Belgium's papers are indignant and confused over a New York magazine post that called their giant Obama-plays-basketball cookie and racist Obama-as-monkey cartoon racist. "According to New York Magazine the edible artwork is outright racist," writes Het Nieuwsblad, a daily paper. "The commentary seems a bit exaggerated, but the website is convinced: Belgians are racists."
Niewsblad goes on to argue that the Obama-monkey cartoon was "taken out of context" and the cookie "seemed like a nice gift for the U.S. Embassy," but was taken the wrong way. This is not an opinion column, but a sign that Belgian diversity is weak.
Radio station Radio 1 — one of its personalities inspired the cookie present — called the gift "beautiful, something wonderful, something exclusive." While several sites, like USA Today and Fox Sports, liked the gift, they couldn't imagine why New York would say the baker needed to work on his technique (USA Today called it the "Most ridiculous. Present. Ever.") The New York article, however, was "a stark contrast to the heartwarming" response from the U.S. Embassy writes Radio 1.
Gazet Van Antwerpen was slightly less defensive, and wrote that "despite the best of intentions" the Obama cookie was not seen in good taste, and asked readers to vote in a poll:
Most people said no. We agree that it's not racist so much as an unfortunate caricature of a foreign dignitary and ally that does seem to play on stereotypes.
When De Morgen apologized for their Obama cartoon ("Is De Morgen Racist?" the headline asked) it mentioned that tweets from Chika Unigwe, a Nigerian-Belgian writer, helped alert the world to the cartoon. As she put it, "we still have a lot of work to do." Unigwe wrote an article for Africa Is a Country on Belgium's "racial dementia," or its inability to move on from it's colonial past because it never addressed it. "There is an inability to judge what is racially offensive and what is not," she argued. The fact that De Morgen apologized at all was a step in the right direction, "if only because as far as I know, this is the first time a Belgian media outlet has ever acknowledged, much less apologized for being offensive."
This series of questionable-to-racist Obama stories in Belgium has also sparked a debate about the way the country's papers handle race. DeWereldMorgen.be, an alternative news site, argued that De Morgen isn't racist, but suffers from the same blindness to the conditions of non-whites as several other papers. In a piece called "White Humor and Colorless Newspapers" Apache.be argues that De Morgen isn't racist but, like a lot of other sites, "use unintentionally a kind of apartheid" by not being more inclusive. But just in case any Americans reading this are so glad we're beyond all this, please remember that the New York Post had to apologize for its own super racist Obama cartoon back in 2009.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.