Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Mr. Rupert Murdoch, it's certainly no surprise to you that New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan would hotly defend the racist Post cartoon comparing President Obama to a chimp. That's what your shock and smut-dealing Post is in the business of doing, and it does it well. The idea, of course, is to get tongues furiously wagging, get enraged e-mails, letters and phone calls pouring in, and then put forth the predictable defense of calling this and other inflammatory cartoons a parody, a free-speech right and harmless spoofery.
Allan didn't stop there, though. He couldn't resist the urge to take a swipe at Al Sharpton, branding him with the standard tag of race-baiter and media hound for daring to call out the Post on the vile cartoon.
The furor might have drawn little more than a public yawn and shrug except for two small points. One is the long, sordid history of racist stereotyping of African Americans. A few grotesque book titles from a century agosuch as "The Negro a Beast" and "The Negro, a Menace to American Civilizationԗdepicted blacks as apes, monkeys, bestial and animal-like. The image stuck in books, magazines and journals, and deeply colored the thinking of many Americans of that day.
Yes, Mr. Murdoch, that was a long time ago, and as Allan intimated in his lame defense of the Post cartoon, no sober person could seriously believe that anyone would liken the president, or any black for that matter, to a chimp.
Unfortunately, a lot still do.
That's the second small point about the Post cartoon. Post cartoonist Sean Delonas could so easily depict Obama as a monkey because that image didn't die a century, half century, decade or even a year ago. In fact, exactly a year ago, Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young, and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. The American Psychological Association published their findings with the provocative title "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences," in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Please keep in mind, Mr. Murdoch, thatprobably like youthe overwhelming majority of participants in the studies bristled at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the image of animal savagery and blacks was very much on their minds. The researchers found that participantsand that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical imageswere quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.
This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association with blacks has had devastating real-life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999, The Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as "barbaric," "beast," "brute," "savage" and "wild." And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial, and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.
The Post cartoon, Mr. Murdoch, was the complete package. It depicted violence, death, brutality, incitement and animal-like imagery. The topper was the not-so-subtle inference that the target of the chimp depiction was an African American male, namely President Obama.
In recent days, Mr. Murdoch, you've dropped a hint or two that you want to put the word "balance" back into the vocabulary of those who run your media empire. You can start by issuing this statement.
"News Corporation pledges that the Post's offensive cartoon will not be circulated, or reprinted or syndicated. Further, we have zero tolerance toward racially insensitive and inflammatory cartoons or editorial depictions of African Americans and other ethnic groups. Finally, we apologize for the Obama cartoon and pledge in the future that the Post and other Murdoch entities will hold to the highest standard of editorial sensitivity in our cartoons."
Mr. Murdoch, you moved in the right direction when you issued an apology this week. However, if you are personally repelled by the comparison of President Obama to a chimp, I hope you will prohibit the use of such offensive tactics in the future.