterization of the Obama’s reflect an insensitivity to the racism and discrimination that has confronted Black Americans for centuries.

Liberal talk show host Laura Flanders stated on CNN’s American Morning, “this isn’t a jab at them, terrorist or any other kind. This is a jab at the media. … It should be cause for our conversation to focus on the kind of fear mongering that the media and people on the right have engaged in.” Conservative talk show host Joe Pagliarulo said, “they’ve (the Obama campaign) got to embrace this and say ‘Look, there are rumors out there.’ “People really do believe … that he’s a Muslim. They believe he was sworn in on the Quran. They believe that his wife is unpatriotic and so is he.” This logic may be good for the small percentage of Americans that understand the politics of satire, but for mid-America, and for Americans that have a Muslim-phobia, the New Yorker’s attempt at satire has now given a visual image to the fears of White America.

This type of characterization of the potentially first Black President of the United States may not have been intended to be racist, but is undeniably racist in the minds and hearts of Black Americans and therefore warrants an apology from the New Yorker Magazine. Judging by the broad based criticism of the controversial cover, the effect of the New Yorker Magazine’s satirical caricature proves to hit a very sensitive nerve in all of America.

Black Americans from every corner of the United States, as well as abroad should flood the New Yorker with telephone calls, emails and letters demanding a public apology for this attack against Senator Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, and their family. Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks has called for a boycott of the New Yorker. I’m not sure how many of us Black folk subscribe to the New Yorker, so I’m equally not sure how effective the boycott will work, if it’s just Black folk boycotting.

We need to have conscious White Americans call, email and mail the New Yorker indicating their distaste and desire for this country to be done with the racism that continues to hinder America from being a truly great nation that respects and treats each culture and every ethnicity with dignity. In fact, we should engage our Jewish brothers and sisters who helped us fight Jim Crow segregation and legal discrimination to forcibly speak out against this racist characterization of our new Black American prince. We should request that every Muslim email, write or call the New Yorker for playing on some of America’s fear that the entire Islamic faith is exclusively responsible for terrorism. What else are average White (and some Black) Americans to believe when they see the American flag burning in a fireplace underneath the picture of Osama bin Laden in the oval office of President Barack Obama?

I guarantee you…that if a satirical caricature of a prominent Jewish leader appeared on the cover of the New Yorker that played into the anti-Semitism that has plagued the Jewish people, there would be an immediate and massive onslaught by the entire Jewish community nationally and worldwide against the New Yorker Magazine in defense not only of the victim, but also in defense of Israel.

It was our Black American prince, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. Send an e-mail to, or send letters to The Mail, The New Yorker, 4 Times Square, New York, NY 10036. Call the New Yorker and ask to speak to the editor, David Remnick.

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