Question of the day: Racially-Tinted Agitprop? (Racist or Not)

From NewsbustersIs there a racial undertone to the “Barack Obama as Joker” agitprop going around? Philip Kennicott with the Washington Post seems to think so.

(T)he poster is ultimately a racially charged image. By using the “urban” makeup of the Heath Ledger Joker, instead of the urbane makeup of the Jack Nicholson character, the poster connects Obama to something many of his detractors fear but can’t openly discuss. He is black and he is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and ’70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness despite falling crime rates.

The Joker’s makeup in “Dark Knight” — the latest film in a long franchise that dramatizes fear of the urban world — emphasized the wounded nature of the villain, the sense that he was both a product and source of violence. Although Ledger was white, and the Joker is white, this equation of the wounded and the wounding mirrors basic racial typology in America. Urban blacks — the thinking goes — don’t just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus. Scientific studies, which demonstrate the social consequences of living in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, get processed and misinterpreted in the popular unconscious, underscoring the idea. Violence breeds violence.

Still, not everyone, like The Guardian’s Lola Adesioye sees what the big deal is.

Let’s take the accusation of racism. I believe that the president’s race means that there is a need for cultural sensitivity in how people talk about and depict him. And there is no doubt that some other cartoons and pictures have been offensive or highly questionable. However, there is also a need to avoid being overly sensitive at every single joke or piece of satire that comes Obama’s way, particularly those that are in contrast to one’s own beliefs about the president. Is it simply too easy to call something anti-Obama “racist” just because one doesn’t agree with it?

Where do you fall? I tend to agree more with Adesioye in that it’s just a caricature. I find it more silly than offensive and politicians are regularly drawn in unflattering fashion. But if you do think the illustration is racially tinged liked Kennicott and dangerous, I’d love to hear your argument below.

32 thoughts on “Question of the day: Racially-Tinted Agitprop? (Racist or Not)

  1. people will find anything to be offended about. i wonder if people were offended at all of those pictures o bush being depicted as a monkey or a devil. i’m willing to bet not.

  2. I don’t find the image racially offensive in the least. I think some people are genuinely afraid of what they perceive as a massive government takeover lead by the Obama administration. I don’t agree with that view, but not everyone who criticizes the president should be labeled a racist automatically.

  3. To swiv,I was offended by the shoe incident. I voted for Bush in 2004 (yes, I am somewhat of a Black Conservative), and I was also incensed by the constant portrayal of Bush as a monkey…. Now, of course, there is an added layer of racial baggage that comes with referring to Obama as a primate, but I just chock that up to some white people being insane.

  4. you’re probably the exception and not the rule. i know i wasn’t offended by it, but i was for kerry. i think once you run and win a public office, you’re going to have to take heat, criticism, and mean spirited banter from all directions. unless you’re palin, you probably already know that. obama will be alright. in fact, i think the masses are more offended by things said about him than he is.

  5. I’m not offended in the least. This has everthing to do with instilling fear of govenment takeover.On a side note: I live in Texas and saw a bumper sticker that said – If Obama wins he’ll turn this country into France.I just chuckled. I love France.

  6. Of course it is racist, isn’t everything that is anti-Obama racist? What I find more amusing though is that Kennicott who acknowledges that G.Bush was depicted as the Joker in Vanity Fair, only needs one sentence to explain why that depiction was legitimate and warranted. But this is the kind of "journalism" I expect from someone who works for the liberal WashPost.

  7. Trust me, there are racial overtunes in the poster and all the town hall meetings. If you don’t see, that’s fine. What you don’t know it, won’t hurt you.

  8. I don’t think there are racist overtones in the poster. At some point, it’s got to get to the point where it’s fair game for a Black man [even a stud like BHO] to be criticized or satirized without somebody getting all racially offended.I think sometimes we cry wolf too much for our own good.

  9. David:Instead of "trusting" you, why don’t you share with us the nuances that your keen eye detects instead of just stating a conclusion and expecting that we will go along with it?

  10. I personally shrugged it off. But there are reasons why artists and protestors use certain images, words, and phrases to clue into a fearful communities psychology. Certainly, there is a racial overtone to this. Just as the initial paragraph stated, the urban makeup of Ledger’s Joker not only speaks to the "idea" of criminality but (if you’ve seen the movie) the Joker is ultimately a character who is out to destroy for destroying sake…no reason. Many white people honestly believe that blacks are a virus on thier communities; in our country. If they didn’t there would not be continued "white flight" from many areas around the country. In another direction when Bush was parodied as The Joker, the overtone was about his sneakiness and ability to outright betray this country. But those qualities are not attached to race and because of that no one looks at all white people as they looked at one individual. The psychology of race and racial stereotypes is very fascinating. Even more so in this country because there are never any HONEST dialogues about race. Often whtie people accuse people of color of being oversensitive. And there are the other issues that play into conversations about race like class, education, gender, and even sexual orientation amongst other things. Because of this there is a need to downplay race simply look at how Obama during the election was biracial, white people reminded me constantly of that. Now he is black. Ohhh he is so black. So yeah, does that poster have overt racial overtones as well as racial undertones, Yes! Should we get Sharpton to march on somebody? No. What needs to happen is for enlightened white folks and enlightened people of color to begin HONEST conversations about race. It will be painful, folks will hear shit that they do not want to hear and people will have to face the worst in themselves. Sorry this is so long. I have so much more to say. But I’m stopping.

  11. i find this concept of an "open and honest dialogue" about race pretty funny. what is going to be said? if white people often guilty of "downplaying race", are black people as often guilty of finding racism in places where it’s not?

  12. i also wonder if people were offended at the shoe throwing incident.I was, because I wondered why that guy wasn’t pumped full of bulletts. I LOATHED Dubya, BTW, but he was President of the United States, and I thought the Secret Service failed him.

  13. I don’t find it offensive. But this is an instance where this is stupid. The other cartoons and obvious insults to the President’s race were very offensive. While this clearly show’s the he is here to harm the public instead of do them any good, I just wonder who is Batman–the man to save the day. Rush, Glenn Beck-yeah right.

  14. @ Swiv"…are black people as often guilty of finding racism in places where it’s not?"You mean, say, at a public pool in Philly? Or in their own home in Cambridge, MA?

  15. well, i dunno about the public pool in philly, but i’d sure put "their own home in cambridge" on that list. gates wasn’t arrested because he was black. he was arrested because he was mouthing off to the cop. that arrest has about as much to do with race as this picture.

  16. Studpoet:I agree with everything you said—-EXCEPT your opinion about the poster. In my opinion, Kennicott’s piece is a typical example of intellectual masturbation. I don’t get why some people think "racial sensitivity" issue is an either/or thing. Blacks HAVE been guilty of unfounded paranoia and oversensitivity, and there IS racism perpetuated by whites to be found. (SInce I started looking at black blogs, my eyes have been opened somewhat—some of the stuff I’ve read about is stuff I wouldn’t have thought still goes on.) What bugs me, "as a white person" (whatever that means…), is that the "crying wolf" stuff desensitizes whites who would otherwise be eager allies against racism. I know there’s the legitimate issue of "You’re white, you wouldn’t understand, and I don’t appreciate being TOLD how to feel." That’s legit. But by the same token, it’s ALSO presumptious to tell whites what THEY meant by something. It’s true that the whole "subconscious racism" element adds an extra dimension to the issue, but I believe that intent is what matters more than anything else.

  17. I didn’t think it was racist. I didn’t get that as his point. I thought the idea of Obama as the Ledger Joker, i.e. an anarchist was his intent. Racism in America is predicated on African Americans having the same status especially economically as whites. An Anarchist wants the destruction of the whole society period.

  18. 2nd Robert M/. It is to show the ultimate destruction of scoiety like what the Joker wanted in the newer Batman movie.

  19. No, I don’t think it’s racist, just stupid and typical of the greedy and self-centered elitists among us. You don’t like a politician who wants to help the poor and lower middle classes do a little better? He’s a socialist. If he thought that the rich should get richer while the poor get poorer — and hopefully die off — like Dubya, what would that make him? A REAL American?!

  20. @ swiv, I’ve yet to understand how people, you included, can state with such conviction why the police officer arrested Gates. NONE of us know what was in his heart and head, but yet you assume anyway that he wasn’t being racist. What evidence do you have to back up that statement? What proof does anyone have to decide either way?

  21. i’m going by what i’ve percieved as facts on the case. you know, the news, the police report, the reason for arrest. i’m not a mind reader or an interpreter. i said the arrest had very little to do with race. i didn’t say anything about the arresting officer. two completely different things. he could very well be racist. or you (no you specific, but a general you) could very well be assuming he is racist because of your own bias and prejudice. none of us know that man from a can of paint, but many people want to burn him at the stake because he arrested a black professor. or was it he arrested a professor who happened to be black. or was it he arrested an arrogant and abrasive SOB who was provoking and berating him. some of those same people put race as a focal point when it had nothing to do with incident. i.e. crying wolf like i said know what i do find funny? everyone expects the cop to take a higher road, but no one every says anything about the citizen (who in this case is an intellectual) who is provoking him. the man has a badge. and a gun. but he’s still human and prone to act out of emotion and anger like the rest of us. maybe sometimes we’re just as much hypocrites as those we talk about.

  22. 1. I think the image is to evoke extreme fear and insanity and anarchy, which is what Heath Ledger’s Joker did. It was crazy. The only thing I could imagine overtly racist in this photo is the red mouth which could remind one of the Black Sambo cartoons. Of the sublte racism, I think it is a stretch. 2. I think it is unfair to scream racism for every criticism lobbed at the current President. However, we are in a weird position in America right now. We have a leader that no one expected to ever have. Everyone has to adjust their sensitivity levels just a bit.3. I despised Pres. W. Bush, but I was offended by the shoe incident too. Admittedly, I would have been even more upset if it was a president I supported. I was uspet, as an American, that our leader was disrespected. Not to mention, the secret service was sleeping on the job. How did that reporter even get the second shoe off without getting shot? (P.S.: I did chuckle a bit because he threw a shoe instead of something more dangers like a knife.)

  23. American politics always has been, and probably always will be, snarkishly nasty. Frankly, things are just getting started. To quote a line from the Old Testament, “If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses?

  24. Well firstly, I never said the cop was racist, I just wondered how do you know he wasn’t. Secondly, how can you speak on the arrest and not the arresting officer? They’re completely linked. Thirdly, the police proved themselves to be liars from jump when they said that the neigbour reported two black men with backpacks were forcing their way into Gates’ home. The tapes proved she never said that, so I would trust the police in this matter as far as I can throw them. The cops state Gates’ was "mouthing off" (as if that’s a reason to arrest someone anyway) and Gates says he was requesting his name and badge number. You, and many people chose to believe the cop, and I was just wondering why. And you didn’t say that the case had "little to do with race" you said this:"Gates wasn’t arrested because he was black. he was arrested because he was mouthing off to the cop. that arrest has about as much to do with race as this picture."Again, alot of people seem to be falling over themselves to give this cop the benefit of the doubt.

  25. a racist doesn’t commit racist acts all the time. who he is is speculation, what he’s done isn’t. just because some loony people want him to be racist to make themselves feel better won’t make him one. just as many people want to paint this man as a racist, or at least not a good cop. in fact, our esteemed president felt the need to have a beer with these two when so many other larger and looming issues are at hand. little, nothing. tomato, tomahto. whatever they reported is irrelevant because it’s not the reason for arrest. according to the police report, he was disorderly and belligerent. according to the report, he continued to follow crowley outside and continued to berate him. many if not most people would get arrested for doing so. being arrested and being charged are two different things.people of color need to accept the fact that white people aren’t the only ones who are capable of being biased and prejudiced. quite possibly like those who also trying to give gates the benefit of the doubt. if falling over = going with official facts, then i would hope everyone would be so in lieu of reacting with emotion and without logic.

  26. The difference between "little" and "nothing" can be paramount, especially in a case like this. It’s impossible to be a little racist, you either are or you aren’t. A racist doesn’t commit racist acts all the time… that’s fine, but then there should just be certain positions and places of power racists should not be allowed to hold. As a police officer, your role is to protect and serve the people, but if your ideology compels you to hate, dominate, subjugate and/or eliminate a segment of that population then we have a problem. This, to me, is why it’s so important that we really keep an open mind about what went on here instead of just picking a side based on so called "official facts". The reality is, there are no "official facts" in this case that can determine this cops’ nature. It’s he said vs. he said, and everyone interprets accordingly. Or lets the media and other parties interpret for them. And in my experience, it has been largely blacks that disregarded Gates’ racial discrimination claim. Oh and don’t bullshit yourself, Obama’s beer summit was a political move.

  27. talk about majoring in minors. being a (or a little) racist and an incident having little (or nothing) to do with race are two different things. it’s a logical fallacy to say they’re the same. your passionate diatribe of course is correct, racist don’t and shouldn’t be in places of blah, blah, blah. ok, so? what does that have to do with this incident? stick to the topic. unless you’re attempting to insinuate that in this instance, the cop acted out of racial malice. plenty of people have kept an open mind. and with my open mind, i’ve come to the conclusion i’ve come to. just because it doesn’t jive with yours (general yours, not specifc), does that make it less open minded? and if so, is that because i’m biased? or is that because you’re biased? or is it both? no one is talking about the cop’s nature. like i said before. none of us know that man from a can of paint. his character is speculation. his actions aren’t. i’ll go by his actions. you (again general, not specific) can speculate with your "mind’s eye."from my experience, and from the general consensus of this blog, and other boards, blacks have vilified the cambridge police department for their actions and have condemned them as racist. so who’s right? we don’t believe you, you need more people. of course beer-gate was political. it was also stupid and silly of him to make judgements without the facts. you know, like many others have done.

  28. Thanks for linking to my article Danielle. I think the debate is an interesting one. I find it interesting that one commenter said that when Bush was portrayed as the Joker it was for one reason, but when Obama is portrayed as the joker, it’s racially motivated. I see what he/she means: Bush being called a monkey is apparently less offensive than calling Obama a monkey. HOWEVER, I actually think that denigrating Bush (even though I really didn’t like the guy at all) is as bad as denigrating Obama – whether the reasons are racially motivated or not. We shouldn’t apply one rule for one and another rule for another because that’s where we start getting into trouble. Just like the N word – I don’t think black people OR white people should use it. It can make it hard for white people to understand why it’s ok to call Bush a monkey (since monkeys mean stupid, primitive etc) and not Obama (since really the meaning is the same: stupid etc although of course there is a different historical context for the usage of the word with black people). As for the shoe throwing incident, I as someone who is anti-Bush found it incredible….and although it was funny in a ‘oh-no-he-didn’t’ way, it is extremely disrespectful to throw shoes at anybody. Kennicot’s piece to me was really taking things a bit far. I found the Joker a pretty sinister character. Clowns generally are… I don’t think a black man as a clown is any scarier than Heath Ledger. But for some, any caricature of Obama inherently has a racial subtext. Hell, people even said the Chia doll with grass growing out of its head was offensive. Apparently, the grass symbolized an afro… (SMH!)

  29. "no one is talking about the cop’s nature."What are you talking about? EVERYONE is talking about the cop’s nature: whether he was racist or not. That’s the point of this entire thing. I see that you’re trying to completely isolate his character/possible prejudices from his action of arresting Gates, but I don’t see how. The arrest does not exist in a vacuum. I appreciate your position, but I still don’t see how you or anyone else can decide the cop arrested Gates for being belligerent or because the cop thought he was being an uppity nigger. He’s not racist because he said so?Also I think my diatribe is very relevant. It makes me nervous the haste many people treat issues of racial discrimination since the declaration of "post racial America".

  30. i’m talking about the cop’s ACTIONs. talk about his nature is useless and pointless because it’s all speculation and conjecture. his ACTIONs aren’t. unless you didn’t see it when i said it, you nor i know that man from a can of paint. we don’t know his history. all we have to go off of is one incident. an all we can do is analyze that one incident. and then SPECULATE on who he is. his nature and his actions could be or couldn’t be related in this instance. all we know are the facts surrounding the arrest. from my standpoint, his actions haven’t proven him to be a racist. unless like others, i’m not one to label someone a racist without proof. and one incident that may or may have not have had race as a motivating factor isn’t what i’d call proof. is he racist because you (general not specific) said so? and if not, are you saying he is because you’re biased and prejudiced? i came to the conclusion because of what i and many people have read. you know, the news, the police report, ect. then i came to in what i view as a logical conclusion. much like the rest of the people who have offered their opinions. your point is only relevant if you’re attempting to bring race as a speaking point in this incident. it’s only relevant if race was actually a motive behind the arrest. and if you are, then undoubtedly you’re attempting to insinuate that crowley is racist.

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