By Tim Funk and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. / The Charlotte, N.C. Observer
Friday, March 23, 2012 – Added 1 day ago
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The image, a crude, digitally manipulated photo, purported to show President Barack Obama in drag, complete with chains and high heels. And between his legs: A bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
When conservative blogger Tara Servatius of Charlotte found this picture on Google Images, she said it seemed like the perfect illustration for her Monday “Meck Deck” blog on Obama’s decision to speak out against a proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
But by Thursday, the in-your-face Servatius – a former WBT talk-show host and Creative Loafing columnist – had resigned amid a storm of controversy, including complaints about the image from the state chapter of the NAACP and her own bosses at the John Locke Foundation, a conservative North Carolina think tank.
In an election year that seems to be raising the country’s temperature by the day, the episode was but the latest involving outrageous images and language – some of them targeting the country’s first African-American president, now seeking a second term.
“Don’t Re-Nig in 2012” read a bumper sticker that lit up Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere just last week.
“Race is an issue that Americans are unable to get over. It’s played a significant part in our history and it continues to be a sensitive topic,” said North Carolina State University political scientist Andrew Taylor. “There will be incidents like this and people looking for incidents like this.”
But, added Taylor, the good news is that those putting out such words and images are increasingly “on the margins.”
Last week, Bivins Hollar quickly abandoned his campaign for North Carolina Senate in Catawba County after it was discovered that he posted a video in which he casually talked about “shooting” and starving black Africans – and kidnapping the country’s president. Among those criticizing him was the state Democratic Party, under whose banner Hollar had hoped to run.
On Thursday, Servatius told the Charlotte Observer in a statement that she didn’t mean to offend with her portrayal of Obama, and that she considers fried chicken not a racial stereotype but a symbol of Southern cuisine.
“I was searching for a picture of the president in drag to illustrate his Southern political strategy of courting young voters, a majority of whom support gay marriage,” Servatius said. “Regrettably, I didn’t think about the racial implications of the picture when I posted it. I simply don’t think in those terms. Unfortunately some people do. To me, fried chicken is simply a Southern cuisine. So the picture seemed perfect to illustrate Obama’s Southern strategy.”
But others found her decision to use the image out-of-bounds – and cause for dismissal if she hadn’t taken the hint and resigned first.
John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, which publishes “Meck Deck” on its Charlotte site, called the illustration “utterly inappropriate.”
He also assured one Facebook friend that Servatius “is no longer a contributor to our site … I would have made that decision for her, but she beat me to the punch by ending her role.”
Also on Facebook, Hood explained what happened: “(The blog post) included an illustration that was offensive and utterly inappropriate for our blog or anyone else’s. A reader brought it to my attention (Wednesday), and I had it removed immediately, but the damage was done.”
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, also protested the “disgusting picture of our president” that accompanied Servatius’ blog.
“What we have seen so far has both racist and homophobic overtones,” Barber said in a statement to WRAL-TV of Raleigh. “It is reckless and dangerous. And should not only be an affront to the black community, the civil rights community, the LBGT community, but every North Carolinian.”
As is the case with many blogs, no one apparently edited or reviewed Servatius’ writing.
“We typically do not review blog items prior to publication,” Rick Henderson, managing editor of the foundation’s Carolina Journal, said in an email. “We … have chosen not to dedicate the significant amount of staff time that would be needed to conduct that level of supervision at all the (five) sites.”
Servatius, who grew up in Charlotte and graduated from Charlotte Catholic High and the University of Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism, said the point of her blog was not offensive: that the decision by the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature to hold a vote this year on Amendment 1 “is a bad political move in North Carolina because it could distract voters from the economy, which should be the main issue.”
She also said that a cutline under the Obama “picture” explained that it was supposed to represent the president’s political strategy.
“But only the picture itself seems to be floating around the Internet because bloggers have been removing the cutline,” she said.
With WBT, Creative Loafing and now “Meck Deck” in her past, Servatius said she doesn’t know what she’ll do next.
“I have no idea,” Servatius, who recently had a baby, told the Observer. “The blog was something I did for fun.”