The worst thing about the CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association Walt Baker's silly, sick, demeaning depiction of First Lady Michelle Obama as a chimp ironically is not the depiction. It's Baker's clueless defense. The instant the storm broke, and Nashville's mayor, the state's GOP leaders denounced him, and the contract was summarily yanked from his marketing firm, Mercatus Communications, to help promote the city's new convention center, Baker predictably wailed that he's not a bigot, racially insensitive, and the cartoon was nothing but political humor.
He fervently believes that. He just as fervently believes that lampooning Michelle Obama, and President Obama as a monkey, ape, gorilla is just can't you take a joke fun and games. He and the pack of race baiting websites, chat rooms, and of late, college frat parties, and student websites that ridicule the Obama's (and African-Americans) in assorted off beat, crude, vile cartoons and always with the vile depiction as monkeys or apes is by now standard fare. It's no accident that it is.
The long, sordid and savage history of racist stereotyping of African-Americans has been the stock in trade of race baiting and racial ridicule and for more than century. 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; that day?
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.
Fifteen years later, New York Post Cartoonist Sean Delonas ignited a firestorm with his casual depiction of President Obama as a monkey. He did it precisely because that image didn't die a century, half century, a decade, or even a year ago. 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.
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