Friday, October 8, 2010

Obama Vampire Mask: Racism and Xenophobia for Halloween

It is obvious to anyone who has paid attention that Barack Obama has been demonized by the right-wing. He is regularly referred to as a "Keynan anti-colonialist," birthers rave that he was not really born here, and others shriek that he is a secret muslim terroirst!

It appears that this demonization has gone to new extremes. I checked out some of the seasonal Halloween stores the other day and found the mask you see in the above picture.. The mask was called "Barackula." It is normal to make and sell masks of political figures, I have not, however, ever seen one as a vampire. This mask is not an isolated incident, the image of Barackula has been used fairly regularly by the far right, as a simple Google search will reveal.

And look at the picture: Obama is here portrayed clearly has a bloodthirsty demon. I can't help but see racism behind the image. The reason I see racism here, is that the stereotype of African-American physical features are the very features that seem to be cruelly twisted into the the disturbing and demonic features of the vampire. And, then, of course, there is this image form a Tea-Party rally:

Before some reader protests that portraying Obama as a vampire is not racist, remember three things; first the vampire is regularly portrayed as an embodiment of the frightening "other." For instance, in Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Count is clearly a foreign and alien power who has come to destroy all that is good about "our" British society. Now, and this is my second point, I've not seen other Presidents portrayed as demons or vampires. I grant, however, that it could have been done. If anyone knows of such a case, please point it out to me. Finally, I could avoid reading "Barackula" in terms of "the other," and the "alien," were it not for the already mentioned hysteria about his Kenyan ancestry, and the lunatic conspiracy theories that he was not born here. It seems likely that the mask is part the fears of some people who see Obama as an alien force, threatening "real Americans."

If this is an instance of racism, it may very well be about Obama's perceived "Muslimness" and not his "blackness." I am even willing to believe it merely reflects anger at "liberals" - though I suspect all three biases are at work here - but it is clearly a demonization. If any of my readers are prepared to see the mask as something intended to simply be funny, look at the image again. The face is cruel, nasty, and terrifying.

But what do my readers think? Am I right to fear that racism, or, at the very least, tremendous hatred of Obama is manifested in this Halloween mask?

Personally, in light of the tradition of portraying "the other" as a vampire, the xenophobia and racism of prominent groups who oppose Obama, and the actual appearance of the mask, I find myself greatly disturbed and can't help but ask the question if this image does not cater to that kind hostility towards our President. In the end, I am strongly inclined to think that it does appeal to the demonization of Obama constantly spewing forth from right wing extremists.

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  1. I very much agree with your points, Matt. My first thought was of past presidents and what their Halloween masks looked like. I don't recall ever seeing anything that hateful, whether it was Bush I, Clinton (though I seem to remember his mask sporting a cigar planted firmly in his mouth), Bush II or even Hillary for that matter. And I feel safe in saying that those people were all polarizing in one way or another. I'd call those masks straight caricatures of the person, but most definitely not Obama's. After searching Google, the only other mask that grotesque was of Osama bin Laden. And I'm not really suprised by that.

    It might not be completely on point either, but I was also reminded of the "Mandingo" African American stereotype of someone coming to rape and pillage the white women. So for me I see it being about fear, which of course lends itself towards racism, xenophobia, and all of your other points. Fear of inadequacy, of the unknown savage, fear of your mate/partner/spouse leaving for a black man, fear that she'll like whatever he has to offer more...I don't know that many men would admit that, or even recognize the fear in themselves, but I think it's a very real part of this. I'd go so far as to say that Obama attacking the Statue of Liberty is sexually charged, with how he's holding her shoulder and lording over her. It's almost reminiscent of the art propaganda coming out of Germany regarding the Jews. Same horrible type of caricature, same deal trying to instill the fear of "dark" marauders coming to destroy the Aryan (read: right) way of life.

    I see nothing funny about that mask at all. It's thinly veiled racism at best.

  2. Thank you Sara. I had not thought of the Sexual fears and stereotypes. I think you are probably right, that statue of Liberty image really seems to capture such fears. I could not say it better than you did! This is really scary that some people hate him that much!

  3. Seriously? lol! Just Google "George Bush Vampire", click on "images" and you'll see a similar liberty photo all over the web with W and his own bloody fangs. Racist? No. Barackula racist? No. Lighten up. Sheesh...

  4. I Googled "George Bush Vampire," and indeed there are a few pics of such here and there. But three points. First, There is no one claiming Bush is a Muslim terrorist who was born outside the USA. Two, Bush is White. There is systematic racism against black people in American, not whites. The context makes a huge difference. Finally, some of the pics of "Barackula" surely play on white fears about blacks. For istance the following:

    Go to that link and you will see an image of a large obama frightening a white woman. This conjures up all manner of white American fears about blacks and their libido.

    Just Google "Barackula" and take a look, the images are quite different, the context is quite different.

    One final note, look at comments on pages that have Bush Vampire images: you will find that many on the right did not find it "funny," or respectful, should they "lighten up" too?

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  6. "Keynan anti-colonialist," rofl , nope never seen that.
    and just what race are vampires? or its only cool when they do it to white people. sounds like your the racist to me.


Comments from many different points of view are welcome. But I will not publish any comments that are hateful, insulting, or filled with profanity. I welcome and encourage dialogue and disagreement but will not publish any hate speech.