Wednesday, 01 December 2010 16:38

Should Obama Cartoon In Louisiana Senate Raise Race Rage?

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A computer blunder by a staff member of the Louisiana Senate shows the degree of intolerance expressed by some members of that body when it comes to critically appraising the sophistication and veracity of their political worldviews.

A woman in the employ of the Senate sent via e-mail message a cartoonshowing Democrat Pres. Barack Obama, whose racial ancestry is half white, half black but who identifies himself as black, with light skin, blue eyes and a different hairstyle and is captioned, “Do you like him any better now? No? Me neither ..... Then you're not a racist.” It apparently went to addresses of every state Capitol worker by mistake.


Of course it is a waste of taxpayer resources to send such material so unconnected to the actual business of government work using a state account, and some punishment should be meted out for that. But some legislators imply they want more than a routine reprimand, which was assured when the staffer was suspended without pay. {sidebar id=4}


Yet most interesting was the reaction of some black Democrats in the Legislature when discovering the cartoon. “This is not funny at all and I think it should not have been sent over a public e-mail system,” wrote state Sen. Ed Murray. “This is NO where near funny!!! This is very offensive,” said state Rep. Regina Barrow. “Those of us who responded were not very pleased and were very disappointed that it was sent at all. It's not taken lightly, I can tell you that,” observed state Rep. Pat Smith, now head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.


Murray was correct on one matter, that it shouldn’t have been sent using state resources, but whether he felt that way because it was a waste of state resources he didn’t say. And, in a way, it’s understandable why he nor Barrow didn’t think it was funny, and Smith said responders weren’t pleased at it.


But to comprehend that, we have to get at why Barrow thought it was “offensive,” because in analyzing its message it had the potential to offend only a select, small group of individuals. The basis of humor is to illuminate a tension between what is generally asserted and an event that contradicts that perception of reality. A response such as laughter is the resolution of that tension by the ability of the receiver of the information to perceive the consistency that on the surface seems contradictory.


In this instance, the contradiction comes in that we know Obama is darker-skinned, brown-eyed, and has black hair, but is presented differently. We resolve the contradiction by understanding that the racial features of Obama, despite their unalterable nature in the physical world, are altered here as a larger metaphor for those narrow-minded people in the world that insist upon seeing racial motives, because they view everything through the lens of race, behind actions that none of extant evidence, logic, nor propriety would suggest have anything to do with prejudicial feelings about different ethnic groups.


In other words, the cartoon makes fun not of people of any particular race, but satirizes those who inappropriately use race as an excuse to form bigoted attitudes about the motivations of other people, in this case illuminating the feelings of those who claim that opposition to Obama and his policies is due to some kind of resentment about his race. The claimthat a non-trivial proportion of Americans, presumably whites, mainly or solely oppose Obama because of his race, along with the fictionthat he has trouble communicating ideas to the public, have emerged as persistent narratives among many liberals and Democrats with prodigious assistance from their media allies. In fact, as extensive exit pollingfrom the midterm 2010 elections which are regarded as a rebuke to Obama and his agenda indicates, widespread opposition of him comes from the majority belief that his agenda is contrary to enhancing the life prospects of all Americans and is detrimental to the country as a whole.


Thus, probably the real nature of the offense Barrow and her ilk see is that the cartoon makes fun of them if they believe that narrative because they believe it. It points out the hypocrisy of such a view: it is not race that matters to almost all opponents of Obama, yet it certainly does to those of his supporters who seek to define their opponents attitudinally with that very insistence of seeing everything, no matter how far that deviates from the real world, through the prism of race, and they seem to do so oblivious to their own prejudices.


Naturally, when you’re the butt of the joke, not only is it hard to see the humor in it, but also it probably does make you mad. And if that’s why at least some black Louisiana legislators see the cartoon as unfunny and offensive, neither of those are appropriate psychological responses to it  as instead they should reflect upon their own attitudes that cause them to react that way.


Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport; his views are his own. He received his Ph.D. at the University of New Orleans and has observed state politics for over 25 years. You may contact him at [email protected], read his daily commentary “Between the Lines” at, and his “Louisiana Legislature Log” at, and follow these commentaries at Twitter by following “jeffsadow.”


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