This cartoon, printed in the New York Post by cartoonist Sean Delonas has stirred up a huge controversy, as most of you are already aware. According to many, it is a cartoon that is not just a denouncement of Obama’s stimulus plan, but it is also filled with racial undertones.
In the cartoon, two police officers stand over the bullet-riddled body of a chimpanzee, with one officer stating that we’ll need someone else to pen the next stimulus bill. The cartoon ostensibly refers to the recent story about an out-of-control chimpanzee that was killed by police after it mauled a woman and ties this event into the stimulus package. The meaning is clear – only a crazed chimpanzee would pen this stimulus bill.
It’s not so simple, though. Barack Obama is our first African-American President. Since the stimulus package is his first major Presidential economic initiative it can be argued that the cartoon is calling Obama a chimp – a term that has been used in a derogatory fashion against black people. Many civil rights advocates and just as many publicity hounds have risen up against this cartoon, the cartoonist, and the New York Post as a result.
When I first saw the cartoon I did not immediately see the racial undertones, but having had them pointed out to me I can see them now. They are there – and it’s sad. I am not calling for the termination of the cartoonist as the NAACP is, though. But I am confused a bit.
I remember a few years ago I stumbled upon an article where the NAACP was calling for a boycott of hard drive manufacturers because of terminology used to describe two IDE hard drives connected to the same controller. One is the “master” and one is the “slave.” This master/slave terminology was labeled racist and insulting to African-Americans.
At the time, I had energetic debates with many people about how powerful cultural images are. And I concluded that they are powerful because people make them so. Seems self-evident, right? But it took a lot of thought for me to completely realize how true this is.
Yes – America unfortunately was a slave nation for part of history. We had white masters and we had black slaves. Less known is that the north had pseudo-slavery as well; it was called indentured servitude and it was colorblind. Of course, the option of freedom was there, even if it could rarely be realized.
So – as a result of our sordid national past we have a stigma around the terms “master” and “slave.” Americans, however, don’t own those terms. They have been around for much, much longer than we have been a nation. So to use the term in conjunction with hardware may or may not be offensive – but I could not find a better way to refer to the relationship.
Similarly – chimps and metaphorically referring to ineptitude through chimp comparisons has been around much, much longer than America.
So at what point do stop being so sensitive? Or do we continue to be sensitive and walk on eggshells around any term that vaguely refers to America’s less than glowing past? I am confused.
Let me tell you a story. There was a young man named Sparks who was about 18-years-old. He worked as a manager of a video store in Orlando, Florida. One day, a woman returned a movie to the store, claiming it was damaged and she could not watch it. She was, coincidentally, a black woman.
Sparks gladly replaced the movie for her – she took a different movie, though. Not a new copy of the one that was “broken.” She returned two hours later with the same story. Suspicious, Sparks looked at the tape; it wasn’t even rewound and was at the end. Popping it into a VCR, he saw that it was playing just fine.
Still – the customer is always right, right? So he, again, allowed the customer to get another movie and sent her on her way. You know what happened next?
You guessed it. Two hours later she returned with the same story. The third movie was watched to the end, and it played just fine in the store VCR. Sparks refused to give her another movie.
The lady, with her three-year-old child in tow, got very irate and started raising her voice. Sparks tried to placate her, asked her to calm down and told her that she must have a broken VCR because the tapes worked fine. He never accused her of trying to scam the store.
The lady, once she got angry, was not about to cool down. She got louder and louder, despite Sparks’ best attempts to defuse the situation. Then she started dropping F-Bombs right in the store – which was filled with Saturday families shopping.
So Sparks got a little angry himself and told the lady, “Hey – you need to calm down. This language is not appropriate in the store and if you don’t calm down I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
The lady threatened Sparks – saying she should climb over the counter and beat the shit out of him. To which Sparks responded:
“Thanks for showing me your true colors lady.”
What Sparks meant was that her true self had emerged. She was a bully. An angry customer who used threats of force to get her way.
The lady, being black, took it racially – although Sparks had used the term “showing your true colors” correctly. She reached behind the counter, picked up a metal “inbox” and smacked Sparks in the face with it. His face bleeding from a 2-inch gash in his forehead, Sparks watched in disbelief as the lady scooped up her kid and ran out of the store.
That, my friends, is the best way to describe this situation as I see it. If you’re looking for insult, no matter what someone says, you will find it. When you wear a chip that large on your shoulder someone will eventually knock it off – probably accidentally.
When is sensitivity to racial issues TOO sensitive? At what point can we use appropriate wording and imagery without fear of reprisal? When can a white man say to a black woman “show me your true colors?” and when can a cartoonist pen a cartoon comparing chimps to the authors of the stimulus bill without having to wade through a bog of racial outrage?
I’m not sure I fully understand it.You know I have a very dear friend in Washington, Angela who is also black and we have at times discussed such things as slave history and every so often the black race wanting apologies and I’m sure native Americans also want that and native Australian also want that and every race who feels victimized from history.I know how it is to apologize because I still say sorry to Chinese people for Nanjing in 1937 and please know that even my parents were not born yet at this time. Sins of the grandfather I imagine.Today I see the Muslim people say how they are victims and yet its their society that makes them so. One thousand years ago there were the center of science and literature and great knowledge.Chimpanzee is my failing?I remember seeing former Mr Bush depicted in exactly the same way and more important he was depicted as Darwin’s accent of man as being a devolved creature.I can feel sorry for the hardships of a race in its history but how far back do you go? The Europeans who raped America and took it from my ancestors?(apparently that is debatable now with some American theories) The Spanish who took South America? History is a testament to our barbaric past. Let us learn from it and just understand our mistakes and use this to create a better future. One for peace and cooperation. It is time to stop complaining at our misfortunes because complaints wont help. It makes them look like the beggar outside the temple who relies on the charity of those more fortunate. He won’t work if he is given rice each day.Are black skins any less than white or yellow? The value of humanity is priceless because it cannot be replaced.No one is monkey. All human evolved from an ancestor that he and we share. All human bleed red and all teeth smile white and smiles are better than frowns or tears.
Hmmm, I can’t get on the outrage bandwagon here. I have never, in my entire life, ever heard “chimpanzee” used as any sort of racial slur.Monkey? Ape?Yes.But chimpanzee? No.I’m not saying it’s out of the question. But if people do use it that way it must be very rare.Chimpanzee, or more likely chimp, on the other hand, is used frequently as a comedic device. As in: “I’m no trained chimp.” Or, “A trained chimp could do that.”The general meaning being that any old moron could do it.Overall this seems to be an overinflated issue.
I think there is a lot of assumption happening here in using the word Chimpanzee. It was not used in the cartoon.I have heard many derogatory uses for the word Monkey in referring to blacks. It’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the cartoon and was made immediately sick by it.I am reminded of an incident. I had a customer, Mr. Howard [very stereotypical jewish last name] who was waiting for some work to be done and asked if there was a place near by to get a sandwich. Someone mentioned a nearby deli that I had never heard of. Once my memory was jogged I said very matter of factly “Oh..you mean the Kosher place”I got a shocked look from my coworker, I have no idea what she thought I meant, but apparently saying “Kosher” in front of a Jew is bad? Not that I have ever heard of, and Howard did not seem to feel I did anything wrong.
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