Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Obama chimpanzee cartoon is clearly racist

Most of you will recall the cover of the /New Yorker magazine which depicted US President Barack Obama as being Muslim and his wife as a gun-toting terrorist. It appeared in July last year and resulted in such a deluge of hate mail, threats and outrage that you would have thought it would have given even the hardiest cartoonist reason to pause.

Not so.

This little gem from the New York Post’s Sean Delonas depicting Obama as a dead ape, in my humble opinion, makes that little offering seem tame in comparison. A spectacularly unfunny offering from a “genius” who has by all accounts made repeated attacks on the gay community.

In response to criticism, the editor-in-chief of the Post, Col Allen, has hit back with: “The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut,” he said. “It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy.”

This being a referral to the savage attack by a “celebrity” chimpanzee on a lady in Connecticut which resulted in the police having to shoot the animal. Delonas then juxtaposes this with Obama’s signing of the stimulus bill for the purpose of the cartoon.

Leaving aside the weak attempt to bind the two events together in this sub-standard cartoon, it must be obvious to any journalist who has been on the job for a week, never mind an editor of the New York Post, that depicting black people as monkeys or apes is so out of order that it hardly bears thinking about. It is well-known that this type of imagery is considered a source of ridicule and humiliation by the community.

A few short weeks ago Carol Thatcher made a comment in passing that a certain golliwog reminded her of a postman from a certain programme and was lambasted and then banned for doing so. Compared to this her actions were a non-event. What the BBC would have done to this cartoonist heaven only knows.

Zapiro in the Mail & Guardian depicted the ANCYL undergoing reverse evolution and returning to the apes in its choice of leaders over various generations. That was an extremely clever way of depicting a huge drop in standards within the organisation which did, however, cause offence. Some of my black readers were clearly unhappy about it and raised the cartoon in our previous debates on the subject.

Zapiro’s cartoon was ingenious in its design and well drawn if somewhat offensive with regard to the characters used to highlight the subject matter. This effort from Delonas is poorly drawn and offensive with a quality about it that suggests a Confederate artist just after the American Civil War.

Worse, if we have regard to the thinking behind this then the only conclusion that I can draw is that Delonas saw the dead chimp and then asked himself how he could translate this into political terms. This has to have resulted in his comparing the dead animal to a black person — classic racism — which he then identified as Obama.

Though Allen, the Post’s editor, points out that the cartoon is a parody of current events, what he doesn’t do is explain how readers could interpret the ape as anyone other than Obama and that the president is accordingly being depicted as a monkey. In addition knowing — as he surely must do — how offensive black people find this comparison, why this cartoon is not racist, how it was ever allowed to see light of day by the Post and why an apology is not due?

  • Benzol

    What is new here?

    Around 1994 a picture did the round on the Internet of the face of an ape which than gradually became the face of Nelson Mandela (or the other way around).

    Clever technology at the time. As a cartoon or joke not a great success. Just “delete”.

    Racist? After all Darwin has been trying to convince us for years that we all indeed come from there.

  • BLACKLISTED DICTATOR

    Mike,
    Racism is endemic. Fron America to South America. How about a “Traps” editorial on The British Bishop in Argentina who wants to re-write holocaust history?

    Of course, you must preface the article with your standard statement that you are an orthodox Jew but not Islamophobic!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7900591.stm

  • Mark

    Completely disagree. People who see racial undertones in this cartoon are the ones who need their head examined.

    There are probably thousands of cartoons depicting George Bush as an ape, but nobody cries foul on that?

    You need to stop being so sensitive. It’s a cartoon. With a clear reference to current events.

    By making such a spectacle of it, you are elevating a non-issue to a major debacle, thus re-inforcing the racist connotations in everyone’s heads… i.e. Don’t compare black people to monkeys, ever, but it’s ok to compare white people to monkeys. Huh? If there’s no difference between white and black, then why get so upset? Ridiculous!

  • Madoda

    Traps,

    If in your opinion that cartoon is racist, then where should cartoonists draw lines? What is the objective criteria for the determination of the thin line between acceptable and inacceptable cartoons? Is it good taste? Is it how good the satire is?

    Are cartoons never offensive because cartoonists have a freedom of speech?

    Is offense only to be judged by the members of the badly caricatured group? If Obama comes out and says that Delonas cartoon is not a big deal, would Delonas’s cartoon still be racist? At what point are cartoons of prophet Mohammed depicted as a terrorist not offensive? Is it when muslims feel offended? Are Zapiro cartoons forever depicting Zuma with a shower on his head not offensive because surely Zuma is offended?

    If it is not acceptable for Obama to be depicted as a chimpanzee why is it acceptable for Zapiro to depict Malema as one? Why is it not rascist for Zapiro to depict Vavi, Blade, Gwede and Malema as rapists? Are depictions of black people as rapists not classical racism?

  • Mbuya Munlo

    I wonder if no chimpanzee died during George Bush’s leadership because there was no shortage of bad decisions requiring the use of this imagery. In any case racism and monkey characters is what racists have used to put down black people. That facility is now outdated as blacks will not take superiority on face value. People and races have to prove themselves and black people are scoring highly on the intelligence-competency-comfidence scale.

  • GS van Zyl

    Yes. It is indeed racist. And unacceptable!

    I would however like to open a secondary debate – The best way to deal with it.

    Last Friday a cashier at Hyperama found out to her great embarrasment that some whites can actually understand her language. I was amused by the insult she aimed at me, she was embarrassed and laughed nervously shen she realised that I understood the meaning of her words.

    It would be difficult for anyone to get a serious reaction from me based on some attack related to my race. The moral of the story is that any negative reaction to race-based insults gives the instigator of the insult exactly what he or she wants – a negative reaction. The best way to deal with racist insults is to smile and wave.

  • Kit

    This cartoon is just racist. Any debate about it is so a non-starter. Pointing at the animal-person who drove the bailout…now the Democrats as a party don’t have any even remote linkage to a chimpanzee…so the ‘it’s all of them’ excuse is just ridiculous. The linkage is clear as the space between a politician’s ears. It’s racism.

    The only thing that I have a twinge about with this is that people rant and rave about genuinely satirical cartoons because their own peculiar minds see something racist or otherwise offensive (see the infamous Zapiro Lady Justice cartoon) – and that means that this whole outcry is just so much less heard. They muddy the water for subsequent important discussions with their continual defensiveness.

    How about we all use some common sense. If it makes you a bit uncomfortable, that’s what it’s supposed to do. Look into yourself first and ask why objectively before jumping all over editors and artists. If after a truly objective look it’s as blatantly and openly offensive as this one, make that scene you’ve been waiting for. Just don’t make it when it’s not warranted. Do people not tell their kids the story of Peter and the Wolf these days?

  • todd kidd

    This is just another day in America. Racism in America is just as American as eating apple pie. Barack Obama’s election to presidency was a milestone in American history; however, it does not erase slavery and Jim Crow. We’re still learning how to deal with diversity in America.

  • Mike Atkins

    I know that there is the historical connecting of black people with apes (a curious side-shoot of evolutionary thinking), but it is notable that there are howls of protest when Mr Obama is portrayed in an unflattering manner, and yet it was fine to portray good ‘ol George Dubya as a monkey or a village idiot.

    I think, though, that the cartoon is in extraordinary bad taste, and is not justifiable, given the historical demeaning of black people.

    I would like to hear a response from Barack Obama that runs something like, “For my part, I am not offended by the cartoon – it comes with the territory. However, I deplore the unnecessary hurt that it will cause to many black people whose dignity has been impaired by our history of inrolerance.”

  • sm

    do you not remember bush being portrayed as a chimp?

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/traps Michael Trapido

    Madoda you raise a good point – where do we draw the line? I can’t give you a definitive answer.

    I guess different things offend different people.

    Guys just a point on Bush. Being compared to a primate is not stereotypical racism in the case of whites.

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/sarahbritten Sarah Britten

    This cartoon is appalling. Not just because of the obvious racial angle (given a long history of racist characterisation of blacks as apes or less evolved, to suggest that it isn’t racist is to be utterly disingenuous) also but because of the violence it depicts. We all know why security around Obama is incredibly tight.

    This cartoon is unbelievably tasteless. It’s not even funny. It’s just …crass.

  • Trevor

    Of course this cartoon is blatantly racist and it exposes a possibly deeper unrest and divide in America, one where such blatant racism is allowed for starters. I wonder though if this means civil war in America? First denial then anger then aggression, this carton seems to have it all.

  • http://letpeoplespeak.amagama.com Lyndall Beddy

    Benzol

    So that is where Mugabe got the idea from – morphing Morgan from Bush and Blair on TV?

    Blacklisted Dictator

    “The Pope had been unaware of Bishop Williamson’s views and ordered him to recant”
    Don’t I keep saying that “the infallibility of the Pope” is false doctrine?

    Kit

    At least Zapiro’s “Justice” cartoon was well drawn!

  • Gerry

    I think its much ado about nothing, really, and this is just endemic of the entire world’s attitude of “lets not offend, anyone, ever” and are so scared something may be seen as offensive, we all climb on the overly-politically-correct band wagon (With warning labels, safety belts and mandatory insurance).

    To me, the cartoon says that the bailout plan/stimulus bill is so idiotic, it could have been written by a monkey. (As a reborn capitalist, I agree). It insults the bill, and poked fun at that, the fact that Obama is black, is co-incidental, and the joke would have been the same had it been Dubbya or John McCain. Its got nothing to do with a racial overtone, but with the stupidity of bailing out failing companies – a debate on its own. But we’re so bloody conditioned to see offence in everything, the 12st thing we see is “racist” when I don’t believe that was the point at all!

    PS – I don’t expect my opinion to be popular or garner support!

  • Siobhan

    Traps: “Guys just a point on Bush. Being compared to a primate is not stereotypical racism in the case of whites.”

    I must admit to bafflement on this one. I do not recall any references to black people as ‘apes’ or ‘monkeys’ when I growing up in the 50s and 60s. To establish the legitimacy of the claim that these comparisons are more commonly applied to black people, I would have to do substantial research on the historicity of racial insults by means of comparison with animals.

    I am, however, quite familiar with the use of ape-human cartoons dating from the mid-19th century and focusing on Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. The vast library of cartoons from that era portray Darwin as one or another form of ape. Likewise, those who supported Darwin in the century and more of debate ever since were liable to such protrayals.

    Almost every politician I can think of in both US and UK history has been portrayed as an ape when critics derided their tactics or policies . “Punch” is replete with such portrayals. Blatant racism marked the era of Benjamin Disraeli, for example, who was subjected to every possible insult during his long career. Clarence Darrow, the brilliant attorney who defended the biology teacher in the famous ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ in the US in the 1920s was viciously attacked in the tabloids of the day and portrayed as an ape almost every time they printed a story or a cartoon featuring Darrow.

    I’m old enough to remember the fracas surrounding Louis and Mary Leakey in the early 50s when her discovery in the Olduvai Gorge in Kenya of the oldest anthropoid remains confirmed the theory that the species Homo-erectus/ Homo-sapiens arose in Africa and all humans are descended from that common ancestor.

    As a child I had no idea what all the fuss was about. It was just interesting and exciting that a scientist had made such a huge discovery. (Of course, it would be a decade before I learned that her husband got the credit for it despite the fact that it was Mary Leakey who discovered the remains).

    Obviously, there was another issue in this mix of science and history of which I was ignorant–the apparent use of primate imagery to disparage people of African descent in particular. It still makes no sense to me given that we are all descended from a common African ancestor. As such, imagery of humans as apes is either equally insulting to all races or fails as an insult because we all share the same genetic history.

    There is an alternate theory of evolution that posits–quite convincingly–that humans are in fact descended from sea mammals. If we were portrayed as Orcas, or baracudas or sharks–and humans frequently are so portrayed–would we be making a racial issue of it?

    But all of this begs the question. Why is it that black people are more offended by imagery comparing them to apes than whites are? Apes have no more control over their colour than humans do and we are all capable of acting with less than ‘human’ dignity at times–as Mr. Malema has demonstrated repeatedly. He also used the chimpanzee comparison in trying to insult other black people. If anything, he was advertising his lack of originality and wit by choosing such an apparently cliched insult.

    As for the NY Post cartoon. I found it off-point to an amazingly stupid degree. A bit like adolescent humour at its crudist. I guess I find stupidity as offensive as racism: the two do seem to be inseparably linked…

  • Oldfox

    Mandela did not appear upset about the morph clip.
    (I did not expect him to make a fuss about it either)

    The clip was discovered on a computer at police headquarters in Pretoria this week.
    Asked for his reaction, Mandela quipped to journalists: “I think gorillas would like to have my face.
    http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=13&art_id=qw96885954085B255

  • http://letpeoplespeak.amagama.com Lyndall Beddy

    Apparently there is a similar fuss going aon about the latest UCT Sax Appeal magazine being “blasphemous”.

    Anyone know what that is about? All news reports are too vaque to make any sense.

  • http://www.americana83.com Michael

    I will admit, when I first saw the article, I thought it implied that a monkey had written the “stimulus” bill, and did not think about Obama at all, only after seeing a couple sites exploding over it, which if Obama did write the bill, I can see. However, Bush was so often made to look like, and called a monkey. It just isn’t a fair standard…