Feature

Race: The limits of political parody

The New York Post last week printed “the most offensive cartoon I have ever seen in a daily newspaper.”, said Stella Foster in the Chicago Sun-Times.

It’s a dubious achievement, said Stella Foster in the Chicago Sun-Times, but the New York Post last week printed “the most offensive cartoon I have ever seen in a daily newspaper.” Drawn by the venomous Sean Delonas, the cartoon depicted two white policemen standing over the bullet-riddled body of a chimpanzee, one of them lamenting to the other, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” In the firestorm that ensued, Post editor Col Allan tried to explain that the cartoon was a “clear parody” of two current news stories: the shooting of a crazed chimp who mauled a woman in Connecticut and the passing of the federal stimulus bill. Yes, it was a parody, all right, said Stan Simpson in The Hartford Courant, employing the centuries-old racist trick of depicting a black man as a chimpanzee. Since it was President Obama who championed the stimulus bill, the cartoon’s message was both “unambiguous” and “irresponsible.”

My, how easily we black people are bruised, said John McWhorter in The New Republic. Coincidentally, the Post’s cartoon was published on the same day that Eric Holder, Obama’s new attorney general, called America a “nation of cowards” for not having more “frank conversations” about race. But the hysterical reaction to Delonas’ cartoon—the Rev. Al Sharpton held rallies outside the Post’s offices calling for Delonas and Allan to be fired—perfectly illustrates the folly of Holder’s remarks. How can Americans have frank conversations about race when we blacks cling to our “hothouse fragility,” overreacting to every perceived slight? Consider where this relentless sensitivity to race leaves white people, said James Taranto in WSJ.com. Delonas and his editors probably thought it was fair game to make fun of this president—like any president—and didn’t give a second thought to comparing him to an out-of-control beast. But now they “are under attack for seeing ‘chimp’ and failing to think ‘black guy.’”

Come now, said Michael Daly in the New York Daily News. Surely even the morons at the Post could not be “completely unaware of the long and repulsive history of white racists calling African-Americans ‘apes’ and ‘monkeys.’” But even if they were, they’re still guilty of incredible insensitivity. Delonas depicted his simian stimulus-bill author with multiple bullet holes, lying dead on the pavement. Many of us share an unspoken fear that “Obama’s triumph over racism will end in violence,” so showing the president as a dead chimp hardly qualifies as responsible political commentary.

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