Dr. King Reflecting on the Journey

Dr. King Reflecting on the Journey
"Infamous, this day in Memphis, city of my demise."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Researched Response to The New York Post's Controversial Political Cartoon

New York Post Cartoon Based on Long-Held, Hidden Assumptions Historically Associating African-Americans with Apes That Still Persist As Evidenced By Cartoonist

“A woman was mauled by a chimp in Stamford, Connecticut, and a police officer shot the chimp dead. How do you use that image to comment on the controversial Stimulus Bill passed by Obama? Well, if you’re Sean Delonas of The New York Post simply caption the shooting of the chimp in this way: ‘They’ll have to find someone to write that next stimulus bill’” (huffingtonpost.com).

Some folks didn’t get it when most African-Americans reacted negatively to the nooses hung from a tree in Jenna, Louisiana. Some folks thought Don Imus’ “nappy headed ‘ho” remark was just sexist, not racist. However, many folks are taking exception to Attorney General Eric Holder saying during a recent African-American History celebration, “We are a nation of cowards” when it comes to discussing race. I’d understand the outrage had Holder said “white people are cowards” when it comes to discussing race. However, he didn’t say that. He said we are a nation of cowards. That means all of us: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans, and every other shade, color, and hue.

Believe it or not, there are many African-Americans who don’t want to discuss race either – that is until they become the victim of racism: then they become willing participants and often leaders of that discussion. I used to joke that black folks in Toledo hated Floyd Rose (a minister who lived in Toledo for several decades and was a community/social activist) right up to the moment they went to him when they got passed over for a job/promotion, housing, a business loan, or some act of institutionalized racism that infuriated them.

The reaction to Holder’s statement notwithstanding, most people – except for the ones who work at the New York Post – seem to get that the cartoon in The New York Post is racist. Obviously, since President Obama is the author of the current stimulus plan, the cartoon’s caption evokes thoughts of him. Add to that the shooting down of a primate and you might get the idea that the cartoonist seems to be indicating that the police officers have just shot a black man, specifically our newly elected President, America’ first black President in a nation with a regrettable history of Presidential assassination attempts, three of which were successful.

“At its most benign, the cartoon suggests that the stimulus bill was so bad, monkeys may as well have written it. Others believe it compares the President to a rabid chimp. Either way, the incorporation of violence and (on a darker level) race into politics is bound to be controversial. Perhaps that’s what Delonas wanted” (columnist, Sam Stein). Stein could be right given that the cartoonist, frequently accused of bigotry, was nicknamed “the Picasso of prejudice” due to his frequent attacks on gays, associating them with bestiality. However, the cartoon which does seem to be about President Obama implicitly, like those nooses in Jenna imply violence against blacks, has a much deeper significance in that discussion about race that Attorney General Holder says we – all of us – as a nation are too cowardly to address.

“The furor might have drawn little more than a public yawn and shrug except for two small points. One is the long, sordid and savage history of racist stereotyping of African-Americans. A few grotesque book titles from a century ago, such as The Negro Is a Beast; The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization; and The Clansman depicted blacks as apes, monkeys, bestial, and animal-like. The image stuck in books, magazines, journals, and deeply colored the thinking of many Americans of that day” (Earl Ofari Hutchison, “Mr. Murdock is Obama Really a Chimp?” Friendly Five, the Dailly News Opinion Blog, 2/18/09). While the excerpt does not state Hutchison’s second point, I imagine it is given that U.S. Presidents have been previously assassinated, the cartoon’s could provoke an attempt on our current President’s life.

Regardless of what the second point may be, as stated by Hutchison, there is a historical precedence that accounts for the virulent reaction among most African-Americans to Delonas political cartoon that dates back to the earliest contacts Europeans had with Africans. “The representation of blacks as apes has been on the cultural conscience of westerners since shortly after the first contact of Europeans with West Africa. ‘Early European maritime writings described primitive people who seemed more closely related to apes than white explorers’” (ScienceDave, “Discrimination Against Blacks Linked to Dehumanization,” NowPublic, 2/11/08).

Unfortunately, history that is not examined and discussed, often repeats itself as demonstrated by ScienceDave’s article focusing on the findings of six studies published by Stanford, Penn State, and UC Berkeley psychologists. “Their work aimed to answer, ‘Is it possible to hold an implicit association between apes and blacks if one is unaware that such an association ever existed?’ In other words, do people inherently associate ‘apes’ with black people, even if they have had no experience with any such association” (ScienceDave). Why are blacks still being associated with apes in the 21st century?

Another article about the studies written by Tom Jacobs (2008) offers a possible answer. “In a widely heralded speech, presidential candidate Barack Obama asked Americans to begin a more honest discussion about race, anger, and prejudice. Such a conversation is unlikely to get far, however, if someone’s not even aware of their bigoted assumptions. And a just-published series of six studies suggests one racial stereotype – that blacks are somehow apelike – is lodged in the minds of white Americans, just below the level of consciousness” (Jacobs, “Studies Expose ‘Apelike” Stereotype Among Whites,” Miller-McCune, 3/21/08). Are blacks still being associated with apes in 2009, because of deeply rooted, assumptions that prevent “honest discussion about race, anger, and prejudice”?

The studies in question used white university students as subjects and three test groups who were shown a black person’s face, a white face, or no face followed by degraded images of animal faces that gradually became clear. “Interestingly, it took the test subjects fewer frames to recognize the ape after being primed with a black face than no face and more frames when primed with a white face than the control” (ScienceDave). Also, given the word “ape” as a prime, subjects who simultaneously watched videos of police beatings of blacks were more like to claim the beating was justified for blacks than whites.

Publication of the findings of the study concluded that “‘Despite widespread opposition to racism, bias remains with us,’ Eberhardt [an author on the study] said. ‘African-Americans are still dehumanized; we’re still associated with apes in this country. That association can lead people to endorse the beating of black suspects by police officers, and I think it has lots of other consequences that we have yet to uncover’” (ScienceDave).

Historically, these associations have been considered reasonable and scientifically justified. “In the influential and now infamous 1854 book Types of Mankind, Josiah C. Nott and George Robins Gliddon rank Negroes between Greeks and chimpanzees on the evolutionary ladder. ‘I don’t think it’s intentional, but when people learn about human evolution, they walk away with a notion that people of African descent are closer to apes than people of European descent,’ Eberhardt told the Stanford University press office. ‘When people think of a civilized person, a white man comes to mind’” (Jacob).

The persistence of these associations and their historical origins that seem to explain in some fashion the results of the studies is also stated by lead author Phillip Atiba Goff. “‘The notion of blacks as apelike began with the first European contact with Africans,’ Goff said. ‘There were illustrations of apes descending from the trees having intercourse with African females. It was perhaps the most popular pictorial representation of people of African descent in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries’” (Jacobs). An image from Jan Nederveen Pieterse’s book White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Popular Western Culture published in Amsterdam in 1990, shows a graphic representation of prevailing stereotypes in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. Slaveholders promoted the notion that female slaves from Africa were sexually insatiable, stating as fact that these women engaged in sexual intercourse with apes.

Pieterse exposes the intent behind these images. “White on Black is a compelling visual history of the development of European and American stereotypes of black people over the last two hundred years. Its purpose is to show the pervasiveness of prejudice against blacks throughout the western world as expressed in stock-in-trade racist imagery and caricature. Reproducing a wide range of illustrations—from engravings and lithographs to advertisements, candy wrappings, biscuit tins, dolls, posters, and comic strips the book challenges the hidden assumptions of even those who view themselves as unprejudiced….Looking at conventional portrayals of blacks in the nursery, in sexual arenas, and in commerce and advertising, Pieterse analyzes the conceptual roots of the stereotypes about them. The images that he presents have a direct and dramatic impact, and they raise questions about the expression of power within popular culture and the force of caricature, humor, and parody as instruments of oppression” (Yale University Press, 2008).

The question remains, “how is this being transmitted from generation to generation? ‘It’s a fascinating question,’ Goff said. ‘If you look at depictions of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Barack Obama in editorial cartoons, they are frequently simian-looking representations’” (Jacobs). T-shirts with a monkey labeled “Obama in ‘08” were sold in Arkansas, during the election which, along with a sock puppet monkey dressed in a suit and wearing an Obama campaign button, created quite a bit of controversy. The folks who made the puppet were shocked at the negative response, but were quick to apologize and attempt to explain themselves.

“We at TheSockObama Co. are saddened that some individuals have chosen to misinterpret our plush toy. It is not, nor has it ever been our objective to hurt, dismay or anger anyone. We guess there is an element of naviete on our part, in that we don't think in terms of myths, fables, fairy tales and folklore. We simply made a casual and affectionate observation one night, and a charming association between a candidate and a toy we had when we were little” (“Creators of TheSockObama™: Of Course We Aren't Racist!” posted by Jeff Fecke on Shakesville Blog, 6/13/08).

Some people still don’t get it. Obviously, the folks at TheSockObama Co. didn’t bother to do any historical research or they would have run across books like Types of Mankind and White on Black or some of the caricatures of blacks that were popular a less than a century ago and that can still be seen in Asia and Latin America, as well in some places in Europe. (This writer was dismayed to see such a stuffed toy in a window display in Europe’s then largest shopping mall in Paris, France, in 1990).

I think these images and the underlying beliefs they represent persist because Attorney General Holder is right: we are cowards when it comes to discussions about race because those who hold these beliefs (including some blacks who look down on other blacks – the uneducated and/or poor – believing they are superior to those they consider lower classed) don’t want to admit to those outside their circle that they have them and those about whom these beliefs are held often don’t want to be confronted with such assumptions.

If we were to have that discussion about this issue which has had such a significant role in the history of our country out in the open, bringing out all of the ugliness and stupidity that surrounds race on all sides, everyone would know that things like nooses being hung from trees and African-Americans being depicted as monkeys, chimpanzees, or apes are offensive, traumatic, and unacceptable; and they’d also know why.

Friday, February 6, 2009


You’ve got to respect a man who admits when he’s made a mistake. Not since Jack Kennedy has an American President admitted to making a mistake until Barack Obama made that admission this week when he said, “I screwed up” in regard to the nomination of former Senator Tom Daschle for Secretary of Health and Human Services. But was it the President’s mistake or the mistake of those in charge of vetting potential cabinet members? This same group of people made this mistake not once, not twice, but three times with cabinet nominees who had serious tax problems, including the now approved Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, who’s in charge of the government’s tax-collecting agency, an ironic, if not cynical choice. The President maintains that he does not support one set of rules for the politically elite and another for the average American citizen, but while the two other nominees with tax problems dropped out, Geithner, who was also working on Wall Street when the country went into recession, seems to have dodged the bullet. But back to those responsible for not doing a proper job of vetting these cabinet nominees: didn’t the Democrats raise questions about the Republicans not properly vetting Sarah Palin? Now, what? Will somebody finally realize that the best person to head up Health and Human Services, an obvious choice, is former DNC chair, Dr. Howard Dean? It was Dean who conceived the 50-state strategy and internet blitz that Obama used to win the 2008 election. Sure, Obama refined Dean’s concept and honed it into a well-oiled political machine, but it was Dean’s idea initially. Yet, Dean has been ignored since the election. Word is Dean doesn’t get along with Rahm Emanuel. So? Who cares? They don’t have to be buddies! They don’t have to play golf together, visit each other’s homes, go on golfing dates, or have sleepovers! They need to serve the country and, in my opinion and the opinions of quite a few other folks, Dean has always been the best choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Cenk Uygur stated On The Huffington Post “no one can dispute that Howard Dean was right about the 50 state strategy, and this undoubtedly helped Barack Obama and a lot of Democratic congressmen and senators get elected. He's also been exactly right on the policy issues. Shouldn't the Obama administration reward competence?” Posted November 25, 2008 08:15 PM (EST.) “Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the man regarded by many sharp political operatives as the progenitor of President-elect Barack Obama's successful 2008 campaign, finds himself without an obvious next job as his tenure at the head of the Democratic National Committee comes to an end….And yet, it's hard not see Dean as a lesson in how political hardball is played in Washington. Never liked by establishment party figures -- Dean publicly feuded with incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel when the latter was at the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2006 election cycle -- Dean finds himself on the outside looking in as a new Democratic Administration comes to town….Dean then made a play to be secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration but was quickly shot down in favor of former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, a confidante of the president-elect….” The Fix by Chris Cillizza, washingtonpost.com's Politics Blog The Denouement of Howard Dean. The Dean-Emanuel conflict wouldn’t be the only contentious relationship in the cabinet should Dean get the job of Health and Human Services Secretary. However, I think the likelihood of having innovative and feasible ideas for health care would be worth bearing with any squabbles these two may have. However, there is still some resistance to the notion that President Obama "screwed up" by not giving Dean the job in the first place. Evan Thomas from Newsweek said in a recent television interview when asked about the mistakes made in not properly vetting Daschle and other cabinet nominees who turned out to be in arrears with their taxes, “Would Hillary have done any better?” I like to think that having more experience, Senator Clinton would have had the good sense to nominate Dean for Health and Human Services Secretary; but I can’t complain too much because President Obama had the good sense to nominate her! Meanwhile, in other developments, the economic stimulus package seems to have hit a snag after being hijacked in the House by Nancy Pelosi, still tasting victory and flaunting her powers. Nevertheless, the Senate seems poised to approve some version, probably not the best, of the bill that is this nation’s only hope for some economic relief. Do you get the feeling of being on a sinking ship right about now? There is a plane going down on the Potomac. Flocks of birds have taken out both engines - Blue Jays took out the left engine and Redbirds took out the right engine. The pilot who is flying an Airbus 1600 on his first flight out is intent on making it to the nearest airport. Having promised the 303, 824,640 passengers on U.S. Airways Flight 2009, to safely transport them out of a recession, the novice flyer refuses to accept defeat. “We’re having some trouble,” he reports to Air Traffic Control. “Are you going to continue and land at the nearest airport?” an air traffic controller asks. “If we don’t act now, we’re going to go from crisis to castastrophe,” answers the pilot. “But what are you going to do?” asks the controller again. “Look, I found those birds when I showed up. I found them, doubled, and wrapped in a package with a great big bow!” said the pilot. “What?” asked the confused controller. “I guess they were listening to Rush Limbaugh and he told them to take out our engines,” mumbled the pilot. “Flight 2009, can you land at the nearest airport?” The controller’s voice increased in volume as time ran out for the pilot to make a decision. “Yes we can! All we have is hope and the audacity to believe in change, so we’re going for it!” said the pilot as the passengers cheered in the background. The controller was concerned, knowing that the plane was still minutes away from the airport and not sure how long the plane could stay in the air. “Boy, where is Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger when we need him?” mumbled the concerned controller, fondly remembering “the miracle on the Hudson” as he prayed for a miracle on the Potomac.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Obama B(l)acklash!

I wrote the following letter to the news director of Toledo's CBS affiliate, only to find out after a week-long stay in Columbus that Toledo's only African-America evening news anchor, Shenikwa Stratford was replaced by a white female. More Obama B(l)acklash - negative reaction to the election of America's first black President either due to the assumption that having a black President negates the need for affirmative action or post-election resentment rooted in racism. Either way, this is not acceptable and I won't be watching any local television news in Toledo except on weekend evenings.

Mr. Chirdon,

I'm not sure why Rev. Larry Whatley no longer does the traffic reports on Channel 11's morning news, but do you realize that with his absence there are now no African-Americans on local television news in the mornings? While your new female anchor is very professional and a good addition to your news team, there are several African-American reporters (Mikah Highsmith, for example) who could have been placed in that position when Melissa Voestch moved to a later newscast.

Unlike channels 24 and 13, Channel 11 does not seem interested in giving reporters the opportunity to develop their skills by putting them in morning anchor positions. Evening anchor on Channel 24, Shenikwa Stratford, developed her skills as an anchor this way, as did Efrem Graham and Kristen Brown, the weekend morning and evening anchors on Channel 13, respectively. These are all African-American broadcasters who were given the opportunity to advance.

I watch Channel 24 at 6pm and 11pm to see someone who looks like me reading the news; I also watch Channel 13 news Saturday and Sunday mornings and evenings for the same reason. I used to watch Channel 11 news weekday mornings because of Rev. Whatley. Our relationship goes back to 1990, when he worked for Channel 13, and had me on his show to discuss the debut of my theatre company, Toledo BlackStage, and its debut production, my original musical play, "Juneteenth." I am a loyal fan of his and the other reporters previously mentioned.

I am no more hesitant to admit I am happy to see African-Americans on the news than Italian Americans, Greek Americans, Polish Americans, or any other ethnic groups are happy to see people of their ethnic group in the public eye. However, there seems to be this b(l)acklash to having a black President. There have been some positives and they are welcome. But there also seem to be some unwelcome negatives, such as African-Americans suddenly disappearing from public eye, as in the case of Rev. Whatley.

While you have every right to hire the most qualified professional to fill positions on your news team, as a journalist who never got the opportunity to be a reporter until African-American newspapers hired me, I understand the importance of giving people a chance to develop their talents. As a viewer, I'll be frank: I want to see African-Americans in every news cast I watch. I don't watch any of the evening newscasts of any of the three major networks - CBS, ABC, and NBC- because there are no African-American anchors on any of them.

This may not seem important to anyone else, but in 2009, the year America got its first black President, I don't think it's too much to ask that there is at least one African-American anchor on one of the major networks and on one of the three local morning news programs.

My only reason for watching Channel 11 was because Rev. Whatley was part of your team (I also love meteorologist, Mike Stone), but now that he's not there any more, I tend to turn to MSNBC as soon as I watch the weather report. I usually to wait until 6:00 to turn to "Morning Joe," but now I may just watch Headline news at 5:00, and get my local news and weather from The Blade, which does have African-American reporters.

G. J. Chapman
WTOL- viewer since 1988.