Thursday, February 19, 2009

Something's Happening Here...

Sean Delonas cartoon depicting shooting by cops of chimp as stand-in for Barack Obama (Cartoon by Sean Delonas for New York Post, Wednesday, February 18, 2009)

Something's Happening Here...

It is, to deliberately use the phrase, as simple as black and white.

When you refer to African-Americans as simians, you are being racist. When you refer to European-Americans in the same way, it's not.

For at least a thousand years, people from Africa were denied inclusion in the human family by the cultural, religious, and political institutions of Europe. Insisting Africans were "not entirely human" but some kind of ape-being was not the cause of racism. Racism, like all other oppressions, begins with power imbalance based on perceived survival struggle which eventually becomes widespread enough to infect every system of the human cultures where it is found. At that point, justifications and rationalizations are created to "explain" the lie. The portrayal of black people as monkeys is an ancient attempt to excuse treating them like animals.

Follow the power. If a man is compared to a barnyard animal, it may be offensive but it doesn't threaten the power flow because there is no institutionalized lie which implies it might be true. If a woman is compared to a barnyard animal, it is an attack backed by possible denial of access to power. Which is why I don't use bitch, chick, sow, or cow as terms for women, any more than I would use buck, junglebunny, rat, or vermin to refer to various non-white groups. There is, in my opinion, no "reclaiming" of such terminology while the power structure remains intact, no "subverting" the fact that we are all raised to think of the lie -- and the hate behind it -- first when we hear it used.

The association is there, whether we admit it or not. Even the depiction of two white police officers shooting a chimp (although, in this case, the drawing looks more like a gorilla, which I believe is deliberate because gorillas are more intimidating) would have an underlay of recognizable racism, because a solid percentage of the American population will think "black" when they see that ape. It's an easy, cheap association.

But when the line "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill" is the caption -- with the clear knowledge that our President wrote the current stimulus bill, and in fact a photograph of him doing so appears on the previous page of the same newspaper in which this so-called cartoon appeared -- then there is no arguing the intent of this drawing. The intent is to encourage feelings and thoughts of homicide against our President because he is an African-American daring to break free of his "animal" category, daring to assume economic leadership. Over white people.

I recommend reading BAGNewsNotes, who of course has their finger directly on the pulse. Also recommended is Jack and Jill Politics analysis in "The Connection Between Blacks As Apes And Police Brutality".

I also encourage us to think long-term about what this blatant display means. Pam Spaulding at Pam's House Blend does a consummate job of listing all the racism employed by Republicans and the Right during this last election cycle in her post The New York Post Makes Its Case For a Post-Racial America. It's true that this is business as usual for that crowd. But is also true that as the delusion of their supposed majority is revealed, and as they lose access to power, they will not go gentle in that good night. Their racism is, as Orcinus and Sara Robinson have repeatedly warned, becoming a daily danger, beyond even the threat of violence and death at the hands of cops that every person of color in this country knows on a gut level.

We cannot "nice" and hope this away. We cannot educate infected individuals and leave the system intact. This is not an issue of semantics or artistic freedom. This is a clarion clear call to war. We do not (and I hope will not) accept their terms of battle, but we must pay attention: When a major newspaper in our largest city prints a cartoon advocating the murder of "whoever wrote the stimulus bill", reducing him to an ape out of control, we are facing cultural revolution.

Something's happening here...