Waffle racism (updated)

Obama wafflesThe biggest news measured by volume and my own personal opinion coming out of the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit was the infamous Obama Waffles. The incident is certainly the most memorable.

While many news outlets covered the incident, I am going to focus on the Associated Press’s account from Saturday. Here is the lead:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Activists at a conservative political forum snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing Arab-like headdress on its top flap.

Values Voter Summit organizers cut off sales of Obama Waffles boxes on Saturday, saying they had not realized the boxes displayed “offensive material.” The summit and the exhibit hall where the boxes were sold had been open since Thursday afternoon.

The box was meant as political satire, said Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss, two writers from Franklin, Tenn., who created the mix. They sold it for $10 a box from a rented booth at the summit sponsored by the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council.

That’s a fairly brutal indictment in the lead: people attending the conference were willing to plunk down ten bucks for lousy waffle mix that the organization’s spokesman said “crossed the line” into racism. See here how the evangelical publication/news outlet World magazine framed the perspective. Note that World‘s self-professed mission is to cover news from from the perspective of their interpretation of the Bible:

It’s OK to say that Barack Obama waffles on the issues, but to humorously make that point with a box of Obama Waffles is not OK. In fact, it’s racist.

OK, so it may be difficult to see where World is coming from on that one, but they certainly make clear whose fault it was for ending all of the exhibitors fun:

But then a member of American Atheists brought the exhibit to the attention of an Associated Press reporter covering the event. When the AP reporter started asking questions, the FRC told the exhibitors to dismantle the exhibit.

So is this story about a Christian group versus atheists?

The big thing no one seems to want to talk about is what this insensitivity to racial issues means about the values of the people attending the Voter Values Summit. There is plenty of suggestions that it’s not positive (such as the fact that the exhibit remained up for a day and a half and 200 $10 boxes were sold), but no one is coming right out and talking about it. Perhaps it is the summit organizers admission by the that the boxes crossed the line and their strong condemnation of the subject matter?

My sister Sarah Pulliam, who published the first article (by 15 minutes) on the waffle stand on the Christianity Today Politics Blog, was the only of these three news outlets to mention that the religion angle in the waffle stand was more than just the fact that it was being held at an evangelical organization’s convention:
obama waffle selling

Men from Tennessee traveled to the Values Voter Summit to sell yellow boxes of waffle mix that portray a caricature of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama with a Muslim-like headdress and says “Point box toward Mecca for tastier waffles.” The cover of the box portrays a caricature of Obama’s face next to waffles, which three protesters from American Atheists found offensive.

Eric Herrman from American Atheists said the box was racist because it conjures up images of Aunt Jemima, the woman portrayed on a syrup bottle.

“Let’s say we sold a pig lipstick product, we probably have to leave for the same reason,” Herrman said as he handed out literature outside the Hilton Hotel. “A caribou barbie doll would be considered so sexist.”

Herrman and two others from the organization said they sent reporters down to look at the waffle mix. When they found out that the vendors were asked to leave, they high fived each other.

Apparently, despite the waffle mix makers protests, questioning Obama’s declared religious affiliation is still a relevant question in this race. Perhaps that’s another angle that’s worth exploring further.

I am opening myself up to accusations of bias here, but the CT coverage of this issue has more perspectives, more photos(!), the best description of the waffle mix and more coverage of this issue than any other news outlet. Pulliam also deserves credit for reporting in detail on the box’s fine print.

UPDATE: How does this effort at what the makers of these waffles apparently believe is political satire compare to The New Yorker‘s now infamous Obama cover?

Photos taken at the Voter Values Summit by Christianity Today online editor Sarah Pulliam

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  • Jerry

    I think you’re right about the CT coverage being the best. The comment from the CT site that sums it up for me is this:

    “… “A caribou barbie doll would be considered so sexist.”

  • http://rogers.com susan

    where’s my comment??

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    When comments are in all caps, it hurts my head to read them so I frequently just do away with them. Feel free to re-submit with maybe some links to prove what it is you are trying to say.

  • http://rogers.com susan

    ,as I mentioned before… Where’s the picture of LOU DOBBS of CNN with a box of these so called Waffles…Mr. INDEPENDENT OF MR.BIGOT. Why not contact CNN like most of us have and expose this for what it is RACISM 101 LOU DOBBS

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    Please stop using all-caps. And I think this is the story you are referring to.

  • http://bethaniqua.blogspot.com Bethany

    I agree that the CT coverage does the best job of explaining what is so offensive about it in the first place. Of course, I would love to live in a world where accusing someone of being muslim wouldn’t be so negative, but caricaturing 1) black people and 2) muslims in this way is definitely not ok. Sarah’s coverage gets at both of those elements.

  • http://rogers.com susan

    … this link hits is exactly what I’m referring to

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/9/15/15646/2983

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    No doubt the waffle packagers are getting free publicity for their “product,” as they do have a web site:

    http://www.obamawaffles.com/

    Did anyone look into the atheists high-fiving each other? Real class.

    Also, was the waffle exhibit actually part of the main convention floor, or was it in an adjunct area? I’m guessing if the convention leaders asked the exhibitors to pack up and move away it was among the convention proper. Perhaps a better vetting process?

  • Dan Crawford

    What is still not clear to me, even from your comments, is why the Family Research Council saw fit to permit this sleazy product to be exhibited under its aegis (until they got caught with their metaphorical pants down)? And what makes this little piece of religious right racism somehow more reprehensible than lofty left’s loopiness in the New Yorker cover? And were there any of the Values Voters who actually objected to this stuff being peddled at their gathering – or did they regard it as something they found somewhat offensive but worthy of toleration because they will do anything to discredit the Democratic candidate? No wonder the atheists were high-fiving one another – and why pray tell, is that and the location of the exhibit even considered a significant part of the story?

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    I was totally not getting the racism charge until I read CT. Now I understand better. And isnt that what reporting is supposed to do; help readers understand?

  • http://benedictionblogson.com Bene Diction

    I agree CT was on top of the story, your sister did well.
    Talk2Action added some interesting clarification.

    West Wing Waffles LLC (DeMoss and Whitlock) are capitalizing on the coverage at their site, including blaming ‘athiests’ again and saying about 1/3 of the Value Voters attendees that bought from them were ethnic minorities. How would that be possible?

    Then DeMoss and Whitlock attempt to equivocate at their website. They put up cartoons with glee. They play the victim saying the ‘left’ (I think they mean Democrats) is harrassing them.

    This story went around the world, I’ve seen Americans of all persuations express disgust.
    Given both these men worked for Focus on the Family, Nelson Publishers, Whitlock works for Fox Faith and DeMoss writes with Tim LaHaye this is very much an American religious story.

    I’d like to understand why the supposed ‘athiests’ come off as moral in this story;(screaming banshees the way their website tells it) the Value Voter Summit (thousands of/compared to CT stats) attendees tickled with their satire and The Family Research Council as complicit.

    I also don’t understand why the Obama Waffle website writes about DeMoss and Whitlock in the third person, they write in the first when it suits them.
    Are these two men laughing all the way to the bank?

    Their product mirrored the Summit sessions as Talk2Action points out.
    There was a session on “The Double Threat To Our National Security: Illegal Immigration,” another on “The Double Threat To Our National Security: Radical Islam,” and climate change was called a liberal hoax and freedom of reproductive choice remains topic numero uno.

    All themes on the waffle box.

  • str1977

    From the pictures I have seen, I cannot comprehend what’s so racist about them.

    Sure, depicting Obama as a Muslim is beyond the pale because it is not true. Obama might be a lot of things but not a Muslim (though they things he is are worse, IMHO.) But even that is not racist.

    There might be the evil racist picture out there that I haven’t seen (some commenter on CT claimed that they didn’t show the racist box – the boxes they show are not racist at all.) but I can only judge based on what is shown

  • Eric Herrman

    As to the high five, we were very glad to both expose the racism present in the values of the “Family Values Summit” and get that racist trash out of there. Though, the convention didn’t throw them out until just before the convention closed, as others were also tearing down their booths and wrapping up the convention. So, it was more of a symbolic win.

    As you can imagine, I’m not fan of the Religious Right, nor their attempts to push their Domionism agenda into our government. Religious people actually shoot themselves in their own feet when they try to tear down the wall between church and state. Unless you’re the type of Christian that supports all of the current agenda that the Evangelicals are spoon-feeding you, having them create a theocracy here won’t help you much.

    BTW, the claim that they didn’t know about the boxes is lame, because the guys hawking them know the heads of the organization personally.

    As to why the picture is racist, the image on the front reflects the “Aunt Jemimah” character from the late 1800′s. It is the same “Mammy” stereotype present in many of those older ads that depicts blacks as servants. The only thing missing on this box was the head scarf, though the scarf on the top made up for it. There’s a reason why the “Values Voter Summit” leads got nervous when the AP started taking pictures.

  • Brian Walden

    Eric, The picture on the front of the box also reflects caricatures my friends got made at the state fair. Is that style of cartooning racist? If anything the box cover reminded me of a kids’ cereal box. But I was born well after the civil rights movement in an area that doesn’t have a lot of racial tension, so maybe I just lack the perspective to see it.

    I’m sure the argument can also be made that McCain waffles politically at times. If someone had made the the same box cover with McCain on the front would that have been racist too?

    I agree with you that the other parts of the box are out of line, but I don’t see what’s wrong with the cover per se.

  • Dave

    How does this effort at what the makers of these waffles apparently believe is political satire compare to The New Yorker’s now infamous Obama cover?

    They are both examples of bigotry. The motivations might have been different but both violate the “don’t go there” rule about promoting stereotypes. BTW the New Yorker has since had a cover of McCain in knee pants playing Monopoly with foreclosed properties; an attempt, I suppose, to balance the Obama cover, but it doesn’t indulge in stereotypes.

    When comments are in all caps, it hurts my head to read them

    I’m a migraineur myself; you have my sympathies.

  • Memphis Aggie

    Maybe the real story is our hypersensitivity to race and PC based censorship. I don’t see the racism angle at all. Not every Obama criticism has a racial element, I remember similar cartoons/critiques of Kerry. The Obama camp has an interest in painting all attacks as racist and therefore unacceptable. I’ve read plenty of pundits who claim opposing him is inherantly racist or that only racism can explain the polls. It’s a political weapon and should be written up on those terms.

  • FW Ken

    A few years ago, a black male county commissioner in Dallas accused a black female county commissioner in Fort Worth of being an “Aunt Jemima”. I don’t remember the why of it, but her reply was (to the effect of) “Aunt Jemima? Wasn’t she a smart black woman who made a lot of money?” Of course, Aunt Jemima wasn’t a real woman, although a few black women have made a decent living playing her over the last 100+ years. The point is that “Aunt Jemima” is not an insult, nor a racial slur, and a more sophisticated approach to race is warranted in the media.

    My real question, which I didn’t see addressed in either article, was how many of the complaining atheists were black? Or do we have another white group making political and religious hay using black people and purported black concerns? How many of you outraged commenters are white? Is race really of concern, or is it another club to beat Republicans and Christians with?

    I do agree that the connection to Islam is over the line. The “Aunt Jemima” connection is not. And someone really needs to explore what it means when white people raise charges of racism against other white people.

  • Dave2

    FW Ken wrote:

    “Aunt Jemima” is not an insult, nor a racial slur

    ????????????

  • mark

    WHY don’t you mention BOOKS A MILLION added a filthy racist image of Michelle Obama to this box?
    BAM are being BOYCOTTED for this offensive and demeaning action.
    Michelle Obama is not a politician, she makes NO VOTES anyone could say she “waffled on”, this was PURE character assignation against a women, who has more class than this ENTIRE “values” voters conference.

    Who would Jesus smear with anti Muslim racist crud?

    I’d really like DeMoss’ and Whitlock’s answers.

    and btw. these racist thugs are having a 2 for 1 sale at their website HONORING Sarah Palin…great stick this racist garbage right next to her face until the election…do that honey!

  • mark

    Those people posting this is the same as a State Fair Characature NEED to explain why this conference, once the SPOT LIGHT of media scrutiny waqs shined on this product couldn’t get rid of it FAST enough…why if it’s inoffensive?

    Why was the photo of Lou Dobbs buying this product get scrubbed (not fast enough) from the website..if it’s inoffensive?

    and CT may take some credit for reporting this story, PROGRESSIVE and LGBT sites had the image of Lou Dobbs FIRST.