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Racist Humor or Just Racism at the New Yorker?

Remnick’s Latest Blunder

by ISHMAEL REED

Undoubtedly, David Remnick is a good editor, but he sometimes exercises poor judgement. He says that we met while I taught at the University of California at Berkeley. I don’t remember. I first noticed him when he wrote a review of one of my novels, ”The Terrible Twos," for The Washington Post. In it, he cited a typo that appeared in the uncorrected galleys to condemn the book.

For his book about Muhammad Ali, ”The King of the World, "he received the now defunct Don Imus American Book Award. Rather than reject the prize as a protest against Don Imus’ history of Anti-Semitic tirades, he accepted the award, and when he appeared on the Imus show, the host and his co-horts ridiculed him. Ironically,  The New Yorker is a magazine that denounced Minister Louis Farrakhan as an anti-Semite. Maestro Michael Morgan of the Oakland Symphony, who conducted violinist Farrakhan in a performance of one of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto – he said that he wanted to make up in music what he could not say in words- told me that Farrakhan cooperates with local Rabbis to keep their neighborhood crime free, and for years has had a Jewish woman give him violin lessons. Maybe the minister should establish a book award and give one to Remnick.

When Jane Mayer, one of Remnick’s writers, appeared on C-Span, I asked her about the propriety of Remnick taking $100, 00 from Imus. She responded by saying that Remnick wasn’t a racist. She seemed really agitated. Of course, I hadn’t called him that.

Things have improved slightly for African-American writers under Remnick’s editorship. I’ve seen poems by Yusef Komunyaka and Cornelius Eady published there. A poem of mine was published.

A short story by William Melvin Kelley has appeared and they have a regular black contributor, Hilton Als. There have also been features about African-American artists including Sonny Rollins and Kara Walker, but, like other progressive and liberal publications, some of which, like Rolling Stone and The Nation, have endorsed Barack Obama, ninety five percent of The New Yorker writers are white males. In fact, Fox News has more black contributors than The New Yorker, NPR, Rolling Stone and The Nation, which still lists me as a  contributor even though I haven’t had anything published there in years and have never been invited on one of their yacht cruises.

Certainly, conditions aren’t as bad for African-American men and black and white women at The New Yorker as they were in the old days when Harold Ross was at the helm. He was so racist that, according to the book, “Genius In Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker" by ThomasKunkel, Ross wouldn’t even hire blacks as messengers.

When I was in elementary school, my grandmother, a domestic, used to bring home copies of The New Yorker from the homes where she was employed. I remember the cartoons depicting blacks as cannibals, with bones in their noses boiling whites in a cauldron, the kind of image that New Yorker cartoonist, Robert Crumb, has re introduced with his Angelfood McSpade, his bone-in-the-nose cartoon black woman who goes about licking toilets and saying things like “ Ah gots de biggests tits in town, "the kind of line that Richard Price and David Simon put into the mouths of their black characters and the image of Africa that we still get on CNN and he Sunday New York Times Magazine.

But now Remnick finds himself embroiled in a controversy and though the majority of those polled, black and white, found the cartoon about the Obamas offensive, he has plenty of defenders including a writer for New York magazine, which regularly features blacks as criminals and thugs, members of the Imus Alumni, and Hitler fan Pat Buchanan and even Joan Walsh of Salon. com. Some of the critics of the cartoon, including the Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel justify it’s appearance on First Amendment grounds. The controversy has been discussed on cable for days with the usual panels, mostly white, and a few Colored Mind Doubles like Bush supporter, Rev. Eugene Rivers, whose background hasn’t been vetted by MSNBC; they should read Boston Magazine.

This is the man that MSNBC uses to slime black leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton. The Bush adminstration and  the media has attempted to impose Rivers upon blacks as a  leader without success.

Most of the talking heads don’t know the difference between a caricature, a satire, a lampoon and a parody.

Remnick, says that The New Yorker cartoon about Barack Obama as a Muslim president and Michelle as his Black Power spouse was meant to ridicule the unfounded rumors about the candidate, yet the intention of the cartoonist, Barry Blitt, is unclear.

Using Remnick’s argument, suppose that In order to combat the ancient slander that the Jews kidnapped Christian children for ritualistic purposes, The New Yorker did a cartoon of Sen. Joseph Lieberman attired in streimel, black clothes and shawl and his wife Hadassah attired in wig and long black skirt draining the blood of Christian child to be used for Passover. Do you suppose that there’d be arguments about First Amendment rights were such a cartoon to appear?

And what about Remnick’s defenders, who argue that The New Yorker has a history of printing bold and in-your-face cartoons.

When Henry Louis Gates Jr. edited a 1996 black issue of The New Yorker, some black cartoonists said they were censored by Tina Brown, the then editor.

The Village Voice printed a letter from famed black cartoonist Barbara Brandon in which she complained about The New Yorker magazine’s buying cartoons from 8 black cartoonists but not using them. The Voice printed Ms. Brandon’s rejected cartoon. It showed a white woman angrily reproaching a black woman. She says to a black woman,"Why don’t you get off your butt and get a job." In the next panel the black woman is sitting at a desk and the white woman says,"Hey, wait a minute. I wanted that job." This cartoon was turned down by Tina Brown for being"more difficult for people to handle than had been anticipated." Ms. Brandon  answered that being a black cartoonist who made The New Yorker"nervous" was better than being published in The New Yorker.

As for the claim that The New Yorker has a tradition of printing outrageous political cartoons, Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize- winning cartoonist, who defended the Obama cartoon, said that he quit The New Yorker in February 2003 because, “The New Yorker was marching to the same beat as The New York Times. "He said he had trouble getting his anti-Bush cartoons printed there.

While Gates was hired by former editor Tina Brown to denounce Minister Louis Farrakhan, Robert Crumb, a cartoonist whose cartoons have been considered so racist that they have earned a spot at the Jim Crow Museum online at Ferris State U., and at least one was reprinted by a Neo-Nazi magazine, according to Art Speigelman in an interview with Gary Groth, is a regular New Yorker cartoonist. He’s found a home there. Even did a cover. One of his cartoons shows a black power dictator murdering the white president while the white first lady fellates him. The title of the cartoon is “When The Niggers Take Over America."Take a look at it. Google  Robert Crumb “When The Niggers Take Over America. ”It’s accompanied by a cartoon entitled “When The Goddam Jews Take Over America. "

Finally, Harold Ross, The New Yorker’s founder, said that"Coons are either funny or dangerous," according to"Here at the New Yorker" by Brendan Gill.  

I guess the Obama cartoon was supposed to be funny.

ISHMAEL REED is the editor of Konch. His new book,"Mixing It Up, Taking On The Media Bullies," was published this month by De Capo.