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Critics of New Yorker Cover Ignore Depth and Substance of Racism


You may not have read the recent issue of The New Yorker Magazine. But you probably have heard about or seen the magazine's cover which depicts Presidential candidate Barack Obama in a turban and his wife sporting a 1960's militant-style Afro look with combat boots and a machine gun.

The cover was denounced as "tasteless" by nearly everyone, including Obama's challenger, John McCain. The cover is clearly tasteless. Pundits quickly weighed in on whether the cover represented "satire," as the magazine editors asserted, or was just plain "stupid."

The focus has been entirely on how Obama has been portrayed in a racist manner.

But no one in the mainstream media looked at the cover as racist on its face, exploiting a stereotype that is only denounced when it is wrapped around a popular presidential candidate and a minority, African American, that have traditionally been the targets of vicious and violent racism.

The tragic truth of the hypocrisy of American society and its narrowly defined perceptions of racism is that if that cover had depicted any Middle Eastern potentate, activist or leader, it would have barely made a blip on the media radar screen.

What makes it racism in America today is that it is used to target someone who is off-limits by American society. In fact, it should be racist on its face without or without any mention, presence or inclusion of the debate over whether or not Obama is a "Muslim," or whether his wife represents a long gone but not forgotten image of how White's despite Blacks.

Even more tragic is how easily African American pundits jumped on the bandwagon, denouncing the characterizations of Obama in such a way. Yet, many of these same pundits have been silent about the ongoing, uninterrupted hate-mongering by their own colleagues in the press about Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners.

Although the ancestors of African American faced a vicious racist hatred in this country that has gone behind closed doors of a conscious American public, Arab Americans, Muslims and Middle Easterners have been constant victims of the racism.

The difference is that when a Black is attacked in such a vicious racist manner, there are scores of organizations and leaders who will stand up and confront the hatred. A price is paid for crossing the line when assaulting Blacks and even other minorities such as those defined by the hypocritical journalism organization called UNITY: Journalists of Color, which also include Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics.

Just look at the outcry to comedian Michael Richards when he used the "n" word on a comedy stage. The response to the repetitive racism of Don Imus. The assault on the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. And now, the bludgeoning of The New Yorker Magazine.

But when the victims of the racism are Arab, there are few voices, no organizations, no institutions and no real watchdog groups that speak out.

No one threatened to lynch me when I was growing up but in the weeks after Sept. 11, 14 people who "looked Middle Eastern" were murdered in suspicious circumstances and no one bothered to even raise the question, seriously, about whether those deaths were the result of racist hate crimes in this country.

Blacks see Arabs and Muslims as White and White's see us as Black. I remember traveling to Evergreen Park when I was 14 years old to meet friends when a man came out of his front door and screamed, "I didn't move into the suburbs so you n-----s could come into this community."

I looked around wondering who he was screaming at until he grabbed me by my collar and dragged me to the bus stop on 95th Street cussing and swearing and flaying me about. He put me on the bus and told me never to come back to "his" neighborhood.

The problem was, my neighborhood was in the other direction.

It turns out the man was a police commander in that community. When my mother complained, the Evergreen Park police department scoffed at her and told her to go complain to the "NAACP."

Well, the NAACP didn't defend the rights of Arab and Muslim victims of racism. And neither did any other city or state agency. And they still don't.

Part of the problem is the minority media itself, which has achieved so much as a result of the narrowly-focused American Civil Rights movement.

Arab journalists of "Olive Color" have sought to be recognized by UNITY but we have been pandered to with token panels and our demands to be included have gone unanswered. Arab American journalists can't seem to get sympathy from the "recognized" journalists of color who are guaranteed jobs in the mainstream news media. The majority are shut outside, the columns rejected, and their concerns marginalized and ignored.

One courageous journalist, Filipino columnist Emil Guillermo of Asian Week had the courage to write about the Arab American demands on UNITY. But his observations have been brushed aside by mainstream "journalists."

Arab journalists, no matter how high they achieve in the journalism profession, are easily brushed aside with ad hominem personal attacks when the targets of the charges of racism turn out to be minority journalists of color.

I didn't like the cover of The New Yorker Magazine. But not solely because the targets on it were Barack and Michelle Obama.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author and managing editor of the Arab American Writers Syndicate. He can be reached at www.TheMediaOasis.com and by email at rayhanania@comcast.net.)

Follow Ray Hanania on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rayhanania