Are Blacks Fair Game For Satire?

At first blush, this seems like an easy question to answer. Shouldn’t we, and other minorities, be treated equally? Isn’t that what the struggle for equality has been all about?

Well, the answer is not so easy and clear-cut. Actually I think the root of the major blow-up this week over the controversial New Yorker cover depicting the Obama’s as America-hating, secret terrorists is that the whites who run the magazine simply don’t understand that you can’t satirize minorities and women in the same way that you do white men. It is a fact, albeit an ironic and unfortunate one, that is lost on the cover artist and many on the left who in their liberal righteousness and intellectually-based thinking don’t seem to understand. Sure, in theory the Obama’s and any minority, should be fair game for such high-minded satire. But here is where intellect-based liberalism blinds so many to plain old common sense.

To satirize the Obama’s the way The New Yorker did, and then to defend it as what they’ve always done, as they say, look at how they’ve skewered the current President Bush and other whites, is to miss the boat entirely. Barack and Michelle Obama have incredibly and deeply intense cultural, racial and even religious bigotry leveled at them. It is a part of their daily life as well as their political campaign and impacts them and everyone that is in the same demographic in a way that no political satire of George Bush ever could.

Satires of people in power, both currently and historically, do not have the same impact, potential and real, that it does on people who historically have been the brunt of very real physical and emotional suffering. When you satire George Bush all white people are not implicated. That has never been part of the language of satire in this country. It is clear that satire about one white man is just that.

But thanks to the history of racism in this country, it is foolish not to realize that a caricature of a Black woman and man (as Barack is perceived and considers himself to be) is also a caricature of every person that looks like them. Equally as important to understanding the broadness of minority satire is understanding that the implied humor or wittiness that is generally inherent in satire is simply impossible when the root of the subject being satirized is based on something so hurtful and a very real reality for a culture of people. Racism and bigotry are not intellectual discussions for Blacks. Easy to laugh and chuckle at such cerebral satire when your life is not impacted by the depiction. Because at the end of the day and at the end of this campaign season, Black men and women, not just Michelle and Barack, will still have to wake up everyday and navigate a world where these images are not a joke but a real perception of who they are.

And that’s just not funny.


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