Thursday, February 19, 2009

Racist Cartoon Is Beyond Contempt

During Black History month with the first African American president elected to deal with our economic, political and social problems, you'd think there was enough on our collective plate to keep us busy. But, nooooo. Deep in the bowels of hatred and cruelty, the acolytes of evil never sleep.

This writer tried very hard to avoid a visceral reaction to the racist Page Six cartoon published by the New York Post. The longer I thought about this infamous image, the angrier I became. It got to the point I could no longer contain my fury at another senseless injustice being done under the innocuous cloak of political humor.

The cartoon, printed on February 18, 2009, cleverly melds the shooting of a pet chimp with the passing of Barack Obama's stimulus bill. Viewed in isolation, this picture could be seen as innocent, even though it's a bit over the top. Both the Post and cartoonist, Sean Delonas, said there was nothing nefarious about their intent. But, when you place this in-your-face image into historic context, you get a different sense of what's really going on.

Our history is full of "Little Black Sambo" and pickaninny pictures used exclusively to portray African Americans in general and black men in particular as lazy, ignorant, even dangerous. Comparing blacks with monkeys was common in newspapers and posters. Blatant racist illustrations were removed only after much blood was spilled during the civil rights movement a few decades ago. Despite the stupendous effort to rid our media of negative pictures, they keep popping up, indicating there's still work to be done.

This "monkey mow down" image will become a classic because it displays several layers of American racism, all at one time. Besides the treatment of blacks as being less than human, there's the clear lack of equal protection under the law. The shooter appears to be a white police officer. And the incident happens on a street in broad daylight. The other white officer says: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." He doesn't bear witness to the gun down, at all. Both officers seem to be detached from the scene. White police officers have routinely shot to death unarmed black men for centuries. The excuse has always been some variation of fear for their own lives. Thus, the "beware of dog" sign is well positioned to stress this point. It never makes any difference the officers have numbers and overwhelming force at their command. A suspicious black man is deemed a serious threat and a possessor of superhuman strength when alleged to be under the influence of drink or drugs -- an obvious racist myth. So, deadly force is often considered the first, not the last, response by police officers.

The ugly quip about the stimulus bill directly associates Obama with murder. The crude cartoon strongly suggests assassination by those who are sworn to protect the law and our president. The use of the word "they'll" instead of "we'll" suggests the police are to be considered an entity apart from the American people, even the law. Further, the image hints Obama should be killed for getting his economic package passed and the police should be used to get this grisly deed done.

The New York Post was once a worthy newspaper, featuring some of the best writers on liberal and labor issues. During the vicious shakeout of the 1970s, the new owners moved the paper's message well to the blue collar right. Today, it's a useless rag spouting "conservative" propaganda. The Delonas cartoon isn't funny. There isn't a shred of redeeming value, except for the fact it exposes the depth of American racism. The Post's editors claim there was no malevolent intent in their decision to publish the image. However, this savage monstrosity speaks loudly for itself. The Post has a long rap sheet riddled with many racist articles and illustrations to its sordid credit.

The media are abuzz with stories about the alleged monkey cartoon. The most respected and articulate among us didn't mind flopping around in this cess pool. The most dispiriting aspect of this whole folderol is the simple fact chimps aren't monkeys. They're apes. There's a big difference between the two. If we expect to continue progressing as a nation, we should critically observe the difference between good and bad taste in cartoons, too.

Franklin L. Johnson