Crouching Panther, Hidden Photoshop
“Racism,” states Adrian Piper, “is a visual pathology.” The artist’s observation is sharp as a knife. The persistent power of racism is based in the visual and this history has twisted pathological roots deep into native soil. In retrospect, the election of Barack Obama reanimated ingrained American hatreds. When it comes to lies and race, fevered belief induces credulity. People believe what they need to believe.
Former President Barack Obama was a Black Panther. Evidence: A young Obama is pictured in a Black Panther uniform posing with a handgun. “COPY AND SHARE THIS!!! IT WILL BE PULLED DOWN SOON!!!! SO SHARE IT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!!!”
Obama’s face (complete with dangling cigarette) was Photoshopped onto a base photograph depicting Maruse Heath, head of the “New Black Panther Party” in Philadelphia. The resulting fiction carries a racist frisson—the fear, the thrill, the recoil of wayward emotion. It is also a manufactured image that carries a charge of the iconic, in this case a double charge: the Black Panthers and the Presidency.
An uncropped, unaltered version of the base photo—timestamped January 4, 1998— shows Maruse Heath and an unknown man. They hold handguns against a backdrop of the tri-color Pan-African flag, an image of a black panther over the African continent, and an array of wildly incongruent furniture. The New Black Panther Party was founded in Dallas in 1989. It is a separate, more extreme group than the original “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense” formed in Oakland in 1966. Barack Obama was never a member of either organization.