Is America ready for Obama?

The cover of the New Yorker magazine this week drove home a stark reality that both columnist Tim Rutten and The Times editorial board missed: Although many Americans appear to be ready for an African American president, the question remains as to whether America itself is ready. The recent cover is the latest example of the willingness of the American media and thought leaders to openly demean African American leaders and play into the worst fears of some American people.

Now, before I am labeled "thin-skinned," let me make some acknowledgments upfront. Yes, I know that the New Yorker is a purportedly "liberal" magazine with a history of satirical illustrations. And yes, I am aware that it has a constitutional right to publish a provocative cover image. But it also has an obligation to be wary of the line between provocative and scandalous. So, regardless of the magazine's political tilt or its intentions with respect to this or any other cover, in the end, the magazine and its staff must be held fully responsible for such reckless decisions.

If the New Yorker ever published a "satirical" cover photo of a leading German American candidate in front of a Nazi gas chamber with a swastika in the background, the editor responsible would be gone tomorrow, and rightly so. Yet somehow, when the most powerful African American leader in the land -- and his wife, no less -- are portrayed as flag-burning terrorists by this publication, we are all supposed to not be offended, to get over it and to see the satirical humor in it all, when for many, it is no less offensive.

With respect to my fellow African Americans, this season is no time for silence. No minority group can maintain any identity or dignity if they willingly forgo opportunities to vigorously defend themselves when mischaracterized and blatantly maligned.

With respect to Americans of every possible hue, this type of demagoguery should be repudiated by any and all who seek and aspire to a 21st century vision of America -- one that is, at long last, not afraid of itself.

And finally, to the staff of the New Yorker, who knew precisely what they were doing and signaling here, it's past time that you more carefully reflect on that which you advance under the banner of satire. This divisive attempt at satire is not clear, not funny and not acceptable.

Blair Hamilton Taylor is the president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Urban League.

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