BAGNews Notes: The Visual Codes Of Racism

BAGNews Notes

The Visual Codes Of Racism

Racism is the American tragedy, and as the current political campaign reminds us, it comes in many shades and colors.

Sometimes it is explicit, as when a Georgia bar owner visually compared Senator Obama to a playful monkey, or more recently when a San Bernadino Republican group distributed Obama Bucks adorned with visual racist stereotypes linking African Americans with watermelon and fried chicken. At other times it is a bit more subtly coded, as when anationally syndicated political pundit emphasizes “blood equity” rather than “race or gender” as a sign of one’s fitness to be president, or when the current housing crisis is blamed on the efforts of ACORN, a “community organizing group,” to facilitate mortgages for “low income groups” and “inner city” residents rather than, say, on those within the financial industry who targeted such communities for subprime loans in the first place.

All forms of racism are troubling, especially for a nation dedicated to social and political equality, but in some respects these more subtly coded versions are all the more pernicious because they operate under a thin veil of interpretive ambiguity that enables such advocates to absolve themselves of the responsibility to acknowledge (let alone to justify) the insidious implications of the views that they espouse.

Consider, for example, this photograph published in an online slide show at the Washington Post this past week. The caption reads:



“Police officers accompanied by police dogs, stand guard near supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama outside a campaign stop of U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain in Sandusky, Ohio.”

A defender of the scene might argue that the photograph clearly marks the tension between “security” and “liberty” that is symptomatic of political culture in a liberal-democratic polity. The pivot point, one might note, is the yellow police line that marks the often tenuous division between public order and chaos. Shot from an oblique angle, the image distances the viewer from easily aligning with either the police officer and dog (the signs of public order) or the Obama supporters (the signs of potential disorder); it thus invites and implies a degree of viewer objectivity that encourages us to treat such tensions as regular and ordinary: protest is legitimate within bounds, but so too is the exercise of state authority, and as long as the two operate in careful equipoise all is well.

But, of course, such an analysis begs the larger question: Why the guard dogs? What is about this particular event that warrants the presence of dogs trained to kill upon command to guard the public welfare against what appear to be peaceful and orderly Obama supporters?

There are no doubt answers to this question that deny any racist implications to the image or the scene it records, but as with those who invoke specific racial stereotypes only to deny any racist implications to their comments, such responses willfully ignore the history and symbols of American racism writ large. And one prominent symbol of that racism has been the use of dogs to manage and control African American populations.

Of course, the presence of a single symbol of racism at one political rally will not, by itself, animate or sustain a culture of racism and racial anxiety—or at least not for very long. The problem is that at some point the accumulation and concatenation of such symbols, explicit and subtle alike, reinforce and eventually naturalize one another. And when that happens it becomes increasingly difficult to resist the power and appeal of their “common sense” pretensions.

The only antidote is to develop the verbal and visual literacy necessary to understand and interpret such codes for what they are and to be guided, in the end, by what Martin Luther King referred to as the “true meaning” of our national creed that “all men are created equal.”

Mojo Blog: A Missing Voice in Ohio

Mojo Blog

A Missing Voice in Ohio

The New York Times notes that the evangelical power broker Reverend Rod Parsley of Ohio does not have his same swagger this year.

Six months ago, Rev. Rod Parsley was one of the more prominent evangelicals to hail Sen. John McCain as a “strong, true, consistent conservative.”

But two days before the election, in a state central to Mr. McCain’s hopes, Rev. Rod Parsley preached to his vast congregation at World Harvest Church of hellfire and “circling in on a fight with the eternal forces of darkness” without ever mentioning Mr. McCain.

The reason is pretty simple. Mother Jones revealed that Parsley, a major megacurch pastor who holds sway over a good number of swing state Ohio voters, leads a not-so-secret life as an intolerant anti-Muslim bigot. In one of his books, he argued that America is at war with Islam:

The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

Mother Jones unearthed video of Parsley making similar statements. He claimed Islam was an “anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world,” adding, “Allah was a demon spirit.”

Talking Points Memo: Republican Mailer In Ohio Targets Wright, Says Obama’s “Friends” Are “Hostile To America”

Talking Points Memo

Republican Mailer In Ohio Targets Wright, Says Obama’s “Friends” Are “Hostile To America” 


The Republican Jewish Coalition — which recently hit Pennsylvania mailboxes with a mailer implying a vote for Obama could produce a second Holocaust — is now hitting Ohio with a wave of incendiary new mailers that directly target his association with Reverend Wright.

“Barack Obama’s friends and advisors: Pro-Palestinian, Anti-Israel, even hostile to America,” reads the mailer, adding that his associates harbor “anti-Israel views” that are “dangerous, naive and reckless.”

A second mailer attacks Obama on Israel with a picture of the Wailing Wall, a holy site whose use in a political attack could prove offensive to many Jews.

Ironically, both mailers, which are presumably targeted to Jewish voters, landed in the Columbus-area mailbox of Cliff Schecter, the author of the anti-McCain book “The Real McCain.” Schecter sent them in to us.

Here’s the Wright mailer, with the Reverend’s photo squarely in the center, above the words “hostile to America” (click on the images to enlarge):


And here’s the Wailing Wall mailer, which hits Obama for supposedly backtracking on his support for an undivided Jerusalem, a claim strongly disputed by the Obama camp:


Media Matters: Cunningham on Obama Sr.: “That’s what black fathers do. They simply leave”

Media Matters

Cunningham on Obama Sr.: “That’s what black fathers do. They simply leave”

On the October 28 broadcast of his Cincinnati-based radio show, Bill Cunningham stated of Sen. Barack Obama’s childhood: “[I]magine at the age of 1 or 2 seeing your father for the last time. See, his father was a typical black father who, right after the birth, left the baby. That’s what black fathers do. They simply leave.”

Cunningham went on to say: “And so he was raised in that environment by a communist mother who hooks up with a guy named Barry Soetoro, who is a radical Muslim, and they quickly fly to Jakarta, Indonesia, which is where Barry Obama was raised as a little boy. And then he was rejected again by his mother at the age of 10 and sent to Honolulu. And that’s all fine, he had nothing to do with it, he was a victim. … But it’s who he is.” In fact, Obama’s stepfather was named Lolo Soetoro, and contrary to Cunningham’s claim that Soetoro was “a radical Muslim,”The New York Times has described him as “a nominal Muslim who hung prayer beads over his bed but enjoyed bacon, which Islam forbids,” and the Chicago Tribune described him as “much more of a free spirit than a devout Muslim.”

Talkers Magazine lists Cunningham among its “Heavy Hundred,” which it describes as the “100 most important radio talk show hosts in America.” Cunningham’s weekend show, Live on Sunday Night, it’s Bill Cunningham, is syndicated nationally by Premiere Radio Networks.

Really Robin: Democrat In Ohio Plays The “Race Card” In Cleveland Legislative Election

Really Robin

Democrat In Ohio Plays The “Race Card” In Cleveland Legislative Election

Wow! Raaaaaaaaaaaaacist!! Listen to what Bob Belovich – Democrat running for the seat, and his wife, Barbara Belovich, have to say about Josh Mendel – Republican, and Iraq War Veteran, who currently holds this position. If you don’t have time to listen to it all, start at about 1:47 or so.

Racist Ohioan Mike Lunsford Hangs Obama Effigy from Noose in Tree

Racist Ohioan Mike Lunsford Hangs Obama Effigy from Noose in Tree

Newsweek: Writes Like She Talks: Fairfield, OH resident displays Obama hanging in effigy, admits racism

Newsweek: Writes Like She Talks

Fairfield, OH resident displays Obama hanging in effigy, admits racism

I’m sorry, Kevin DeWine, but here’s more evidence (with a video too) that there are racists in Ohio who will not vote for someone because they are black. I know – you just don’t want to believe it. I wish I was wrong and you were right. From Mike Lunsford hung the ghost in his yard. He spoke to us off-camera, saying his views could hurt his employers business but he says make no mistake: He doesn’t want an African American running the country. Lunsford says he believes Barack Obama is not a full blooded American. And he says the United States is a white, Christian nation – and only with white Christians should be in power. And the neighbors’ opinion? Vickie Crowe lives next door. She’s an Obama supporter…


National Journal: Conservative Group Evokes 9/11 To Slam Obama

National Journal

Conservative Group Evokes 9/11 To Slam Obama

It’s less than three weeks before Election Day and the economy continues to dominate headlines, propelling Barack Obama‘s gain over John McCain in the polls. What’s a conservative group to do? One PAC is turning to perhaps the only topic that could tear both voters and the media away from the financial crisis: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The National Republican Trust PAC started running an ad, “License(subscription), in Ohio on Thursday that uses images of a burning World Trade Center and hijacking mastermind Mohammad Atta. The spot notes that many of the 9/11 hijackers were able to obtain driver’s licenses and claims that Obama’s support for allowing states to issue licenses to illegal immigrants would endanger the nation’s security.

“Nineteen terrorists infiltrate the U.S.” the ad’s announcer says. “Thirteen get drivers licenses. The 9/11 plot depended on easy-to-get licenses.” Images of Obama and of the smoke- and fire-filled towers follow one of Atta’s face on a Florida driver’s license while the announcer asserts, falsely, that “Obama’s plan gives a license to any illegal who wants one.” The ad goes on to tie its central claim about national security to hot-button issues such as the housing crisis and voter fraud, warning that illegal immigrants with licenses could “get government benefits, a mortgage, board a plane, even illegally vote.”

Media Matters: Cunningham invoked “[s]ix-six-six” and “the beast” in discussing “Barack Hussein Obama”

Media Matters

Cunningham invoked “[s]ix-six-six” and “the beast” in discussing “Barack Hussein Obama”

Stating that 666,000 new voters have registered in Ohio, Bill Cunningham said on October 10: “Six, six, six. The mark of the beast. The great majority, of course, are registered by ACORN. … Who conducted ACORN seminars to tell ACORN employees and others how to cheat the system? Barack Hussein Obama. I may declare him to be the beast. Six, six, six. It could be the end of all days.” On the October 13 edition of Cunningham’s show, a caller said of Obama, “He may be the Antichrist.”

Politico: Conservative judicial group drops Rezko, Ayers and, yes, Wright on Obama


Conservative judicial group drops Rezko, Ayers and, yes, Wright on Obama

conservative Judicial Confirmation Network goes up today with an ad reminding voters in two key states about Obama’s ties to Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.

Representatives for the group say it will be a “$1 million ad and grassroots effort” around the veep debate tomorrow and the opening of the new Supreme Court session Monday.

It will air on networks in the smaller and more inexpensive markets across Ohio and Michigan.   In Ohio, Zanesville, Lima, Toledo, Youngstown, and Wheeling-Steubenville.  In Michigan,  Marquette, Traverse City-Cadillac, Lansing, Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Alpena.  They’re also buying time in Erie, Pennsylvania.