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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guest post: Alex

Hi everyone! My name is Alex, and I blog over at Socially Conscious Student, where I focus on a lens of social injustice and minority discrimination. But I also am really passionate and fairly knowledgeable about modern-day political cartoons; in fact, I have a separate tumblr with 15,000+ followers devoted to just that. So, since Meghana's lens is aesthetics, I'd love to combine some of her previous topics about visual arts and race.

If you live in the United States, your President is Barack Obama. He's African-American. One in five Americans and 52% of Mississippi Republicans think he's Muslim– he's not. Those three facts mean that he is not always a popular figure and has been the target of a lot of racism (such as the birther debate or a chain email depicting the Obama family as chimps, scroll to the bottom to see the picture).

As some of you may remember, this is not the first time where the President's cartoon depiction has been rather unsavory; the New Yorker caused quite a stir in July 2008 when it depicted Obama in a turban and Michelle Obama in an afro and with a machine gun.

Image from

The artist, Barry Blitt, said that the image was supposed to demonstrate how stupid fear-mongering is; standing alone, it seems to fear-monger itself.

I will admit straightaway that my own political cartoons blog is heavily liberal; tumblr users are generally a left-leaning group and I tend to lose followers when I post conservative cartoons. So, just for a day, I decided to head over to Townhall, a conservative site that has a political cartoons section, just so see how the other half lives.

I don't mean to be dramatic, but I found it a tad unsettling.

In my small sample, several cartoons pictured President Obama in uncomfortable black stereotypes. Click on the artists' names to see the original page.

Gary McCoy, 4/25/12

Michael Ramirez, 4/24/12

Chip Bok, 4/25/12

All of these cartoons depict Obama with exaggeratedly large lips and/or ears. In real life, he's not exactly Mickey Mouse.

Yes, it is in the nature of cartoons to overemphasize features, especially unsavory ones. But it's really important to note that this is racially charged. Big lips and big ears are a well-noted stereotype of black people. Andrea Sweets, a collector of racist black memorabilia, owns a 1960s bottle opener with "big ears and two protruding teeth that grab the bottle cap to pop the bottle open." In the same article, a Ferris State University professor notes that stereotypical depictions of black men include "slow-talking, childlike servants, wide-eyed, big-lipped buffoons or menacing, subhuman brutes."

Now, mainstream political cartoonists aren't depicting President Obama as a subhuman brute, nor are most of them attempting to emulate the New Yorker. But there's an important difference between the aforementioned political cartoonists and Bary Blitt. At this outright racist depiction, there was outrage and Blitt apologized. But at this more subtle racism that McCoy, Ramirez, Bok, and undoubtedly others perpetuate, no one says a thing.

Perhaps that's a common theme in the United States now. People think that just because we have a non-white president and no more Jim Crow laws, there's nothing else to do in race relations. But there are still large discrepancies.

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