Paul R. Lehman, The picture of President Obama and a banana reflects negatively on the senderFebruary 11, 2014 at 1:18 am | Posted in African American, Constitutional rights, democracy, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, European American, freedom of speech, justice, Prejudice, President Obama, Race in America, Russia, skin color | 2 Comments
Tags: A picture is worth a thousand words, African Americans, America, American protest and prejudice, banana, barack obama, bigotry, black, black and white, ethnicity, European Americans, Irina Rodnina, Michael McFaul, Obama, photo, President Obama, race, Russian, Russian MP, the Guardian
The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” has been around for a few hundred years and it still has relevance today. The concept of the phrase whether it is one thousand or ten thousand words concern not only the picture itself, but also the creator as well as the producer and user. Each has its own reason for the picture’s value; so, the image that constitutes the picture is not the only concern of the viewers. In an article from the Guardian, “Russian MP’s Obama with banana picture sparks racism debate” (2/9/14) a discussion concerning racism began. The picture in question is a doctored photo of President and Mrs. Obama; the picture has been changed to make President Obama appear as though he is chewing on something while he stares wide-eyed at a banana that seemingly is before him.
The article noted that “The subject of racism has become the focus of a public discussion in Russia after an MP from Duma caused outrage by posting an image of Barack Obama that was photoshopped to include a banana. It continued by stating that “Irina Rodina, an MP from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and a triple Olympic champion figure-skater, posted the picture on her personal Twitter account.” Rodina apparently saw nothing amiss with the picture she claims was sent to her from friends in the U.S. She was quoted as saying “Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, and you should answer for your own hang-ups.”
If we take the time to look at the photo, we can recognize that the image of President Obama has been altered, so that he does not appear to be in a normal state, but a contrived one. His eyes have been made to seemed fixed on a banana magically suspended in from of him. We do not know what the person who altered the photo had in mind, but a suggestion might be that an effort was made to associate the President’s image with that of a monkey or something similar that likes to eat bananas. The irony of the photo is that many people like and eat bananas, so why try to focus attention on the image of President Obama looking at the banana unless it is an attempt to try and make a denigrating statement regarding him. In fact, because the photo is so contrived, the effect probably rest with the question it raises—why?
The answer to that question never is given because the charge of racism came quickly to the front. The article noted that “The incident was widely discussed in the Russian press, with many commentators coming to the defence of the MP and figure-skater.” We agree with a person’s right to free speech, so as far as Rodina having the right to Tweet the photo we have no argument. Our concern is to why? What was the objective? We do not know because no one, including Rodina has said. What we do know is that most educated and informed individuals generally have a working knowledge of their actions, especially if they are deliberate.
The article reported that the United State ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, was not pleased and believed “that Rodina was guilty of ‘outrageous behavior which only brings shame to her parliament and country.’ A spokesperson for the U. S. embassy quoted Thomas Jefferson in response to the tweet: ‘Bigotry is the disease of ignorance.’” The response is appropriate in this instance because to identify the photo as racist is to support the concept of multiple human races, which in turn feed the illusions of bigots. The ignorance associating people as members of a race because of their color, religion or beliefs is like saying that fresh water from different parts of the world is different just because it changes from country from country. We know that certain things can be and are added to the water, but take away the additives and it is all the same. So it is with people.
When something so contrived as the President Obama picture is offered to the public, the logical response is to simply ignore it and let it pass, because that is not what the presenters want to happen. They want to raise the ire and alarm at what they know can appear degrading not only to the President, but to the country as well. By acknowledging the photo, the viewer gives in to the trap and brings attention to a cause that is lost and dying—racial superiority.
Rather than the picture being viewed as disparaging and denigrating to the President, the fact is that the ignorance of the people who created, produced and promoted it is underscored. The use of the word racist does not fit the situation, although the people responsible for the picture might think so. By accepting the term racist, the blame for the action can be displaced among the larger group of like-thinkers. The appropriate word is as the embassy spokesperson noted from Jefferson is bigotry. The bigot has to accept personal responsibility for his or her actions, not the group. Obviously, seeing the photo will generate questions, but by letting it pass, since nothing positive is to be gained from an angry reaction, does not give comfort to the instigators.
Yes, we can agree with the phrase that “a picture is worth a thousand words” but we need to always keep in mind that the picture did not create itself, and there has to have been some motivation for the production. We are correct to question the purpose of the photo as well as the expectations of different viewers to the photo. However, once rational and reasonable people understand that the use of the photo is for negative propaganda, we can then remove ourselves from any attempt to call attention to it. When some people have lived their entire lives internalizing a myth, then no amount of common sense or facts can change their biased minds.