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Media Images Target the Obamas

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Senator Barack Obama has run his presidential campaign under the optimistic theme of hope, insisting that Americans have the capacity to overcome racial prejudice and have accepted his candidacy with open arms. But as the Illinois senator moves closer to the Democratic nomination, incidents that some find racially questionable are cropping up more frequently.

Earlier this month, for example, news broke about a Marietta, Georgia, establishment, Mulligan's Food and Spirits, that's selling provocative T-shirts. The shirts bear the image of Curious George, a monkey character in childrenís books, with the words Obama in '08 emblazoned beneath.

Now another controversy involves an illustration on the cover of the Roswell Beacon, a weekly newspaper published in North Fulton, Georgia. It has a photograph of Obama in the crosshairs of a rifle, which seems to imply an assassination attempt. Although the accompanying article is not offensive it's a cautionary piece that details how local law enforcement is responding to death threats on Obama made by White supremacist groups the artwork has drawn loud complaints amid accusations that it does suggest assassination. The popular liberal blog Daily Kos helped trigger the protests when it featured a post this week blasting the Beacon illustration and encouraging readers to voice their complaints.

John Fredericks, publisher of the Beacon, says criticism of the artwork misses the point of the story. "We wanted to bring attention to the fact that these dangerous hate groups are operating in our area and having meetings," he told Essence.com. "The irony of it is that, in our minds, we were doing a public service and responsible journalistic reporting to ensure the senatorís safety."

Fredericks admits that if they could do it over again, the paper would have chosen a different image to illustrate the cover story. "The unfortunate thing about the cover is that itís usurping the seriousness of the story. We apologize if anyone has been offended because it was certainly not our intent."

Ironically, Daily Kos, the same blog that expressed outrage over the Roswell Beacon illustration, recently posted an inflammatory image of its own. Supplementing a post about Republican attack ads that target Michelle Obama, the site ran an illustration of her being tortured by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The image, which has since been removed, depicted Michelle Obama hanging by her wrists from a tree, surrounded by Klansmen on the verge of branding her with an iron that reads ìUppity Liberal.î

The artist behind the work in question, a 58-year-old White West Virginia man who goes by the online moniker One Citizen, defends his use of lynching imagery because it grabbed peopleís attention.

"The act of violence that's being portrayed is ugly, but the image is compelling," he told Essence.com. "It's hard to look away from."

He says the illustration was meant to address divisive strategies used by southern politicians.

"I'm not sorry I did it. Anyone who was offended should be more offended by how certain portions of America are using race to divide the classes."

Gina McCauley, creator of the blog What About Our Daughters, has posted a screen capture of the now defunct illustration on her Web site. She views the image as an example of White liberals' misguided detachment from Black history.

"They've completely lost their minds," she joked to Essence.com. "In the minds of many White liberals, Republicans are racist, and (liberals) are on the side of good. They think that because theyíre liberal, they're incapable of racism or insensitivity. And thatís just not true."

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