Friday, September 16, 2011

Blackface Obama billboard sparks outrage

“Ick bin ein Obama (I am an Obama),” reads the poster at Berlin’s central Ernst Reuter Platz square, in an apparent play on John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. On the poster, a "black" Sonneborn smiles as he raises his arm in the air.

The billboard is the latest in Sonneborn’s campaign for his satirical political party Die Partei ahead of state elections in Berlin this Sunday. It’s meant to make fun of the entire German political establishment and go up to the edge of propriety – another poster is entitled “MILFS against Merkel” and the campaign has also mocked the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party.

But the latest one is upsetting to some because of the racial connotations of blackface theatre, which was widespread in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Based on ugly stereotypes, blackface consisted of white performers painting themselves black for degrading minstrel shows. It it quickly died out in the United States after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

In an interview with The Local on Thursday, Sonneborn, staying in character as the leader of Die Partei, said his billboard wasn’t racist.

He said he was “Germany’s Obama” and added he was mocking the “hype” surrounding the US president. Sonneborn, formerly editor-in-chief of the German satire magazine Titanic, said he wasn’t aware of the history of blackface and didn’t care if anyone was upset. more