Before I begin this post, let me apologize for the editorial cartoon that I am posting in it. This post is about the cartoon, and so the image must be posted; that said, I am so disgusted by the image that I am uncomfortable putting it ahead of this disclaimer.
Quite simply, this political cartoon is vile. It is racist. It is sexist. It may be triggering. It is indefensible. And it is everything that is wrong with the right today. I am sorry I am showing it to you, but I think that it needs to be distributed. People need to actually see what passes for discussion on the right — and why the plaintive pleas that the tea party movement is totally not racist are, flatly, lies.
All right. Here is the image. If you do not wish to see it, please, click away now.
For the image viewing impaired, a description: Lady Liberty sits on a bed in the background, half-dressed, apparently having been raped. In the foreground, Barack Obama pulls a shirt on, and says, “Oh, shut up and stop your whining. You gave all the consent I’ll ever need Nov 2008. [sic] Get yourself cleaned up. I’ll be back — CapNTrade, Immigration, whatever. And I’ll bring ‘friends.’”
This political cartoon by Darleen Click appeared on the website Protein Wisdom — a long-standing cesspool of the right. Obama, of course, is depicted as a rapist, having defiled America by forcing health care on us — and now, he’s threatening to come back to gang-rape America some more.
The image is troubling on two fronts. First, portraying Obama as a rapist is playing on a trope as old as slavery — that African American men are lying in wait to defile good, white women. Lynching became acceptable in the South because it was done in “defense” of whites who wanted to keep their race “pure.” The myth of black sexual aggression and the poor white women who were forced to live in fear of it has been passed down from generation to generation — and it still endures to this day, though we’ve stopped lynching and instead moved on to telling women not to go out alone in the “bad” part of town.
There is, quite simply, no way to portray Obama as a rapist that does not play into this trope; just like drawing Obama as a chimpanzee, the image is ipso facto racist; nobody with the slightest understanding of the troubled history of American race relations would even consider drawing it without understanding that.
The fact that you and I understand this, of course, makes us the real racists; Click herself thinks she was totally justified. In a postscript to the cartoon, she lashes out at critics:
Oh I know I’m going to get called names on this. But I’m not going to play that game anymore. Like the sign at one of the TEA parties that said “it doesn’t matter what this sign says, you going to call it racist anyway.” When even the lawsuits now being brought by 30 plus state AG’s is considered racist, it is time to stop playing that game.
Heck, I want to shake them up. This is supposed to be a post-racial era? Then deal with the fact that the President of the United States is the head of a gang that just raped our American principles.
I made it a cartoon and not a photoshop and the “woman” is green. Deal, people.
This is not, of course, a post-racial era; only conservatives would think it was. But the idea that Liberty Enlightening the World is a racially neutral figure is absurd. And frankly, even if the Franco-American statue can somehow be depicted as non-white, it doesn’t change the fact that the trope of African American male sexual aggression is about the oppression of African American males1 far more than the victims they purportedly choose.
So the portrayal of Obama as the leader of a gang of rapists is offensive enough. What’s equally offensive, however, is something Click never even bothers to mention in her defensive diatribe — the fact that the cartoon is also offensive to anyone who’s been a victim of sexual assault.
I have, thankfully, never been a victim of sexual assault, but I’ve met my share of survivors, read their stories and done my best, as a compassionate human, to understand what the attacks have done to them, and to work as an ally to make sure that I stand against those who would minimize those attacks.
I cannot speak for anyone who’s suffered through the process of dealing with assault, but I’ve yet to see anyone who’s dealt first-hand with the issue see it as a metaphor to be drug out to describe political events. It’s far too personal for that. It’s like describing a zoning decision as a Holocaust — it’s just too big to be a metaphor.
Using something like health care reform to claim that Obama is raping America is simply ignoring what rape really is. Hell, George W. Bush tortured people and sought to extrajudicially wire-tap Americans — acts far less in keeping with the spirit of American democracy than adding health coverage — and I wouldn’t use the word rape to describe those actions, because damn it, I don’t have the right to.
Click doesn’t even note this, of course — she simply portrays America as a woman who’s been raped, and is going to be gang-raped, and can do nothing about it.
There is far more to pick apart in this cartoon than I can; SEK at Lawyers, Guns & Money noted that it’s deeply ironic that Obama is evidently planning to rape the Statue of Liberty with immigration reform, and I can’t disagree there. And I haven’t even commented on the drawing as an aesthetic piece; I believe it could best be described as “horrible.”
But compared to the graver sins of the piece — vile racism and blatant sexism — they pale. Darleen Click has managed to, in a short cartoon, prove once again that the tea party types are exactly who we thought they were.
- Of course, it’s also about deep-seated white guilt over the rape of African American women; the history of that is well-documented, and includes American figures from Thomas Jefferson to Strom Thurmond. [↩]