Reach of the Week: Karl Lagerfeld’s “Minstrel” Chef Obama Illustration
I wish you could have seen the perplexed expression on my face as I looked at this seemingly dignified illustration of President Barack Obama by fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld, which was captioned with “Modern-Day Minstrel? Karl Lagerfeld Sketches Barack Obama…”
Apparently, Clutch Magazine‘s Robyn Webb is having a hard time with our head chief being in any way associated with the food service industry.
She compares the artwork to degrading minstrel shows of the 19th and 20th centuries, which characterized Black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, and musical.
“The sketch brought to mind of a scene in Spike Lee‘s ‘X’ where Malcolm X reenacts a moment from popular minstrel shows; he plays a waiter who takes on a ‘..yassa boss, whatever you want boss…’ dynamic when serving white patrons. ‘Say boss, how dem cakes?'”
Are you serious?
Using a palette of colors from Shu Uemura makeup, the work was commissioned by German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and depicts Obama in a chef uniform, carrying a White House shaped cake.
The artwork text, “Der Größte Chef der Welt,” translates to “The Biggest Boss in the World.”
“Why if Karl imagines Barack Obama as ‘the biggest boss’ is he depicted serving cake to the world? Why is his indisputably powerful position being associated with waiting on people? I have to pass on seeing my President reduced to handing out cake.”
Oh, Robyn… this is a reach, and a reach that we do not need. There is absolutely no connection between this illustration and a minstrel show or anything similarly demeaning.
For one, he’s not drawn as a server, though his job as president is considered public service. He’s instead shown as a chef, and chefs — pastry and otherwise — are highly regarded.
And while forms of cultural insensitivity or subtle racism are fun to pick out and put on blast, we’ve got to stop calling everything blackface and comparing any ol’ thing to minstrelsy.
Read Robyn‘s full article here.