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'The Bible': Why the History Channel is smacked with 'Obama-Satan' accusation

'Why’s Jesus and the good guys always white and the devil’s looking like Obama,” a little girl watching a rec center TV asks. History Channel's 'The Bible' suffers from the same parenting issue we do here at home, that too often the messenger’s demeanor distracts from and derails the message.

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / March 19, 2013

History Channel's 'The Bible' series has a Satan, shown here, that Glenn Beck said looks like President Barack Obama. Mr. Beck's description spread fast through the Internet.

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First it was that the blood and gore were too graphic for young children, now The Bible, the History Channel series, is losing the scriptural education message to the perception that the actor playing Satan looks, to some, like President Obama. The real problem here isn’t that History has given birth to “Obama-Satan,” but that it suffers from the same parenting issue we do here at home, that too often the messenger’s demeanor distracts from and derails the message.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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What parent hasn’t telegraphed, through a facial expression or gesture, the exact opposite of what we are trying to get across without realizing it? We make a child fear thunderstorms by racing to comfort and saying, “Don’t be afraid!” before the kid has made a whimper.

So, too, the History channel series that tries to parent viewers into biblical education is suffering to get its message heard above the faces it’s making in each episode. We saw angels in armor delivering a coup de grâce on the wicked as blood spurts onto the face of the holy. This week, African-American kids are seeing that the faces of all the bad guys look like theirs in hue, while the pious and Christ himself are the opposite.

“Why’s Jesus and the good guys always white and the devil’s looking like Obama,” a little girl, hands on hips, asked an older girl at the recreation center yesterday afternoon. The center has large TV sets in the game and workout rooms, plus a computer room where kids often scan headlines that pop us during searches. The older girl, who had her back to me, shrugged and replied, “White people make everything white.”

Both girls are in my after-school chess program, and when I cleared my throat, the younger child giggled and the older one whirled around and without missing a beat said quite frankly, “Right Ms. Suhay?”

Being about as light-skinned as it gets, I was at a total loss; and rather than step into this bear trap I just said, “I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.”

People are fond of saying, “I don’t see color.” Well of course they literally see it but are saying that their mind’s eyes are “color blind.” My son, Quin, 9, heard that phrase once in this same racial context and said, “Yeah, but if you’re color blind all you see is black and white, right? So how does that sentence work in real life?”

What I have learned from the past five years of working with any and all kids and parents who live in predominantly African-American neighborhoods here in Norfolk, Va. is that color is an issue right down to which side of the chess board you choose to play. I stopped bringing black-and-white chess pieces to first-time chess sessions and substituted green versus gold and red versus blue because I could not get kids or adults to play white if they were a variant of brown themselves.

In chess, if you never play white you never take the initiative, because white goes first and has the advantage of setting the pace and having a plan in motion, or start out controlling the game and so if racial lines can sink that deep into the culture then it’s not so surprising that in the northeasternmost notch of the Bible Belt, kids go to church on Sunday, do Bible study, are hearing about this series and asking the questions the girls asked. Even those not watching the series get a big enough dose of previews and commercials to know what’s what with the characters.

So I looked into it, via Google search, and there was “Obama-Satan” all over the place.

The actor chosen to portray Satan in History's "The Bible" mini-series, Mohamen Mehdi Ouazani, was given the nasty moniker by TV pundit Glenn Beck, sparking a social media smack-down over the weekend. Thanks Mr. Beck, just what the world really needs right now, someone stealing the light from the Bible and shining it on hate, intolerance, and political agendas.

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