February 22nd, 2009
07:29 AM ET

Why the NY Post cartoon sparked debate

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/02/19/chimp.cartoon.react/art.cartoon.nypost.jpg caption="A New York Post cartoon has sparked a debate over race and cartooning this week."]
Baratunde Thurston
Co-founder Jack and Jill Politics

I loved last year's New Yorker cover depicting the Obamas as radical black terrorists. It was an over-the-top caricature of the stereotypes hurled at the then presidential candidate and potential First Lady. And while it wasn't laugh out loud funny, it was satire. As a writer and comedian, my first reaction is almost always to try to understand, and possibly defend, the artist. I think society needs us to push the envelope and provoke.

But despite this predisposition, even I was taken aback by the New York Post cartoon depicting two police officers standing over a bloodied body of a chimpanzee saying, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." As others, I interpreted the chimp as a reference to President Obama, especially given past illustration of him as a monkey , and his key role in championing and signing the Recovery Act.

I was even more concerned about the impact of the cartoon when I learned that recent studies reveal this imagery has real life consequences.

Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff , is a friend of mine from Harvard, who is an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA currently on leave at the Russell Sage Foundation . He is applying his research on the psychological effects of dehumanization to the problem of police discrimination and brutality. What his research has found is that imagery equating African-Americans with apes, chimpanzees, monkeys and other simians can lead to increased levels of real violence against black people, especially at the hands of the state.

This isn't my opinion; this is science talking.

Here is what he said in a recently published article:

For the better part of the past seven years, my colleagues and I have conducted research on the psychological phenomenon of dehumanization. Specifically, we have examined cognitive associations between African Americans and non-human apes. And the association leads to bad things. When we began the research, we were skeptical of whether or not participants even knew that people of African descent were caricatured as ape-like — as less than human — throughout the better part of the past 400 years. And, in fact, many were not. However, even those who were unaware of this historical association demonstrated a cognitive association between blacks and apes. That is, when they thought of apes, they thought of blacks and vice versa — when they thought of blacks, they thought of apes.

But the fact of this cognitive association was not the most disturbing part of the research. Rather, it was the fact that the association between blacks and apes could lead to violence.

In one study, participants who were made to think about apes were more likely to support police violence against black (but not white) criminal suspects. The association actually caused them to endorse anti-black violence. Most disturbing of all, however, was a study of media coverage and the death penalty. Looking at a sample of death-eligible cases in Philadelphia from 1979 to 1999, the more that media coverage used ape-like metaphors to describe a murder trial (i.e. "urban jungle," "aping the suspects behavior," etc.) the more likely black suspects, but not white suspects were to be put to death.

So while I'm neither concerned about what happens to the New York Post's advertising revenues, nor worried about President Obama's feelings or safety, what I am concerned about is the real world harm imagery like this does to the remaining millions of African-Americans in this country who aren't president. Sparking a conversation about the real-world racial disparities that remain is something positive I hope will emerge from incidents like these.

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Isabel, Brazil

    I think the newspaper will have to find someone to create the next cartoon. Lol…

    February 23, 2009 at 9:42 am |
  2. Brad

    Leave it to people to bring in the race card again. When I saw the cartoon, I saw the monkey as being a representation of congress or the people who wrote it. No one ever made these accusations when President Bush was specifically portrayed as a monkey. No where on or around the monkey does it say President Obama. Let's not try to reach on this.

    February 23, 2009 at 9:37 am |
  3. G. Martinez

    Lucy wisely said that, "Knowing what you can not do is more important than knowing what you can do. In fact, that's good taste." This cartoon was in very bad taste. It shows bad taste and a great deal of hate.

    February 23, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  4. G. Martinez

    This cartoon is yet another thing that confirms what Blacks in this great nation have been saying for so very long. This is a terrible way for The New York Post to confirm that even in the once hollowed halls of the media there are those that are walking on two feet only by the grace of God. The paper, its editor, its whole staff should be ashamed of this terrible thing.

    Nothing positive can come of such hate.

    February 23, 2009 at 9:04 am |
  5. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    It is all "monkey business."

    February 23, 2009 at 8:59 am |
  6. KristieCa

    Hopefully, with all of the negative attention the Post is recieving regarding this cartoon, they will take more care and stop writing articles and cartoons that cater to a population of individuals that accept and embrace topics of racism. I would hope that they are noticing, as is the rest of the world, that that population of readers are diminishing and hence change their manner of controversial and racist articles.

    February 23, 2009 at 1:21 am |
  7. J.V.Hodgson

    Totally agree. We are all human beings and thank god we do not all look the same and have different coloured skin!
    From the lowest of the low to the highest of the high and from the poorest to the richest decent human diginity and respect should be accorded to all.
    Step accross those lines even marginally be it in a cartoon or otherwise, and you lose my respect, but I am a simple minded soul and my view is not important!?!?

    February 23, 2009 at 12:35 am |
  8. Wardell katrina Survivor

    Dr.Goff, I appreciate you sharing you friends study, this is what many don't want to accept. This has happened from the beginning of africans being brought to this country, and in many circles it is still just fine, with them. i had a blog erased trying to say something simular. Look around the country, at some of the terrible things, happening to black folks all over the country, right now, that study really brings it home. The comments made by the Attorney General, touched a nerve, not because he used the wor coward, but because many turn their backs, while people are experiencing the very thing they would not want to be related too. How much of ALL mankind's DNA is closely related to the ape, or chimp. I wish your friends study gets it's just DUE.

    February 22, 2009 at 8:39 pm |
  9. Taxpayer

    The chimp got out of control and so has the stimulus. Where exactly does race come in?

    February 22, 2009 at 8:13 pm |
  10. Sheila

    I am proud of people like John Legend who have spoken up to let the NY post know that the cartoon offended more than just the civil rights leaders. The fact they they cannot see it was offensive indicates they need some diversity training and a change in Leadership at the POST. PRONTO!

    February 22, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
  11. Mark Miller

    this is more important then race, Who cares about racial controversy really look, beyond color. the truth of the the cartoon is saying that the plan to compensate for the depression, might well have been written by a monkey and suggest someone should shoot the monkey that wrote it. and It's a 100% accurate in my opinion why are we taking out more loans to save the economy isn't that how it got here in the first place????? For example, I loan you a dollar out on interest. But that dollar is all you ever can pay me back because, that's all the money I printed for you to play with. However, I want you to pay me back, so I loan you another dollar out on interest again. Are we as American's and as a president really this uneducated to see the problem. how many more times should we make the same mistake until we get it through our thick heads. That a new plan needs to be designed and the government needs to stop borrowing money from the federal reserve out on interest and other countries. I feel right our government doesn't have any intent on paying back any loans and It's cause the majority and new generations to become slaves! HELLO!!!!!!!!!!! is anyone there!!??? What do you got to say about that Anderson Cooper report on something that is going to wake people up and quit misdirecting the viewers of cnn news!!!!! about racial bs!!!

    February 22, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  12. Kirk

    Follow Americans we’re missing the big issue… as a retired officer in the United States Navy, I have proudly served under Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and W. Bush, and I know as a civilian proudly support President Obama as my Commander and Chief!

    Set aside for a moment the issue of race. This cartoon depicts a chimpanzee killed by two police officers and in the caption it stated that “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” (The President of the United States is the one directing this stimulus bill) In this cartoon the President of the United States is being referred to as the chimpanzee pushing this stimulus bill and is subsequently killed! This cartoon was a terroristic threat against the President of the United States! Anytime time you suggest directly or indirectly that the President of the United States is or was killed (assassinated) in a cartoon such as the one by the New York Post that is a terrorist act! Some might say, how can you conclude that from this cartoon that this depicts a terroristic act and I say to you that there is a segment of our population that is less educated and easily manipulated that will see this cartoon as a validation to attempt to cause this president harm.

    Follow Americans, don’t forget that we’re still at war and our economy is in crisis. All American should be outraged by this cartoon. This is not about liberals or conservatives, this is about Americans respecting their Commander and Chief enough that we would not want to see harm come to him.

    When jokes were made about President W. Bush not being very intelligent or President Clinton being a womanizer, I found it to be offensive, but I never saw or read anything referring to President’s Bush or Clinton being killed (assassinated).

    I believe in the first amendment, but not when it’s used to try to destroy our nation’s objective of a more perfect union.

    May God bless the United States of America, protect our Commander and Chief and our military in harms way.

    February 22, 2009 at 5:21 pm |
  13. Peter Barrows Workman

    Laughter is always derision; Commedians take serious subjests to poke fun at; in either direction pro or con: Make fun of something; and it trivializes it for the majority.
    as I see the majority of cartoons; the more I am inclined to consider; it is an art form: The World Would Be Better Off With Out!

    February 22, 2009 at 4:00 pm |
  14. Isabel, Brazil

    Was really very hum... disrespectful (disagreeable; rude; uncomely; discourteous; crude) for the New York Post this comparison.

    It’s ridiculous to say that there was no mention of the President. Well, because if there was, we can to say that everyone who passed by the charge were abducted in recent months.

    I think the newspaper will have to find someone to create the next cartoon. Lol...

    February 22, 2009 at 3:37 pm |
  15. Mrs Ossie Edmonds

    As an American of African Desent I am outraged and insulted with this cartoon depicting our President Obama as a dead monkey. No matter how you look at it, this was received as it was intended, black people as monkeys and baboon's. We will see if the post will respond to a boycott of its paper and their clients. This will not be tolerated. I would like to see the media give as much time to this as you all gave to the Jeremiah Wright issue!

    February 22, 2009 at 3:33 pm |
  16. Terry

    My gut response to the caricature was one of disgust toward someone who would find humor in the likeness of two police officers standing over a bleeding and dying animal and making a joke! First of all I would like to believe that most policeman wouldn't find humor in that. Secondly, politics aside, was it necessary to drag up some antiquated correlation between african-american likeness to apes and expect yet another chuckle. Who are these people kidding, this world has come a long way, surely good humor can be achieved without stomping all over other peoples feelings and sense of integrity.

    February 22, 2009 at 3:25 pm |
  17. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Baratunde, the cartoon depicts Congress not Obama. Congress writes bills not the President. The only one who should be upset are monkeys, who have been compared to Pelosi and her cohorts of idiots. The knee jerk reaction over this cartoon shows why we can't get past race. Until the basic premise that whites are racist and blacks are not is debunked, nothing will change. There are several possible interpretations of this cartoon. Why assume the worst?

    February 22, 2009 at 3:16 pm |
  18. Neo

    Here's a cartoon for the NY Post: "Ya Mama is a monkey". Featuring me, John Legend, and Barack Obama running away with all the posts money, wearing Harvard caps and gowns. 😉 Talk about that.

    We needed that much research to decipher whether that was offensive? Wow! It should be obvious that they knew what they were doing. People need to stop over intellectualizing wrongs. Just admit they were wrong and move on. This imagery won't do anything to us brown people, we're fine, we're not experiencing Post Traumatic Stress due to evolution. The media loves to wrap things in psychobabble to make us feel reactionary. I feel like someone's parent who has to tell the NY Post "Now you knew better than that".

    UCLA has for the past 7 yrs. been researching on how AA's feel about monkey's? Wow. Let me save you the money. AA's feel that monkeys are interesting little creatures that one can find in the zoo.

    February 22, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  19. Erik B.

    This has nothing to do with the president. He didn't write the stimulus package! These black "leaders" like Sharpton, should concentrate on the plight of young black people in this country. With high school drop out rates of over 50% in chicago, shouldn't they use there energy on other issues? I guess there's one problem with that: no ratings or publicity. What morons!

    February 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm |

    Everyone has an opinion. This is not an opinion, but empirical data: MONKEYS & CHIMPS do not have NAPPY or KINKY HAIR. A MONKEY has STRAIGHT dark greasy hair, pink to tan skin under the STRAIGHT hair. A MONKEY has big ears, thin nose,thin lips,a FLAT BUTT. The characteristics of MONKEYS are more similiar to darker skinned white people & hispanic people,certainly not Black people. Truth is truth! Facts are facts!

    February 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  21. kelly

    It is a shame that people cannot see the blatant racism in this cartoon. People have far removed themselves from history. News papers and other print media back in the day was used as a weapon of fear against the African-American known then as the negro. It was not until the late 60's that we were granted the right to vote. We have been here since the 1600's. The laws were also used to keep people in slavery in fear that the slave would revolt. So the media was used to keep this battle going on for centuries. I believe that people are so numb to the feelings of the black race because they have no comparison equal to the horrors of slavery and the aftermath of it. When we speak of race relations it soon becomes a topic about black peoples problems instead of the racist comment that was made. This cartoon represents to many black people the past horror trying to come back in our generation. People think that police brutality doesnt exist – just look to oakland recently and jenna six. People dont seem to remember that dogs were used to find slaves that were runaways and the police allowed the lynch mobs to come inside of their jail cells and remove them into the public and hang them. Look this was not that long ago I was born into a bondage system of white supremacy. Meaning not haveing any rights as an American, I was born in 1966 toward the end of segregation. So my mother and grandmother were subjected to this racist system. Does anyone ever think about the mental ramifications of slavery, segregation and then de-segregation I think not. If so these recent events would have been clearly identified without doubt. We never got the 40 acres in the past because the white men at that time wanted the same due to them that the emancipated slaves were getting and so not to create a problem not once but twice they overturned the law and gave the lands to the white men. All the past history in America is not favorable to the African-American in any way. However I am proud of my ancestors for overcomeing in those horrible times. This is why we stand and speak out with loud voices today because we- the African-American people will never let the white man take us back to those days in any way shape or form believe that. We are stronger, wiser and free now and No one will ever take that away from us or further generations.

    February 22, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  22. LaKeisha from Ohio

    If any reader can draw a link to the President it should have not made it to the page. I'm curious; did this cartoonist draw a link to the previous President in such a manner? I'm interested to see what other cartoons was published by the paper from this cartoonist?

    Don't apologize if you don't believe you did anything wrong..........you loose creditability and your readers will turn to another source.

    I would challenge everyone that believes that this was out of line a little or a lot to boycott the paper and see if they start to change its humor.

    February 22, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  23. Larry L.

    What I do not understand is why the blacks in America have anything negative to say-in the history of the world there have always been slaves-America was the first to stop slavery--instead of going on and on about what was,why aren't they going on and on about what is.

    February 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  24. Mike in NYC

    The overwhelming majority of interracial violence is committed by non-whites against whites. (See Walter Williams, "An Ugly Conspiracy of Silence." He's black, BTW.)

    How about doing a study to measure how much of that violence is incited by the endless blame heaped upon whites for the problems of non-whites?

    February 22, 2009 at 11:52 am |
  25. Antoine P. Brunson

    I was deeply offended by the "political cartoon". As an African-American male, I have always been aware of the historical comparison between primates and Black men. It was an early ploy to dehumanize us and unfortunately that politically incorrect comparison has remained prevalent. What would the response be to a political cartoon that depicted a prominent white politician as the devil in an African-American publication. Ugliness is Ugliness and it doesn't matter which side of the racial line it originates.

    February 22, 2009 at 10:18 am |
  26. kelly

    I agree that this totally crossed the line. As an artist, I agree with you that I usually try to understand the irony/intention of the artist before i jump to conclusions, but this left me speechless. I am also from the south, white, and voted for Obama. People openly say things here that make my skin crawl, including referring to African Americans as "monkeys" and I have heard people i know using that term to describe president Obama, acting like he is somehow less human, or less intelligent, and less deserving to be our president because of his race. There is no excuse or explanation for the blatant racism in that cartoon. The only irony to be understood is that the blind hate/ignorance the artist must have had against such a great man is really the one who degrades himself/herself and becomes less of a human being.

    February 22, 2009 at 9:25 am |
  27. Vanessa

    Race is the elephant in the room. Just because Obama is President doesn't we are in a post-racial America it just means enough Americans voted a Black man to office. Rather than produce ridiculous segments on Blacks in America, lets talk about how ignorance and prejudice are taught explicitly and subliminally in America. The emphasis should not be on educating the public on Black America, but rather on how racism adversely affects growth, development, and human progress. (Let me know if you use my comment, Thanks)

    February 22, 2009 at 9:17 am |
  28. Dave

    I can certainly understand why this cartoon would create an uproar, and don't intend to defend it if that was the intention. I haven't really heard or read anything else about it and have to wonder, is it possible that the chimp is a reference to the saying about a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters? Upon first reading it, that was my assumption: That Congress actions in drafting the bailout is akin to placing a thousand monkeys in a room with a thousand type writers for a thousand years and hoping they'll produce the complete works of Shakespeare.

    February 22, 2009 at 8:59 am |