Obama/Curious George T-Shirt Draws Protests

Bar owner Mike Norman with the T-shirt he's selling that's drawing ire.
Bar owner Mike Norman with the T-shirt he's selling that's drawing ire. (By Thinh D. Nguyen -- Associated Press)
By Errin Haines
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008

MARIETTA, Ga. -- The publisher of the popular children book's series "Curious George" is considering legal action against a Georgia bar owner for selling T-shirts that seem to portray Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as the inquisitive monkey.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is upset with Mike Norman, owner of a Marietta, Ga., bar, for selling the shirts that show Curious George peeling a banana with "Obama in '08" printed beneath the image.

"Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did not nor would we ever authorize or approve this use of the Curious George character, which we find offensive and utterly out of keeping with the values Curious George represents," said Richard Blake, the company's spokesman. "We are monitoring the situation and weighing all of our options."

Norman, who began selling the shirts late last month, has said they are not meant to be racist. He said he thinks the Illinois senator and the character "look so much alike."

Bill Nigut, southeast regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said Norman is being disingenuous.

"He can pretend he doesn't understand what the message of that T-shirt is, but he knows full well that's an offensive and demeaning stereotype used to insult African Americans," Nigut said. He called on citizens not to buy the T-shirts, but stopped short of calling for a boycott of Norman's business or denying him the right to speak out.

"His speech is protected, but that doesn't mean that it's appropriate and that doesn't mean it's not hateful," Nigut said.

On Tuesday, about a dozen people gathered outside the bar to object to the T-shirt. The protesters said the shirts are racist, and they wanted Norman to stop selling them.

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