Friday, February 20, 2009

Finding Offense Where None is Meant

A recent political cartoon published in the New York Post has been accused of racistly representing President Obama as a slaughtered chimpanzee. To understand the joke behind the cartoon, you have to have heard the recent news about a pet chimpanzee in Connecticut which went berserk and attacked a friend of it's owner. When the owner was unable to subdue the chimp herself, the police were called in, eventually forced to shoot the animal, who shortly succumbed to his wounds and died. The other current affair you need to know about, one harder to imagine anyone having missed, is the proposed economic stimulus bill of staggering proportions, weighing in at $789 billion, which has been negotiated by congress and signed by President Obama. It's virtually impossible to imagine congress being able to spend the better part of a trillion dollars in one fell swoop without complaint and controversy.

So, the joke, of course, is that this hastily written, extravagantly expensive bit of legislation with no precedent to suggest that it will actually be helpful is so crazy that it may as well have been written by a psychotic monkey. (Yes, I know chimps are apes, not monkeys, but for the sake of humor...)

But Al Sharpton, and others, have chosen to interpret the cartoon as an intentionally racist depiction of President Obama as an ape, some even adding that the gunshot wounds suggest assassination.

I wish I could say I'm surprised by this reaction, but I'm not. And I will even go so far as to suggest that the cartoonist probably should have anticipated the problem. That said, I absolutely do not believe that the cartoonist intended to be racist. I don't even believe the chimp represents Obama, personally. After all, Obama did not write the bill; congress did. The chimp represents the new administration in its entirety. Like the pet chimp being referenced, the new administration is loved and trusted and then, suddenly, it goes berserk, doing something devestating.

I think it's interesting how this "scandal" illuminates the kind of backwards racism we have in our society. We are so desperate not to be perceived as racist that we must tiptoe around minorities. George W. Bush must have been portrayed as a monkey thousands of times during his 8-year presidency. However, because our new president is black, such a portrayal is impermissible. More than any president preceding him, Obama is beyond the reach of satire, not because he is infallible, but because he is black.

Last year, early in the primary season, a local radio show decided to have listeners call in to say what breed of dog each of the candidates, both Dems and Reps, ressembled, either physically or in personality. Huckabee got a number of hound dogs, McCain got loyal old golden retreiver, and Obama... A man called in, outraged, stating how offended he was that the hosts of the show suggested that Obama be compared to a dog. Even in this most harmless, non-partisan and trivial of activities, at least one person (and probably others) managed to find offense. Even though Obama was being subjected to exactly equal treatment as all the other candidates, it was offensive... because Obama is black.

In a country that has now elected a black president, the kind of continued "civil rights activism" that finds offense where none is given is beyond exasperating. Furthermore, it is counter-productive.

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