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Editor's column: Tasteless, yes, but racist?

February 25, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

As if the voter ID controversy in Minnesota wasn't divisive and heated enough, now race has become a factor?

The conservative group Minnesota Majority has posted an online banner on its site. As you can see from the still, the banner shows, among other images, a black man in prison garb, thus implying he's a convicted felon and shouldn't be allowed to vote, and a person wearing a mariachi costume, thus implying he's Mexican, here illegally, and shouldn't be allowed to vote. The caption to the left reads: "Voter Fraud: Watch How Easy It Is To Cheat In Minnesota's Elections."

Time for someone to fight back, I suppose, and sure enough someone did.

TakeAction Minnesota on Monday played the race card and condemned the banner because it says racist imagery is being used to promote the proposed voter ID law.

The banner has a clear purpose; it's up to you how to perceive it. Some might think it's clever. Some might think it's kind of funny. But others, probably many others, are offended. And who can blame them? A black man in a prison outfit? Are you kidding? What black man wouldn't be offended?

Why not a white man in an orange jump suit? It's difficult to tell, but looking at the hand of the image standing behind the "VOTE" sign, it looks like that's a black man, too. Are all convicts African American? For that matter, are all Hispanics here illegally?

So many fists were raised over the ad that Minnesota Majority caved, albeit in a humorous way, and designed what it called a "politically correct version" of the ad "for the hypersensitive." That ad has the ghost, zombie, and superhero like the original does, but the convict in stripes is a white cartoon character and the "illegal alien" is a cartoonish image of a white woman wearing a "Canada" T-shirt. If you can find a problem with that ad, you really have issues.

Whether or not the people who designed the original banner are really close-minded, ignorant racists isn't the issue, because I don't think they are, just like I don't believe the ESPN employee who headlined a recent online story about New York Knicks' star Jeremy Lin "Chink in the armor" is racist. The bottom line is they designed an insensitive, morally-corrupt ad, just like the ESPNer came up with a ridiculously insensitive headline.

Both are similar in that they came up with what they thought would be a clever way to promote their cause/story and ran with it, blind to the consequences brought forth by a society that tends to overreact far too often. Were those behind the voter ID spot aware of those consequences? Sure they were. They wanted to push the envelope, rile the masses, get under our skin, to bring attention to the matter. And what better way to do that than to hit a cultural sore spot or two -?blacks are criminals, Mexicans are here illegally.

Say what you will about voter ID - we need it, we don't need it - there's no mistaking this ad is undeniably tasteless and offensive. This ad isn't a burp, it's a belch.

But is it racist?

That's a pretty big and ugly word to be throwing around and probably should be reserved for real scum - cross burners come to mind. Let's not be too eager to lump idiots in with racists. They don't belong on the same island. Having poor judgement and a big mouth doesn't make you a racist.

It should be noted that this campaign display to promote voter ID also shows a number of hands of people of different races holding up driver's licenses. Does that lessen the impact the main image has? Maybe, maybe not, but before you play the race card you need to study the entire body of work.

And might I suggest you focus more or on the message and less on the lineup.



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