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Obama, Satire, and Reverse Racism

Sarah Viets • Jul 17, 2008

This week, news anchors and politicians are attacking the New Yorker (a national political magazine) for printing a dicey image of Michelle and Barack Obama. The cover of the magazine is an image of Obama wearing traditional Islamic dress, Michelle looking pissed off with an Afro and carrying an AK-47, and the American flag burning in the fireplace. (Image gratefully borrowed from www.gothamist.com)

Conservatives and progressives are calling the drawing offensive and disturbing.

At the same time, comedians across the nation are asking why they can’t make fun of Obama. They’re asking why they can’t use conservative urban legends for shits and giggles.White comedians are asking why Obama is free range for black comedians, but not for them. People like Jimmy Kimmel, a host for one of ABC’s late-night talk shows said, “There’s a weird reverse racism going on. You can’t joke about him because he’s half-white. It’s silly.” (Quote pulled from the NY Times 7/15.) But he also said it’s harder to make fun of Obama’s picture-perfect image.

But I’m willing to bet that Kimmel isn’t alone. I bet there’s a lot of white comedians and TV viewers asking the very same question. The only difference is that Kimmel blurted it out.

But is Kimmel right? Why don’t white comedians have free range to poke fun at anyone, regardless of the color of his/her skin?

Think about it this way, if you don’t trust someone, are you going to believe his or her intention?

Let me put it another way:

Since it’s hard to trust a white comedians’ and TV viewers’ intention. It’s hard to know if white folks are making fun of black stereotypes like, “black people are criminals, lazy and irresponsible,” if they’re actually making fun of his/her character as a person and not because they’re black, or if they’re rehashing some racist stereotype. Why? More black people live in poverty than white folks, it’s that simple. (Click on blue link to read 2006 census bureau on poverty.) And black poverty breeds anti-American stereotypes.

And since a lot of progressive folks like to spend their time buying separate garbage cans for their plastics, paper and glass bottles, and the Iraq War, than they do thinking about black poverty, how is someone suppose to know they’re not racist?

(That’s not to say recycling, or any other issue isn’t important. I just think there’s a better way to incorporate each issue under one common theme (like American Identity) so the majority of American people can recognize and define what it means to be progressive. And I don’t think this currently exists. If you don’t believe me, ask some random Joe on the street the difference between republicans and democrats and see what they say.)

So what’s the reason?

Maybe it’s ignorance. Maybe some liberal folks don’t understand how black poverty affects them personally and attacks their American identity. Or maybe it’s because the problem seems too big to tackle.

But at the end of the day, the reason doesn’t matter. To ignore why there are very few jobs in non-white neighborhoods suggests that black people are personally responsible for high school dropout rates. When progressives ignore why dishonorable weekly paychecks breeds crime, they give folks the impressions they personally believe black people are criminal, irresponsible, and lazy – the exact stereotypes they claim to denounce.

So why should black people trust white comedians and white viewers when they potentially – and secretly - believe black stereotypes? Tell me again, Mr. Jimmy Kimmel, why this is “reverse racism?” If you’re tired of double standards, then stop complaining and do something about it.

If you want to use black folks for satire without being called a racist, then do something to erase black stereotypes.

On the other hand, I could be completely wrong. I’m as white as they come. (In fact, I probably glow in the dark.) So I don’t know what it’s like to be black and hear white comedians. But I do know a lot of white folks who say they’re “open-minded” and not racist, but always find a way to spit out random racist stereotypes.

But I also know we’re better than this.

America, don’t pull the ole “reverse racism” card. Do something to destroy anti-American stereotypes. Do something that makes you proud to be an American.

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