Foreign Policy Blogs

World Views of Obama Part IV: Yikes!

It pains me to report on this, but I feel it is important to capture the wide variety of reactions to an important moment in American history.

Last week, Die Tageszeitung, a left-leaning German newspaper, ran the following headline when Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, that when translated into English, reads: “Uncle Barack's Cabin.”


It has caused an uproar among Germans. It's been called “tasteless” and “racist” and the German blogosphere is aflame. If images travelled faster across boarders it would have already caused an uproar in the US too. But the paper stands by its editorial decision.

This very interesting analysis of the controversy was broadcast by PRI's radio show The World (scroll down to the entry for June 6th). Without making excuses, it explains a lot more about the cultural context in which it was published.

According to the report, the editor of the newspaper–as any editor who makes a provocative move would–claims that the headline was intended to make people “think” about racial stereotypes. Hmmm… by propagating one? This newspaper also ran a headline when Condoleezza Rice was named Secretary of State that read: “Uncle Tom's Rice”–that went largely unnoticed by Germans.

Germans are apparently all quite familiar with the book and the negative stereotypes it unintentionally spread. The broadcast notes that the paper's decision is quite peculiar because Germans are also reportedly so “obsessed” with Obama, and are also known to embrace the culture of American mintories.

All of us amateur social anthropologists will enjoy listening to the part of the broadcast that suggests that at the root of the controversy–in addition to extremely poor judgment–is the ease with which a message that conveys a certain meaning to those in one cultural context can sound “culturally tone def” to those outside of that context.

That's an understatement to say the least… hopefully everyone will begin re-tuning our hearing as the election wears on.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.