By now most people have seen the cartoon in the New York Post that depicted police shooting a chimpanzee and making a statement about the stimulus package. The AP took the rather vague neutral position that “some” feel that the cartoon might be racist.
The reaction from the defenders of the Post and cartoonist Sean Delonas have ranged from mystified — what’s racist about it? — to dismissive — oh, come on, can’t you take a joke? — to infantile evasions — you liberals called George W. Bush “the smirking chimp” and no one called that racist.*
Leaving aside the obvious — of course the cartoon is, at the very least, racially insensitive and not particularly funny — it really makes you wonder what kind of world Mr. Delonas and the editors of the Post live in where they wouldn’t get the point that depicting the first African-American president as a monkey would be seen as racist by anyone who is marginally aware of civil rights history in America. Anyone who doesn’t know that has no business making a living doing social commentary purely based on the evidence that they have no clue as to the culture they’re commenting on.
Of course Mr. Delonas knew what he was saying in the cartoon and he knew full well the implications and conclusions his readers and the larger world would draw from them. In fact, he’s counting on it to get him the attention he’s after, and he and his defenders will revel in the outrage that they’ve provoked. There will always be a market for this kind of stuff; in fact, you can count on seeing more of it over the next four years regardless of whether or not President Obama and his policies succeed. If he does well, the wingnuts will intensify the noise to distract from the fact that he’s doing what he promised, and if he stumbles, they will all say, “See, we told you he” — and by implication all African-Americans — “isn’t up to the job.” So they have an out either way.
That’s to be expected. But what I think they’re not getting is that if they’re going to take this approach, they have to drop the pretense. Mr. Delonas and his defenders are insulting their own intelligence with their “Racist? Moi?” act. It doesn’t work — no one believes they’re that ignorant — and it points out the obvious fact that they have no intelligent response to the president’s agenda, so all they can do is come up with childish name-calling and mockery. That tells you all you really need to know; there’s no need to draw us a picture.
*For the record, I never resorted to the name-calling of President Bush by any of the epithets that were popular with some of my liberal colleagues. He did a bad enough job that his deeds alone brought on the scorn he deserved, so adding a nickname seemed to be redundant.