Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What is wrong with the world?

T-shirts sold by Mulligan's Food & Spirits show the character Curious George above Barack Obama's name.

Cobb bar protested as racist for Obama T-shirts

Mulligan's selling shirts with 'Curious George' picture

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 05/13/08

Marietta tavern owner Mike Norman says the T-shirts he's peddling, featuring cartoon chimp Curious George peeling a banana, with "Obama in '08" scrolled underneath, are "cute." But to a coalition of critics, the shirts are an insulting exploitation of racial stereotypes from generations past.

"It's time to put an end to this," said Rich Pellegrino, a Mableton resident and director of the Cobb-Cherokee Immigrant Alliance. It was among the organizations gathering outside of Mulligan's Bar and Grill Tuesday afternoon to protest the "racist and highly offensive" shirts.

"There's no place for these views, not in this day and age," he said.

Just down the street from Marietta's famous Big Chicken, Mulligan's has carved a provocative niche in an increasingly multicultural area, thanks to its owner's ultra-conservative political views. If you live in Marietta, it's impossible not to know what's on Norman's mind, as he posts his views on signs in front of Mulligan's.

Among his recent musings: "I wish Hillary had married OJ," "No habla espanol — and never will" and the standard "I.N.S. Agents eat free."

"I'm saying out loud what everyone in this town whispers," Norman said.

Whatever residents think of the signs, organized opposition to his blunt commentaries — ongoing for 16 years — had been nonexistent. No longer, says Pellegrino, who, though familiar with Norman's politics, said he was still surprised by the stark imagery of the Obama T-shirts.

"There's a lot of people hurt by this," he said.

Norman said those offended are "hunting for a reason to be mad" and insisted he is "not a racist."

Why picture Obama as Curious George? "Look at him . . . the hairline, the ears, he looks just like Curious George," Norman said.

He said it's just a coincidence that the character he chose for the t-shirt is a monkey. Norman said proceeds raised from sales of the T-shirts will be donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Nation of Islam and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials were among the organizations represented at Tuesday's rally.

"Mulligan's is promoting and selling racially offensive T-shirts, and Marietta and Cobb County residents and taxpayers abhor and cannot condone, any longer, this type of divisive and incendiary behavior in our community," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of GALEO.

Pellegrino said Mulligan's is giving Marietta a bad name, adding that the critics intend to remain vocal.

"These T-shirts were almost a Godsend," he said. "We're a coalition now, and we're very determined."

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