Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Roseanne got loads of beat down press and subsequently canned from ABC for her crack likening former White House assistant to former President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, to an ape. But what got almost no press was the crack by a prominent campaign volunteer to Florida Senator Marco Rubio comparing Obama to a monkey. That surfaced a few days after the Roseanne debacle.
The monkey and ape depictions of Obama and Jarrett shocked many. But this is really nothing new. Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama During just about every minute of their White House tenure had to see or hear see some cartoonist, GOP official, and the pack of race baiting websites, chat rooms, college frat parties, and student websites in assorted offbeat, crude, vile cartoons routinely depict them as monkeys, apes and gorillas.
The topper was the photoshopped picture that De Morgen, a European newspaper with a progressive reputation, ran in March 2014 before Obama’s visit to the Netherlands that depicted both he and Michelle as apes. Maybe the paper got the idea from New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas who ignited a firestorm with his casual depiction of Obama as a monkey in February 2009.
Roseanne, and the others, took heat for their animal imagery of blacks, in truth they have the long, sordid and savage history of racist stereotyping of African-Americans to work from. In fact, the beast image of blacks has been the stock in trade of race baiting and racial ridicule long before Roseanne was ever thought of and the Obamas came on the national scene. A few grotesque book titles from a century ago, such as The Negro, a Beast; The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization; and The Clansman depicted blacks as apes, monkeys, bestial, and animal-like. The image stuck in books, magazines, journals, and deeply colored the thinking of many Americans of that day. Or maybe, it’s more accurate to say in the days and years afterwards.
In the movie version of Rudyard Kipling children’s classic, The Jungle Book, the Disney Studios in 1967 graduated from the other standard animal depiction of African-Americans as black crows to depicting African-Americans as the monkey like jive, gibberish blathering King Louie. The film was remade in 1994.
Black personalities and notables have been special targets of the ape and monkey taunts and digs. Jackie Robinson was regularly taunted by opponents with monkey gestures and gibes. Former black basketball greats Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan were ridiculed in cartoons as apes. And it’s become a virtual ritual for white fans to toss banana peels at black soccer players in Europe
The vile ape characterization of blacks is much more than a passing fancy of cranks, haters and unreconstructed bigots. In 2007, Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. Their findings with the provocative title “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was published by the American Psychological Association.
Most of the participants in the studies bristled at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the animal savagery image and blacks were very much on their minds. The researchers found that participants — and that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images — were quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.
This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association and blacks has had devastating real-life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 the Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than Whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as “barbaric,” “beast,” “brute,” “savage” and “wild.” And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.
The Rubio campaign volunteer wasn’t the first GOP connected political operative to raise eyebrows for her monkey depiction of Obama. A few years earlier, in Orange County, California GOP official touched off a mild firestorm with her monkey crack about Obama. What was more telling was not her idiocy, but the fact that GOP county and state officials in California refused to reprimand her or immediately remove her from her post.
Roseanne begged and pleaded for forgiveness for her ape dig at Jarrett. However, she didn’t ask for the same forgiveness for an ape crack she made about former UN Ambassador Susan Rice five years before she ragged on Jarrett. And there was no call then for her to do that from any quarter. But then why would there have been since there is nothing new in the ape slur of Blacks, even when it’s a president and his wife being slurred.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming Why Black lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.