Horrific Racist/Homophobic Obama Portrayal by N.C.'s John Locke Foundation Blog Opens Deep Wounds

It was just another day of blogging for Tara Servatius, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill's prestigious journalism program. Servatius, whose credits include Charlotte's 'Creative Loafing' weekly as well as popular radio gigs, was skimming the web for material that would entice readers of "Meck Deck," a blog of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative N.C. think tank.

Servatius wanted to bring attention to President Obama’s decision to oppose a proposed N.C. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. And she hit upon the perfect image: a digitally manipulated photo which depicted America's first black president in drag, wrapped in chains and wearing high heels, a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken perched between his knees.

Given North Carolina's long and troubling history not only with racism in general, but racist imagery in the press and political campaigns specifically, you would think that someone like Servatius would have known better. In her journalism class at UNC, she no doubt learned about the horrible episode of 1898, when the Raleigh News & Observer ran cartoons created by Norman Jennett that caricatured blacks, including one that depicted a black man as a threatening vampire with the caption "Negro Rule" emblazoned on his wings. The cartoons were meant to alert North Carolinians of the dangers of black empowerment in the Jim Crow South.

Later, as technology evolved, the state's racist politicians took to doctoring photos in ways that sent clear visual messages meant to incite voters' worst instincts. Other times, no doctoring was necessary to drive home the point. Witness Jesse Helms' infamous "White Hands" commercial, which showed a white job seeker crumpling a rejection letter indicating that he had been passed over due to affirmative action. At the time (1990), Helms was running against Harvey Gantt, the black mayor of Charlotte, for the U.S. Senate. In a subsequent race against Gantt in 1996, on which I worked as a media consultant, Helms' racist message had been played out, so his campaign turned to ginning up homophobia, constantly accusing Gantt of having a sinister "radical homosexual agenda." 

But Ms. Servatius would like us to believe that she knows nothing of this past. In defense of her blog, she had the audacity to give this statement: "I didn’t think about the racial implications of the picture when I posted it. I simply don’t think in those terms."  On her Facebook page, she sullenly acknowledges upsetting "the liberal establishment" in that way that is supposed to make everyone who does not identify that way congratulate her. A brief glance through her Twitter feed suggests that racism is very much a part of Ms. Servatius's consciousness, including a lament that sounds very much like Jennett's 1898 warning to whites of increasing black power. She recently tweeted:  "Just Like Atlanta: Charlotte Now an African-American, Democrat-Run City, Chamber, Banks, Uptown Elites Lose Control ."

As a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, I can tell you that racism runs deep in the state, and that the idea of a member of the press using such incendiary images without intending to tap into intolerant beliefs is beyond ridiculous. Even Servatius's boss at the John Locke Foundation, certainly not part of the liberal establishment, condemned her actions and publicly stated that he would have fired Servatius for posting the offensive material if she had not taken it upon herself to resign first. But before we imagine that the John Locke Foundation has suddenly discovered equality, let's remember that the organization is funded by one Art Pope, a right-wing multi-millionaire known as the "Knight of the Right," whose enthusiams, outlined in a recent New Yorker story, include re-segregating the Wake County public school system, which happens to be the system I grew up attending.

Tara Servatius has done a disservice to journalism, and she has a long way to go before anyone should ever give her a job in that field. But no doubt some right-wing radio producer is just now rubbing together his hands in glee, certain that a female Rush Limbaugh has just entered the stage.

AlterNet / By Lynn Stuart Parramore

Posted at March 23, 2012, 4:52am

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