There are times that I feel like a poor excuse for a strong black person because I'm not legitimately offended enough to get upset about some things, I'm just offended that I have to spend time being offended! Today's controversy provides a perfect example: the Sean Delonas political cartoon published in yesterday's New York Post.
The creator of this cartoon is trying to make light of an incident this week in Connecticut involving an enraged pet chimpanzee that had to be killed by the police after going on a wild rampage. The instant conclusion I'd draw from this weak attempt at humor is that it's clear that "a monkey could do the job" of creating the Stimulus Bill, maybe even the "monkey" that was shot dead this week, and now that he's been unexpectedly snuffed out they'll have to find someone else to do his job. The association between the chimp shooting and Washington is not clear, nor is any association between any human being and the Stimulus Bill. So this cartoon becomes a real knee-slapper for everyone from the owner of the pet monkey dealing with her loss, to animal rights advocates offended that the police shot the chimp, to the Americans depending on the Stimulus, to...black people.
If anyone is really listening, can I make something clear once and for all? Any similarities drawn between a black person and a monkey are just - for lack of a better phrase - played out. That disgusting banana in the tailpipe of stereotypes is older than American history itself and even if it's not done on purpose it's something that no black person wants to see. It's trite, tired, and a surefire way to piss us off. Col Allen, editor-in-chief of The New York Post, a paper that's not exactly known for its thought-provoking content, is either off of his game or an intentional agitator. It's not really worth attempting to demonstrate the latter, so I can't help but accept the former. As an experienced professional seeking to attract as wide an audience as possible, the smart thing to do is to reject any images linking black people to apes, Chinese people with Laundry, Jewish people with skin-flint ways, or Arabs with terrorism. Why not just show a lazy Mexican dude with a sombrero on, dancing around to "La Cucaracha" and drinking tequila? That ugliness is only 50% of the way towards how deeply negative black America's relationship is with monkeys; in case you haven't heard, people do find that offensive, in fact consistently so over the past, say, THREE HUNDRED YEARS. Confusion around this concept needs to end.
What America needs to get is that this kind of thing doesn't actually upset most black folks in the way that many believe. There have been times that I've felt emotionally wounded and discouraged by racism but this is not one of those times. Black Americashould be upset because our sensibilities are not even being considered for one moment when an editor decides to run a cartoon even halfway depicting a black person as a chimpanzee. I doubt that Delonas was aiming for an "Obama is a monkey" joke. He has a history of ignorant cartoons that he defends with a "what, me worry?" shrug, but even a racist would zero in on the joke better by clearly making that chimp Obama-like. We also all know that Obama didn't actually write the Stimulus plan, which has many authors, not a single one. These facts considered, Delonas is just corny and we all know that. What I find irritating is the lack of care shown for my participation in political discourse. Knowing that as soon as you draw even the flimsiest parallel between a black person and an ape those inflammatory images strike a deeply repulsive chord and just lock us out. I'm offended that my sensibilities aren't even being bothered with or considered, especially with such obvious images, and further offended that I have to be bothered. At its mildest, it's as if I went to an event as a vegetarian and every single dish served had meat in it. By not considering my sensibilities as a black American, it is impossible to reach a common point where issues that are important, like the Stimulus bill itself, can be discussed with cool heads.
Which brings me to how black America shold be responding to this type of nonsense: Enough of us have hearts of stone and black pride that takes a deeper cut to slice than this, so a little rag like The Post isn't going to change much about the continued involvement of black Americans in political life. Thanks to my tendency to eschew political correctness in favor of open discourse and a funny bone that needs more than a crudely drawn, simplistic cartoon to get me giggling, Delonas' work barely affects me at all. I'm a fan of the cliche "a monkey could do that job," but when that monkey is being gunned down by a pair of stunned NYPD officers and linked even in passing to our black president, I have to cry foul but remember not to do so too hard. Certain sensitivities are long past their expiration date, and it's time for black America to get past them and focus on the real problems. There is always going to be some lame underachiever taking digs, some journalist who stinks at his job, or some legitimate racist who twists the discussion. With a black president in office we can't afford to suspect foul play at every turn of the river because the people who want us to be voiceless are counting on us to spend the time and energy it takes to be offended and running in circles protesting instead of staying on course. I'm sure most of the same people who are offended by this cartoon today don't even understand the contents of the Stimulus Bill that was signed yesterday . . . do you? That is what we need to be worried about.