Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Great Monkey Debate

Unless you've been lost on a desert island for the past week, you have heard about the furor over the NY Post cartoon that has raised the ire of many African Americans. The NAACP has called for the firing of the cartoonist and protesters said that Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Post should be put in jail.

The cartoon showed a gunned-down chimp and one police officer says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

Immediately it was decided by all the protesters that the cartoonist meant this as a jab to President Obama and likened him to a chimp. A reference to monkeys that has, in the past, been an intentional slap in the face for blacks.

My question to all the folks who made that synaptic leap, is why? Assuming what someone else meant is not often correct. When we assign motives, we keep alive all the negative stereotypes that have plagued us for centuries.

Quite frankly, I'd forgotten that referring to black people as monkeys had once been used to insult and humiliate them. When I first read the cartoon, I thought the connection the cartoonist was making was to the advisors who helped draft the stimulus package: That some of them did not have the brains of a chimp. I never made the connection to President Obama until the protests started.

Last Friday, two Dallas Morning News columnists, James Ragland and Steve Blow, debated the issue in a combined column. The writers, one black and one white, have a continuing series, Talking Race, in which they tackle current issues. James ended his section by saying that he doesn't think folks should tell black people to "just get over it" when they are upset about a broad slight.

If I can be so bold -- without getting crucified -- maybe they should.

Reacting to slights only gives them more power. This is something I learned when "getting over" things that were emotionally harmful to me. We cannot allow the past to control us. We have to make conscious decisions not to act out of the bitterness or sense of defeat that comes from getting mad because of a percieved insult.

Which doesn't mean I advocate sitting back and letting racism happen. On the contrary, when it is a clear case of racist behavior, then we all -- black and white and red and brown -- need to voice our objections and work toward eradicating bigotry. We just have to make sure it is an intentional act, and not just a knee-jerk reaction to something.

3 comments:

L.J. Sellers said...

Well said. I spent the last 8 years referring to Bush as that monkey in the White House, and it certainly had nothing to do with race.

Morgan Mandel said...

When my husband gets mad at other drivers I try to tell him don't let others rule your emotions. It's a good rule to follow, although not always possible.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://twitter.com/morganmandel

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for the comments, Morgan and L.J. I just finished reading and reviewing an interesting book written by Brian McClellan, Love Letter to Black People, in which he urges people to stop acting off the injustices of the past.

One of my favorite columnists, Leonard Pitts, also is a voice calling for people to let go of the anger that can hold us back and stop assuming that everyone is against us.