on the New Yorker Political Cartoon


You can’t make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.
Art Buchwald

(White) liberal outrage is sometimes very amusing.  When outrage around race happens, I generally think of that great line from Romeo & Juliet:

Methinks thou doth protest too much.

Nothing is more scary to a white liberal than to think that someone might discover they hold racist views.  Because they live in this constant state of fear and guilt, they tend to be outraged to the Nth degree around all issues of race, such that we now live in a nation that has a very truncated (flat even) understanding of race and how it works.

Ta-Nehisi Coates deftly explains why this political cartoon doesn’t work as satire.

What he doesn’t say, I try to explain in a couple of comments I left on the post.  Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, here are those comments:

I’d be willing to bet that The New Yorker thinks the cartoon works because they don’t really think anyone thinks this. They believe this is exaggeration. To that point, is it satire if it only works for some of the population? Because, I’m with you. But a number of my white liberal friends do see this as an exaggeration. It raises the question of what racism looks like to white liberals. I often think that they think of it like a hangnail when black folks think of it more like having the whole damn nail ripped off your finger.


I do think it’s an exaggeration. But I don’t think it goes far enough to be rightly considered satire, as Coates says eloquently in his post. That said, the reason I think that it doesn’t go far enough is because I do think there are people out there that think this way. I think that the bulk of white folks who are opposed to Obama (in this case, the Obamas) are opposed because their abundant lack of knowledge of who black people are scares the shit out of them. They truly believe, or fear more specifically, that we are so different from them as to be un-American. And yes, pro-black assertive black women are pretty much gun-toting lunatics in their mind because they assume to be pro-black is to be anti-white, or more pointedly, “kill whitey.” Blackness in the white imagination is so exaggerated that I think it’s hard to satirize it. I also think a simplistic reading by white liberals and some black folks generates the kind of mock outrage that we are experiencing now, where everyone is “angry” and by being “angry” they distance themselves from the image, as if to say…”I’m not racist.” This kind of defeats the purpose of satire, which is supposed to make you think about it’s implicit truths. I think on that score, the image doesn’t work. I think satirizing race is hard because we collectively have such a one-dimensional, elementary understanding of how it works.

Oh, one mo’:

I just don’t think it’s exaggerated enough to communicate it’s point (which I think is muddled anyway…does it condemn? does it show the absurdity?) I think white liberals think it works because they think that those who have been propogating such images and ideas about the Obamas are just “playing politics.” I don’t think white liberals, particularly the establishment left, have any real concept of how realistic these images might actually seem to the very people they say they are satirizing. That is why I think it fails. To do satire well, you have to know your subject. Otherwise, you wind up re-inscribing what you are satirizing (not the case here) or missing the target (the case here). There are few things white liberals know less about than race.

What is frustrating about this election is that it shows how far we still have to go on issues of race.  I think when your first candidate of color is multiracial that says a lot.  It automatically changes the dynamic because the black/white paradigm is problematized in ways that make all of us struggle to talk concretely and eloquently about an issue we have never talked about before.  That necessarily creates tension and fear.

The image fails because it demonstrates the central problem with white liberalism: a pervasive, almost naive, underestimation of how racist most White Americans are and how that racism works.  Because white liberals live in a different world from white racists (and yes, there is overlap there, clearly) and both live in a different world from peoples of color…how then do you satirize something like race?

I don’t know that you can, or rather, that one can assume that this kind of satire works the same for everyone.

About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.
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2 Responses to on the New Yorker Political Cartoon

  1. My knee jerk reaction to the cover, “Michelle doesn’t have natural hair” as I wasoutraged by the kinky-haired caricature (sisters and our hair issues).
    But seriously, race remains the elephant in the room and we “negros” just need to move on, right? I imagine white folks aside northeast “pseudo-intellectual” bubble are saying “see, even the liberals are afraid of this terrorist”
    Simply put, this cover was very offensive and shame on the New Yorker, for exposing the liberal patronizing approach to race relations

  2. Tyler says:

    Oh I don’t dispute that the cover is offensive. I just am suspicious of the outrage from the liberal left. That’s all.

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