Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some Claim New York Post Political Cartoon has Racist Implications

Recently, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. In simple terms it means the much talked about multi-billion dollar stimulus package that Obama has championed ever since his inauguration.

The political cartoon, shown on the left, depicts two police officers gunning down a chimpanzee while uttering, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

After the cartoon's publication, many, including the civil rights activist Rev. Al. Sharpton interpret the cartoon as extremely callous and on that holds racist connotations about President Obama, depicting him as a chimpanzee because he is part African-American.

The New York Association of Black Journalists claim that the depiction of African-Americans with animals is deeply and painfully entrenched within American history. In fact, many minority groups have been associated with animals and rodents in order to de-humanize them so it becomes easier to target these groups for discrimination or worse. Take for instance, during Nazi Germani, the Jews were likened to rodents and that all rodents, because they are infecting the pure Aryan race with their vile religion and inferior genetics, should be exterminated.

The Association also claims that depictions of blacks as monkeys and chimpanzees dates back to Anglo-Saxon, Portuguese, and Spanish colonial conquest that de-humanized them in order to justify their horrific treatment of slaves.

The cartoonist claims that it has nothing to do with the President and the fact that he is part African-American. He and the New York Post claim that the recent incident of an escaped chimpanzee being shot by police officers is the reason why he used this imagery. He claimed that the chimpanzee depicts Congress and mocks its efforts to revive the economy through the stimulus.

How do you see the justifications made by the New York Post and the cartoonist versus the claims of racism by the New York Association of Black Journalists/Rev. Al Sharpton?

Are most readers likely to make the association that the artist was depicting Obama as an animal? Why?

Do you think that in present day America, some groups are still labeled in unappealing ways to justify the group's subordination/discrimination?

***Remember that the chimpanzee is not labeled as "Obama" or "The President" or any other drawn clues that the cartoonist actually meant to depict the President in this way***


  1. The biggest item on the new presidents agenda since he took office has been to pass a new stimulus bill. Since President Obama has clearly had such an impact and influence on the stimulus bill, many average Americans will associate him with the writting of it. So of course many people seeing the cartoon would presuembly think of the president as being the chimpanzee in the picture.
    Rev. Sharpton and the journalists have a very strong case that this cartoon exhibits racism. As Tanabata stated, many times throughout history minority groups have been dehumanized through the use of animal images. The use of such cruelty is part of the history of racism in the U.S and certainly is no big secret. So for the cartoonist and the New York Post to make flimsy claims about what the cartoon really means is ridiculous! A chimpanzee escaping from a zoo is hardly newsworthy and I doubt it is important enough to make a political cartoon of. Typically political cartoons I have seen use the elephant or donkey to represent those that hold office.
    The cartoonist and the New York Post are using their elite white privilege to brush this incident off as a misunderstanding on the part of people who are offended by it. They do not see and choose not to see the harm caused by their actions. The cartoonist and newspaper are attempting to rationlize their oppressive actions.

  2. I completely agree with shopaholic. As a society, we have common symbols (both with racist connotations and otherwise) that we use almost as "social shorthand". The way in which the cartoon was worded and appeared assumed that the reader would find no offense; suggesting that they had assumptions about "what the average reader" of their paper thought and felt in terms of their own social class, race, gender, etc. I saw this political cartoon before I had heard anything about the implied incident with the monkey attacking someone. When I first saw this cartoon without the reference of the aforementioned incident I perceived it as racist as I know many others did. Right now, I, like many Americans, are paying attention to the ailing economy, not human interest pieces about animals attacking humans. The symbols used, in my opinion and apparently in a large majority of society's opinion, were done so as to reinforce the hegemony already perpetuated far too often in the media. I would also point out that this represents a form of institutional racism/oppression; groups in society, it seems, would like to keep ignoring the use of offensive language and images (implied or otherwise) until confronted as the New York Post was. It is becoming obvious to me that dominant groups in society will get away with whatever the rest of society allows them to unless confronted about it in such a public manner.

  3. I have seen this cartoon in an email that was proposing a national divorce settlement. A conceptual analogy of political disparaty by a law student.

    Rev. Sharpton and the Journalist as Shopaholic states have grounds to see this as a racist cartoon because it is as the critical conflict theory states a party -vs- a party. In this case, red = conservatives, black = liberals. This can also be seen as a symbolic interaction, with the hopes of confusing the audience regarding their definition of what red and black is.

    In all actuality, conservative majority are white, and liberal majority are minorities.

  4. I remember seeing the cartoon before I even read the article that was attached to it and, like subterranean, my first reaction was that it was a racist cartoon. I was shocked to see that the New York Post had such a cartoon in it, especially when the president has just taken office a month before. But I suppose racism really doesn't wait patiently on the sidelines while the rest of the country moves on.
    The cartoon is hard to see in any other light but a racist one. As Shopaholic said, the story of the chimpanzee is not exactly something in the news everyone is going to pay attention to, unless it is a REALLY slow news day. I never saw the article about the chimpanzee, only the cartoon.
    Although the cartoonist may not have meant such a racist view from his cartoon (as is sometimes the case with writers - things get taken out of context all the time and are too wrapped up in the moment to see outside what they envisioned), the New York Post should have been a little more aware of what they were posting, if they truly didn't mean such a racist view. If lawsuits happen, it really is their own fault for not paying attention.

  5. I also read somewhere that because Americans are creating a big deal about how we have elected the first African American President in history, we have idolized him based on his race. Now, some in the media claim that the traditional caricatures of presidents and politicians are suddenly deemed unacceptable. Caricatures are cartoon interpretations of the real person through exaggerations of facial features or other physical characteristics. Thus, when one cartoonist was drawing Obama, a student in the class pointed out that he "drew him with big lips," alluding that the artist was drawing Obama in a racist and stereotypical light. The student was not being overly sensitive. She/he is actually breaking down these age-old stereotypes and bringing to light these hegemonic hidden racist messages (like subterranean spoke of) that we have been taught as acceptable, normal, and natural.

  6. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to obtain a better point of view, seems feasible for this subject matter. The historical and sociological aspect of African American’s treatment in the United States seems sufficient for the outrage of the Rev. Sharpton and others in reference to this cartoon. It is said that the farther away you move from history the better perspective you will gain. Certainly, African Americans and other minorities have several documented reasons to form their social solidarity.(many mentioned in Tanabata’s Blog) The symbolism associated with the cartoon, not only pulls on the meaning associated with the ape by African Americans, but branches out into other hurtful areas.
    The New York Post has been adamant about their intentions and inspiration when creating this cartoon. How can one know the intentions in the heart or mind of another? However, an unwritten and unspoken doorway, which appears coldhearted and insensitive was opened, attributed much to the race and ethnicity of our president.
    Heard in many of the Reverend’s speeches is the “I” and “Me” approach. (Mead) He has been influenced by racism and social inequality both directly and indirectly. Not at all attempting to down play his struggle or the struggles of others, but perhaps looking for the unity in the situation would produce social solidarity as a country. (Such as: Our president was shot in the cartoon, in our country, based on our American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.)

  7. Some very interesting points made by the commenters. This comment section is now closed.