Just when I try to find something to like about the New York Post, a cartoon comparing the "stimulus author" to a dead primate appears in this rag. Really? Likening President Barack Obama to an enraged primate that mauled a woman in Connecticut and was stabbed and shot is not funny, interesting or subversive. It is racist and plays on the most antiquated stereotypes about African-Americans as animalistic, brutes, angry, violent, 2/3 human and in need of policing.
Yes, Mr. Delonas sure is funny when he invokes the whole notion of "blacks being too smart for their own good," like the "domesticated" chimpanzee who is brilliant but at some point will tap into his real "nature" and maul someone, as was the case in Connecticut.
This cartoon reflects the dominant narrative of American culture -- an uppity Negro (President Obama) who dares to try and bring some relief to this country (stimulus package) will one day tap into his true nature (nigger/beast) and will maul America (white folks), which will only be safe when he is eliminated (murdered), by brute force (the police) no less.
The election of the nation's first black president has awakened the real brute and beast of American culture -- racism, which in this case is masquerading as a cartoon. It is incredible to me that anyone can look at this cartoon and not see the racist overtones in it. This is one of the reasons why Attorney General Eric Holder made the comment that he made last week, saying that we are a "nation of cowards" when it comes to race. It is true.
I watched the Sunday morning news shows, and you were hard pressed to find someone outright call the cartoon racist. Most said that it was "racial," including Juan Williams, who offered strong commentary about why the cartoon was just plain wrong on Fox Morning News. As Williams said, "there is no way that you can get around" the implications of this cartoon. We are so afraid to talk about racism, that we now call racist acts "racial." No, it's racist.
We can denounce Mr. Holder for stating the obvious because of the way that he said it. What Mr. Holder is really saying is that in this country, we are afraid to discuss race, which is why you have a brilliant cartoonist like Sean Delonas feigning ignorance about likening President Obama to a monkey. He wants us to believe that in all of his travels, education and experience, he never had a real discussion about the historical visual representation of African-Americans as monkeys in art, literature, film and cartoons?
Hell, I went to white, affluent universities and was usually the only black person or one of two in the class throughout my entire academic career, including to attain my Ph.D. Most of my academic mentors, whom I love by the way, are white men and women. They taught us about this type of imagery because of its importance to the historical representation of all Americans in this country. Even though there weren't a bunch of black folks at any of my schools, they knew that everyone needed to know about this and talk about it in order to move our classrooms, and symbolically our country, forward.
Why am I telling you this? Because anyone at anytime can have a real discussion about race that may be uncomfortable and even hurtful, but necessary. Real discussion about any topic only takes place when everyone comes to the table, including Mr. Selonas. I do not buy for one minute that Mr. Selonas did not know what he was doing. Instead of being a punk (as used in the black vernacular, not in the homophobic one) by not even acknowledging what he had done and offering a half-assed apology (sorry but not really), he should have been a grown-up and had a real discussion at least about the visceral reaction to his cartoon. Black folks were not the only ones up in arms over this -- people of all backgrounds were upset.
As racism works in this country, if it involves a black person, then it immediately becomes a black issue instead of an American issue. This is what Mr. Holder is talking about, which we might have heard had he chosen different words. Hell, poor whites are discriminated against in this country too, but we cannot have a real conversation about it because we want to pretend that it doesn't exist. We do not want to do the hard work because it is difficult, and it takes real courage to discuss issues of race in this country. Clearly our historic amnesia has allowed us to forget that not too long ago, anyone would be killed or maimed for speaking out about racism as a social injustice. We are slowly recovering from that, but these conversations need to happen as our country becomes more diverse.
One of the benefits of sheer and utter foolishness like this cartoon is that it gives us an opportunity to have a real and honest discussion about race in this country. While many folks erroneously believe that the election of President Obama means that racism is over, Mr. Delonas' racist cartoon tells us differently.
Mr. Delonas' racism cannot hide behind this cartoon as art, and the Post cannot hide behind Mr. Delonas as an artist. Both are wrong, both are racist, both are opportunists, both are sensationalists, both are cowardly, and both reflect the worst of America -- demented individuals with the support of institutions desperate for relevancy.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College and editorial director for RushmoreDrive.com.