FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This week's cover of the New Yorker magazine has Senator Obama in a turban giving dab to an AK47-toting Michelle Obama. And that cartoon has gotten people hot. A rural town in central Ohio kept running water from black residents for almost 50 years, and Wal-Mart pulls a racially charged Mexican comic book from the shelves.
These are just some of the headlines we'll explore in today's Bloggers' Roundtable. Joining us, Anthony Bradley, who blogs for the Acton Institute and is a professor at the Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis; K. Tempest Bradford, who blogs at TheAngryBlackWoman.com; And Eric Brown, who blogs for DetroitNews.com. Hi folks, how you doing?
Mr. ANTHONY BRADLEY (Blogger, Acton Institute): Hi there.
Ms. K. TEMPEST BRADFORD (Blogger, TheAngryBlackWoman.com): Hi, Farai.
Mr. ERIC BROWN (Blogger, DetroitNews.com): Hi.
CHIDEYA: So let's go to this New Yorker cartoon. It's famous for its illustrated covers. The July 21st issue features a cartoon of Senator Obama wearing a turban, Michelle sporting an afro, Osama bin Laden smiles from a portrait in the Oval Office and an American flag smolders in the fireplace. To understand what we're talking about, you can see it on our blog, nprnewsandviews.org. And the illustration is by an artist called Barry Blitt. It's called The Politics of Fear. Tempest, the New Yorker is calling this satire, but is this more like throwing gasoline on a fire?
Ms. BRADFORD: Probably. I can sort of see where they would say, well, we're trying to make a point, but just basically from the article they're talking about, you know, these stereotypes that we have, these impressions, these things that we keep hearing in email campaigns, secret email campaigns against Obama, having something like this on the cover is going to be provocative, which I guess they assumed.
But it's also going to at a quick glance give the people who already think that, you know, Obama is a Muslim terrorist and you know the terrorist fist jab and all these stupid things. You know, at first glance people are just going to go, oh well, the New Yorker agrees with me because look what they've put on the cover.
CHIDEYA: Anthony, the Obama campaign has called this cover, quote, "tasteless and offensive". The McCain camp also agrees. The McCain camp agreeing, is that a pro-forma in the sense that this has to be decried by the white candidate in a race with a black man? That's interesting politics.
Mr. BRADLEY: Well, of course McCain is going to say that it's egregious that something like this happened. One has to wonder, however. When I first saw the cover, I wondered if the illustrator had been forwarded some cash by the McCain camp, because this is exactly the type of image that the McCain camp for the last number of weeks and months has wanted America to see in terms of assessing Obama.
CHIDEYA: That's a pretty strong allegation.
Mr. BRADLEY: Well, it is a strong allegation. But I understand the nastiness of American politics. And I wouldn't be surprised necessarily if the illustrator in his own naiveté may have made a big mistake. But I'm also not certain that some in the McCain camp aren't sort of secretly cheering that this cover is published.
CHIDEYA: Eric, we have heard time and time again about the statistics about a fairly significant percentage of Americans, and it goes up and down, but we're talking double digits, who actually think Senator Obama is Muslim. And the dynamics of whether or not by kind of defending against that, Senator Obama himself seems anti-Muslim. What's the road that the Obama campaign has to take with this?
Mr. BROWN: Well, the one road they have to take is the same road they always take, is to not comment on such stupid crap like this. Because it's interesting that they call this the politics of fear, but what they are actually doing is perpetuating the ignorance that so many people have with regards to him. So he's taken a high road up to now. He needs to continue to take the high road. Because sometimes when you respond to it, you come across and then it will be easily able to portray him as an angry black male. So just continue to take the high road. That's one of the things that has really gotten a lot of people to endorse and/or support Senator Obama because he takes a higher road.
Look what happened all during the primaries. He didn't respond to a lot of crap that was going on with the Clintons in their camp. He took the higher road. He has to do it now.
CHIDEYA: Eric, I'm going to transition us - I'm going to stay with you - transition us to another topic. Now, we take water for granted. Most of us. We like turning on the tap, brushing the teeth, taking a shower. But a mostly black neighborhood in rural Ohio didn't have running water for almost 50 years. Just last week, a federal court ruled that the town of Zanesville discriminated against the residents and awarded 67 plaintiffs a sum of 11 million dollars. Now, from 1956 to 2003, the residents didn't' have public water lines. They had to dig wells, collect rain water. They paid to have these things done, that's how they drank, cooked and bathed since the '50s. And, you know, what do you make of this story? Is it justice served?
Mr. BROWN: Well, it's definitely not justice served for someone to receive a (unintelligible) of 15,000 dollars. But one of the most amazing things about the whole article, there was a 47-year-old woman that stated that as a child she thought this was normal. And it was actually 47 years that this town had no running water. So throughout her whole life, she thought this was normal. She did not realize until she was an adult that it was not. And that speaks to the whole issue of what this about.
I mean, it's sad that, you know, you try and look back and say, wow, things such as racism still exist, and we all know it still exists. But to this extent and it still goes on, it just, you know, one of shake your head moments. It's unfortunate, and, you know, there's not enough money in the world that can assist these people to have had gone through something like this for 47 years or more. This Cynthia Hale Harrison (ph), her whole life this is what she had to live through.
CHIDEYA: Anthony, oil. Obviously extremely expensive. Some people think water is going to be the next big commodity. You saw drought in Georgia. You've seen some rationing of water at different times in the U.S. Do you think - this is a completely different perspective - but do you think in a way more people will begin to look at an option of trying to have their own water supply? This does not mean that the people in Ohio got a fair deal, but in a weird way does it just sort of bring up the issue of what it means to have access to water?
Mr. BRADLEY: It does, because it reminds us that there is passive structural discrimination in our nation's history at the hands of government, and maybe perhaps it might be more useful for some communities to bypass government altogether and find private mechanisms and private means to meet their needs. Those resources are there, but this dependence on government isn't always helpful. And we see this in the case for this poor town in Ohio.
CHIDEYA: We've got to just touch on another topic. And Tempest, to keep it real short, there's a character called Memin Pinguin, very popular in some parts of Mexico. Dark-skinned boy, heavy lips, bulging eyes. The Mexican postal service issued a series of stamps, they sold out. This was back in 2005. Now, he is listed in his books as - children's books - as making a run for president. Some people compare him to Little Black Sambo. Wal-Mart carried the comic books and then had to yank them. Was that a good move?
Ms. BRADFORD: Well, it - I guess it was a good move just in terms of because the community complained and because these images are seen as stereotypically, you know, racist images. It's good that Wal-Mart responded. I think that they probably didn't respond in text as well as they could have in the statement that they issued.
But on the subject of the comic book in general, I feel that it's a problem that this was pulled because of this image without any sort of context for the image. Now, obviously there's no context that could make a racist image any better, but from what I know of this comic, it seems to take on the issues of race and class in such a way that the depiction of the character itself is a statement. And I think that's important. But you can't always get that across to people on, you know, a shelf in a store. They walk past the display, they see a book with a racist image that very naturally makes them upset.
CHIDEYA: Quickly - we're going to go to a break in a second - but Little Black Sambo itself has made a resurgence in America. Do you think this is part of people getting a little too comfortable with some aspects of stereotyping?
Ms. BRADFORD: Oh, definitely. Very much. We had talked a few months ago about the people showing up to Halloween parties in black face. And that right there is just not acceptable. Basically, it is when the images are used in a way that does not have anything to do - does not acknowledge the history of them. At the very least, this image does acknowledge the history of the Sambo stereotype look.
CHIDEYA: All right. We're going to have to go take a break. Stay with us. And next on News & Notes, we've got more from our Bloggers' Round Table.
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CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes. We're back with our Bloggers' Roundtable. Got Anthony Bradley, who blogs for the Acton Institute and is a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. K. Tempest Bradford, who blogs at TheAngryBlackWoman.com. And Eric Brown, who blogs for DetroitNews.com. I'm going to just jump in to our last topic. It's Memin Pinguin, a dark-skinned boy with heavy lips and bulging eyes, a cartoon character. Now, children's books with this character are being sold in the United States, or they were at Wal-Mart until protestors got the comic book removed.
That alone to me is interesting, Eric. It says a lot about the changing demographics of America and how things that are cultural touchstones - and this is beloved by many people from what I understand in Mexico - and now it's crossed over. You've got a large Mexican-American population that stretches from coast to coast, north to south. Can we expect more of these multicultural static moments in the future?
Mr. BROWN: Yeah, they will always be around. Because what's going to happen is you're going to have the cultures that are new to America - or not just new, but becoming more prevalent in America - to press upon us to have to accept what their culture is. And this is exactly what happened with this character here. It's popular down in Mexico, you have a large percentage of Mexicans here in America. So Wal-Mart thought they were doing a good thing by marketing something that their consumer base can relate to, forgetting about the fact that it's offensive to a lot of people.
So say for instance we get a great influx of people from Turkey coming to America, and there may be something over there that is discriminatory to us, but not to them. Might be a folk hero to them. So they're going to, you know, push that upon us and have us to accept it. But at the same time, the people that protested about this, they did the right thing. And in that sense, now Wal-Mart has decided to remove it from their shelves. But they should have been sensitive enough to know that it was wrong to begin with. You know, the company has to be aware of what's stereotypical and wrong as well.
CHIDEYA: At the same time, if it's a brisk seller, it seems appealing.
MR. BROWN: True. But what's the majority of - I mean I see your point, but on the same token, if you're going to have people that are going to say that this can't be, I'd rather get it off my shelf that have protestors out in front of my store, because those protesters will prevent people from coming into your store. So you have to weigh the pros and cons of the situation.
CHIDEYA: Anthony, I'm going to move on to our final topic. The three surviving children of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King are duking it out in court. Bernice King and Martin Luther King III - who we spoke with recently, but not about this - are suing Dexter King - they're all siblings - and they say Dexter took substantial funds from the family estate for personal use.
Dexter splits his time between Atlanta and Malibu, California. He has allegedly refused to tell his siblings what he is up to with the money. He is the president of King, Incorporated. Bernice and Martin III are shareholders. And in 2006, the King estate, which controls the use of the image of Reverend King, sold a private collection of his papers estimated at about 30 million dollars. This story was reported on TMZ, the celebrity gossip site, under the headline "MLK's Bad Dream." Anthony, what do you think this says about the legacy of one of the greatest families in the civil rights movement?
Mr. BRADLEY: It's actually sadly tragic that this is being displayed in public. It's also not anything we should be surprised about. I mean, there are lots of wealthy families that have huge estates that enter into sibling rivalries and all sorts of really sad conflicts once the parents are dead. I think what's most troubling about the situation is that Bernice and Martin III have been kept out of the transactions that Dexter has been engaging in, even though they've asked him for those records and he has refused to give them the information. And they're shareholders in the corporation, and they deserve to know exactly what he's up to.
And so what's most tragic is that there is a lack of communication between these siblings, and it sadly reminds us of the legacy when you mix money and power and family. It can get quite ugly.
CHIDEYA: Tempest, shortly after the death of Coretta Scott King in January of 2006, Dexter King started a little bit of talk about selling the King Center to the federal government, and Bernice and Martin Luther III refused. Do you think they might have actually been better off if they collectively gave away control of this entity?
Ms. BRADFORD: I'm not so sure of that, only because just looking at the history of civil rights and the civil rights struggle, you know, down through time, as related to the Kings and also to, just in general, it seems as though giving away that, that control wouldn't have resulted in some of the watering down that we all often see in, you know, talk about, you know, where the civil rights struggle has gone and how much it's achieved its goals and things like this. So I'm more in favor of keeping things close and keeping things in control, because once you give it away, you know, anything can happen. Any falsehood can slip in, anything can be elided over.
CHIDEYA: Eric, there's been some fairly dramatic fireworks in another civil rights family, Reverend Jesse Jackson of course made certain remarks about Barack Obama that got him in hot water. Now, an activist in Los Angeles is calling him out as an absentee father to the 10-year-old daughter who's a result of an affair that he had. And it's quite snippy, you can see it on our website. First of all, is it fair game to talk about that? And secondly, does it tarnish the collective reputation of the civil rights movement to see that some of the families in their second generation are having so much trouble?
Mr. BROWN: I don't think it tarnishes the civil rights movement, but one thing that the activists in L.A. have done is shown how careful you have to be when you make derogatory comments about someone. If you have skeletons in your own closet, they will always come back to haunt you, and this is a perfect example. What he said about Senator Obama was ridiculous, but you can't make stupid things or say stupid things and not expect someone to come out and attack you for you having the nerve to say something so stupid.
I mean, he should have known better. I mean, a lot of people think that he knew the mike was on, he orchestrated the situation last week - that's neither here nor there, bottom line, he should never have opened his mouth to say something so terrible about another black man that will probably be the first president that is an American-African descent in this country and probably the last. So this moment is probably being more tarnished more so than the legacy of the civil rights movement.
CHIDEYA: All right, before we wrap this up. Why do you say - many people are saying he could be the first black president, but why are you saying that he would probably be the last?
Mr. BROWN: Why do I say he will probably be the last? Because I think that his candidacy has been such a movement, as such, that it would take another person of color to do something even more phenomenal than he has done this far. And you still have a lot of people that are hanging on him, people that look like him, people of other races, that some people are like, wow, I never thought he would get to this point. And if he does get to this point, we just live in a country that people are so vindictive, they will do whatever they can to see that that doesn't happen again.
CHIDEYA: All right, guys, thank you so much.
Ms. BRADFORD: Thanks, Farai.
Mr. BROWN: Thanks.
Mr. BRADLEY: Thanks.
CHIDEYA: We were talking to our bloggers, Anthony Bradley who blogs for the Acton Institute and is a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, he joined us from the studios of KWMU in St. Louis. K. Tempest Bradford, who blogs at TheAngryBlackWoman.com and Eric Brown, who blogs for Detroit News.com