The left-leaning Tageszeitung in Berlin has ignited passions on both sides of the Atlantic with its cover headline Onkel Baracks Hütte (Uncle Barack's Cabin). Even the New York Times picked up the story:
A leftist German newspaper provoked outrage and condemnation for printing what many readers called a racial slur about Senator Barack Obama. The newspaper, Die Tageszeitung, printed a front-page article about Mr. Obama’s becoming the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and used a photograph of the White House and the headline “Uncle Barack’s Cabin,” in German, a reference to the antislavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which contains negative racial stereotypes.
True, the term Uncle Tom is usually used in a pejorative sense, often by blacks in condemning other blacks for giving into racism. But over time the actual 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe has largely been forgotten. The book is an abolitionist classic and was read as such in 19th century America. It is no longer read here, but is read by young students in Germany who study American history. Certainly taz (as Die Tageszeitung is called) has been supportive of Barack Obama's candidacy and is known for its strong opposition to racism in all its manifestations. The fact that the word Hütte appears with an image of the White House makes it clear that the editors were attempting satire.
taz editor Bernd Pickert writes:
Wir geben mit der Zeile und dem majestätischen Bild des Washingtoner Machtzentrums dem Triumph Ausdruck, dass Onkel Tom passé ist - in Zeiten Onkel Baracks ist alles ganz anders. Schade, dass das missverstanden werden konnte. (By combining the phrase with the majestic image of the Washington seat of power we are expressing the triumph that Uncle Tom is passé - the age of Uncle Barack things are far different. It is unfortunate that this could be misunderstood.)