Der Spiegel shpritzed the photo, headline, and fuss around the globe, and the next day, the Taz ran a point/counterpoint from two staffers on this question: “Is ‘Uncle Barack’s Cabin’ racist?” As the lefty daily noted in its intro to this debate of sorts:
Dominic Johnson says “yes,” aptly giving a little history of what “Uncle Tom” has come to mean and concluding, in part:
Using “Uncle Barack” to describe Obama‘s politics is nonsense. And as he is not even descended from slaves but from black Kenyans and white Americans, the literary reference “Uncle Tom” is not even remotely applicable to him — except if one regards it as sufficient that he is also (half) black. In which case the only common point is the colour of his skin and the only common framework a racist stereotype.
“Uncle Barack” is then the equivalent of the neo-conservative slogan “Obama=Osama”, meaning Bin Laden and referring to Barack Obama’s time in Muslim Indonesia and his second name Hussein. “Hussein’s Cave” might have been an apt headline from this angle. Oh, you can’t do that? How interesting. It requires remarkable brainlessness to think of “Uncle Tom” first when looking at the success of a black politician in the United States.
Immediately following is Bernd Pickert‘s “no,” which concludes:
Reducing the political supertalent Barack Obama to being black would indeed be racist. But we would be painting the world too rosy if we pretended that the colour of his skin doesn’t matter in these elections.
After all: What was all the trouble about his former pastor Jeremiah Wright about? The headline combined with the majestic picture of the White House are our way to express that Uncle Tom’s cabin belongs to the past — in the time of uncle Barack everything is different. It is a pity that this could be misunderstood.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 9, 2008