My! What a brouhaha over yesterday’s (Feb. 18) political cartoon in the New York Post , which many see as racist in that it associates a chimpanzee with President Obama!
On the one hand, the editor of the Post says that there is no racial over- or undertone to the drawing. On the other, apparently many others, black and white disagree.
(Some of these articles are slightly different versions of the AP wire story)
Exactly why is the imagery offensive? As perhaps most of you know, historically people of color – particularly and almost exclusively those of African ancestry – have been explicitly and compared to or assumed to be monkeys or apes.
That association always has been and was meant to be derogatory, insulting and dehumanizing. It also served as justification for all sorts of abuses, maltreatment and stereotyping of black people then and even now. And regardless of how we’d like to believe our country has moved beyond that association and linked behavior, unfortunately for all of us of all colors, it is embedded into the national psyche like a glass splinter. Some folks can’t see it clearly, if at all. Ignoring it doesn’t make it disappear, but it’s not imagined and it hurts just the same.
It reminded me of an experience I had here in Frederick over the holidays. While I walked down Market Street , admiring the festive window displays, an older man with a flowing gray beard, perhaps in his late forties or in his fifties approached me. I made sure I wasn’t in his way and as is my habit with everyone I meet, I smiled as he neared, ready to wish him a good afternoon or happy holiday or some other friendly greeting. He spoke first
“Damn monkey b***h,” he said. The words, like a shard of ice, stabbed into my heart.
I could hardly believe my ears and glanced around, wondering who had wronged him to elicit that response.
“Excuse me?” I said as he passed.
“You heard me,” he said, then muttered, “Stupid black monkey b***h.”
As he was scraggly, unkempt and frankly rather aromatic, at first I thought that perhaps he was homeless and had to be mentally ill to be so unpleasant. Then I realized how unfair that thought was, as if issues in residency and mental health equated to racism. They don’t.
I suppose his circumstances didn’t really matter in this case. The cold glass splinter twisted and cut anyway. Until we find a way to honestly and openly address it and extract it – which will be painful – it will continue its damage.