Cartooning Obama

Right off the bat, I want to say that I'm not accusing contemporary political cartoonists of creating racist depictions of Barack Obama. But I do wonder, is that tough to avoid? Political cartoons typically accentuate the subject's features in unflattering ways. They're caricatures. Remember George W. Bush's enlarged ears? The problem is that, with the nation's first African-American President, cartoonists have to avoid a whole history of racist cartooning. They have to simultaneously do what they've always done, which is make fun of the most powerful person in the world, but without referencing a racist visual history.

Consider this racist cartoon:

a racist political cartoon

(Image from the Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum)

That's probably a scary referent to have in the cartoon history books if you're an editorial cartoonist working today. I'd be curious to hear what others have noticed on this dilemma, but it seems to me that most cartoonists are simply emphasizing Obama's skinniness and height, so as to avoid any of the racist references. But then there are some cartoons, like this one, that seem to be flirting with the historical racist images:

Obama the plumber cartoon


Then this happened...

Your post turned out to be prescient, Nate: on Wed. the New York Post published a cartoon about the stimulus bill that has been widely interpreted as offensive and racist. Although it does not depict Barack Obama directly, the simian image in the cartoon, along with the caption connecting the chimp with the "author of the stimulus bill," have been seen to refer to President Obama. You can see it (and read about it) in this article on the Huffington Post as well as this article at

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