Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 19, 2010

Gang Hero, Really? Why Racist Stereotypes of Obama Are So Off-the-Mark

Gang Hero, Really? Why Racist Stereotypes of Obama Are So Off-the-Mark

Earlier this week, Andrew Sullivan took offense to this offensive image courtesy of Limbaugh.

Sullivan called out the picture not for the fact it cast Obama as legitimate only to a gang constituency, or identified him with a graffiti or gang-like signature marring an iconic presidential monument, or cast him as a pop icon in the face of true American statesman. Instead, Sullivan called out the image as an example of Rush being calculated in his use of such images.  And the motive?  Andrew’s theory was that:

“the talk radio host revels in being called a racist so that he can throw up his hands and complain about liberal race-baiting.”

I agree that the visual is calculated and predictable, even, but I think there is a better political explanation for it.

By this point in Obama’s presidency, it’s pretty clear to most people (except the most lizard-brained) that the racist/gang attack is a straw man.  But if that’s the case, then why do it? What is the benefit?  My sense is that any racist, far-right Obama parody that might be “closer-to-home” — framing an overly cerebral Obama as the one black man who can’t dance or hold a tune, for example, or as the house Negro to the banks, or the left — would demand a more serious and accurate consideration of who is being parodied in the first place.  Given Obama’s inherent earnestness and seriousness, I think the right will do anything — which, at this point, seems to largely involve a steady stream of more generic or cartoonish racial stereotypes — as a distraction game to completely circumvent any easy reference back to a man who — in spite of his flaws — demands to be taken seriously.

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