The Racist Cartoon
The Scoreboard was going to let this incident go by without comment, because it seemed too idiotic to require elaboration. But stupidity, specifically race-bullying stupidity by those willing to stifle legitimate discourse by screaming “Racist!” like the boy who cried, “Wolf!” has consequences. Sean Delonas’ New York Post cartoon attempted to draw humor and political commentary from the horrible tragedy in Connecticut involving a rampaging pet chimpanzee. It failed, because the incident itself was so sad and unpleasant, and the cartoon tried ineptly to link two unrelated stories. It showed two police with smoking guns looking down at the bloodied carcass of the dead chimp, saying, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." The message, for anyone not desperately seeking racial offense, was obvious: the stimulus bill was a mess.
But Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, Julian Bond and less well-known unscrupulous, cynical or hyper-sensitive critics pronounced the cartoon’s ape a racist slur on the President, and threatened a boycott of the New York Post. Never mind that the drawing of the chimp looked nothing like President Obama. Never mind that the stimulus package was crafted by Nancy Pelosi, or, if you had to pick a member of the Obama staff, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Never mind that the cartoonist has never shown any vaguely racist sentiment in his cartoons. This had nothing to do with logic or fairness. One of the cartoon’s critics was N.Y. Governor David Patterson, who is black, and who is also blind. But not seeing the cartoon was actually an advantage if you wanted to cry racism.
The head of the UK's Political Cartoon Society, Tim Benson (Yup, this is an international scandal!) proclaimed that the cartoon was probably racist because “it doesn’t really work” if the chimp isn’t supposed to be Obama. Oh, I get it…the cartoon is better if you assume the cartoonist meant the chimp to suggest a racist stereotype for an African-American, and if it’s a better cartoon, it’s also racist! The consequences of this pathetic display of fake offense? Last Sunday’s Washington Post included this “apology”: “The headline, illustration, and text of "Below the Beltway," a column in The Washington Post Magazine today, may cause offense to readers. The magazine was printed before a widely publicized incident last week in which a chimpanzee attacked and badly mauled a woman in Stamford, Conn. In addition, the image and text inadvertently may conjure racial stereotypes that The Post does not countenance. We regret the lapse.”
For those of you who don’t read the Post on Sundays, "Below the Beltway" is a sophomoric humor column written by Gene Weingarten. His last column was called "Monkey Business" and subtitled "The good news for men: Women love apes," referring to a recent study supposedly showing that women like hairy, simian guys. The article was accompanied by a cartoon (OH NO! NOT A CARTOON!!!!) showing a gorilla carrying away a swooning woman as a human suitor stands alone and rejected. There was nothing in the article about race whatsoever, nor could Spike Lee, at his most creative, manufacture any. But the Washington Post apologized because the column might “conjure” racial stereotypes. Conjure is right…as in “out of thin air”! Race bully magic! Watch them make free expression, political discourse and humor disappear!
Yes, I know: in principle, this is no different than the ridiculous attempts by Republicans and even some feminists during the last campaign to raise the claim that Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a “pig,” when any fair and sane observer knew he did nothing of the sort. But the Washington Post didn’t start printing prophylactic apologies every time the paper mentioned pigs, either.
Nor is all that different from the Special Olympics advocates who wanted to boycott the film comedy “Tropic Thunder” because Ben Stiller in one sequence played a comic Forrest Gump parody that would make Forrest look like a Nobel Prize winner, or gay activists that made gay-bashing charges against a harmless and innocent Snickers Superbowl commercial. Yes, I know it’s similar to D.C.’s infamous dispute over the word “niggardly” of a few years back, when some prominent race bullies argued that a city employee who used the word should be fired because it might be offensive to some illiterate who didn’t know what the word meant…a little like a cartoon offending a blind man, now that I think of it. I know I write about this issue a lot, and maybe too much.
But all of it is intimidation, and intimidation is abuse of power, respect and fairness. We shouldn’t apologize to people who manufacture offense so they can bend us to their will. We should tell them that they are the offenders, and that they disgrace America’s tradition of legitimate protest and dissent. And worse than that, their tactics keep our old divisions alive and hurtful, because in truth, that is their objective.