It’s Not That Simple
I’ve been annoyed with some of the commentary from liberals about the infamous New York Post cartoon from earlier this week. The basic argument, advanced by people like The New Republic’s Jon Chait, is that nobody should be offended because, “…obviously the point is that the stimulus bill could have been written by a monkey. The monkey doesn’t look like Obama and is in no way suposed to represent him.”
Well, no, actually. It’s not “obvious” at all what the point of the cartoon was. If it were, does anyone think we’d still be talking about it three days later, that the Post would be dealing with protesters outside its building, and that the paper would be issuing a half-assed apology for running it? I don’t think so. Commenter dhurtado at TNR gets at the real issue:
People clearly disagree about whether the “monkey” cartoon is racist. But to state that it is OBVIOUSLY NOT racist and that people like Sharpton are just making it up boggles the mind. Comparing black people to monkeys has been about as pervasive as the N-word as a derogatory epithet. Indeed, during the presidential campaign there were racist T-shirts with the name Obama on them over a picture of Curious George. And Obama is an architect of the stimulus package even if not the only one. While it might be plausible that the cartoonist intended the monkey to represent Pelosi or Reid, the cartoonist had to at least know that it could and would be widely intepreted as referring to Obama. To you who say you don’t see how it could reasonably be interpreted that way — well, I don’t believe you.
I don’t understand why this is so hard for people to get. Critics are being accused of engaging in all sorts of mental gymnastics to arrive at the conclusion that the cartoon was racist. I would argue that, given the long history of African-Americans being equated to chimps, and the fact that Obama was the most prominent backer of the stimulus package, the takeaway from the cartoon that the cops were shooting Obama is not a stretch at all and is, in fact, a fairly reasonable reading of it.
One last thing, which I hesitate to even mention, is that this kind of blithe dismissal of the issue by the guys at TNR, to me, highlights a problem that often comes up when racial issues arise in politics. Our political punditocracy is dominated by white men, and I find it rich that they should be telling everyone else how they should obviously feel about a cartoon that one could interpret, fairly easily, as having racist overtones. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Chiat and Chotiner should remain silent. I like both of them and respect the hell out of their work. But I do think that more prominent minority voices in the chattering class would have shaped their thinking in a differnt way.