Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Monkey See, Monkey Do

What’s up with all these monkeys? After weeks of getting over the New York Post cartoon depicting a police officer shooting a monkey, we’re now asked to contend with the display of books at the Coral Gables, Florida Barnes & Noble featuring Barack Obama books into which a book named “Monkeys” was inserted. What’s up with this fascination with connecting black people with monkeys?

My reaction to the cartoon in the New York Post reflected my position as a member of the press. It is my contention the freedom’s articulated in our Constitution must be protected at all cost. As much as the cartoon stirred painful emotions, I stand by the papers right to publish it. As much as I desire the head of the cartoonist and editor who allowed it to be printed on a silver platter, I will stand on the paper’s Constitutional right to publish the thoughts and opinions of those who work for the newspaper.

It is my belief that we suffer, as a nation, when we hold as an expectation a brand of news void of true feelings. The protections of freedom of speech and press are held high within our Constitution due to the struggles of those who fought for our nation’s freedom from British rule. The men and women who settled in America represented a variety of perspectives. They came seeking the freedom to worship void of intrusion from the government. They fought for the right to protest when their thoughts differed from those in rule. Maintaining and protecting our freedoms demands sensitivity toward those who hold opinions that differ from our own.

My hope has been that our modern day press would break free from the limits imposed by the demands of the machinery that fuels our economy. I’ve hoped for a press that would stand outside the restrictions caused by the pursuit of advertisers to maintain the business of informing the public. The press protected in our Constitution regarded the press as the watchdog of government. In many ways the press was seen as an arm of this enterprise we call freedom. The role of the press was to evoke a variety of perspectives. Some of them we like. Many we don’t like.

This is what John Stuart Mills advocated in his classic book “On Liberty”. He pressed for a nation where a variety of opinions would be heard in what he termed “the marketplace of ideas.” That cartoon, as offensive as it is, is an idea. I fight for the right for it to be printed. Why? I do so because it is reflective of an emerging “idea” within our American marketplace of ideas.

What is that emerging idea? That Barack Obama, and the countless others who look like him, have more in common with ‘monkeys’ than humans. As painful as that is for me to hear, I’ve been around the block enough to know it is true. I’m not shocked, nor should anyone who is black, that there exists in America a segment of the population angry that a black man has been elected to hold the highest office in our land. We all knew they would be pissed at that.

We shouldn’t be surprised that monkeys keep popping up. At issue is what do we do when a monkey shows up? I have an answer to that question-nothing. Why feed the flame of discontentment. Why march in opposition when a carton appears? Why boycott Barnes & Noble when a book appears in the middle of others that celebrate our first black President? What difference does it make when we draw more attention to the insanity of those who believe black people are monkeys and don’t deserve the power they have been given?

To protest in this season minimizes the victory of this moment. There’s no need to go back to those days of marching and singing freedom songs. Doing so robs us of the victory won on January 19, 2009. There’s no need to protest and march when the battle has been won. There’s no need to fight the people at Barnes & Noble. They contend it was a prank of one of their customers. I have no reason to dispute that claim. More important than all of that is the truth of my own identity.

No, sir. No ma’am. I am not a monkey. I am a man. I am a black man. I’m a proud black man. As much as you would love to reduce me to the image of your own imagination, I have no time to play your game. The class has been dismissed on that old strategy. Play monkey see, monkey do. As for me, I will merely laugh at you and pray.

What will I pray? I pray that you will grow up and see the truth. You can’t change what we have chosen as a nation. Call him a monkey if you want. If that’s your truth I have a suggestion for you. Go rent the movie “Planet of the Apes.” Watch it close, because in that world the monkeys rule the humans. So, bow down to the monkey.

In the meantime, remember one thing.-“Sticks and stones may break my bones but….” You know the rest.


  1. Great post bro. Love this particular line:

    "To protest in this season minimizes the victory of this moment."

    My sentiments exactly. Continue the good work.

  2. Monkey business.
    Monkey around.
    Monkey bars.
    Monkey jacket.
    Monkey in the middle.
    Monkey suit.
    Monkey's wedding.

    Quick, which of these phrases are racist? Which refer to African-Americans? Actually, the last one, "Monkeys wedding," is of South African descent and refers to the wedding of the monkey and the moon in describing the existence of rain during an otherwise sunny day.

    When will we learn that every public depiction of a monkey does not allude to us as black people? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!

    For those who protested the cartoon, let's revisit it. It shows two police officers having shot a champanzee. They are saying "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allen responded to the criticism of racism in the cartoon, “The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut…It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy."

    The news event referred to was a pet chimpanzee who went wild and tore off a woman's face and almost killed her. For those who associate the wild chimpanzee with Obama, let me remind you that Obama did NOT write the stimulus bill, Nancy Pelosi and key congressmen did. There are even some Democrats who think Pelosi was "wild" and "out of control" in placing thousands of spending earmarks in the bill which would NOT immediately return money to the economy. Hence the cartoonist's association of an animal out of control and key Democratic members of Congress who wrote the original stimulus bill.

    Even if you still think the cartoon was based on misinformation or had potentially racist overtones, is it really too much of an imagination stretch to think that it was POSSIBLE that the cartoon had nothing to do with race after all?

    Attorney General Eric Holder wants us all to have more realistic conversations about race. Columnist Leonard Pitts says it won't occur until African-Americans stop having faux outrage over every perceived, potential, possible, or nuance of a verbal slight.

    Yes, there are no doubt some white Americans that think blacks have a relation to monkeys. They are few and far between and have no real power. Why do we then give them power by assuming they are greater in number than they are? My opinion is that there are probably more blacks making the association than whites, however. If we want to keep old racial stereotypes alive, all we just have to do is keep assuming that they are commonly present. So, in this case, I agree with Carl. Just ignore the dunce in the corner and he'll go away. He has no power unless we give it to him.

    As to Carl's assertion that there is an "emgerging idea" that Obama and others that look like him have more in common with monkeys than humans - BULLLSHIT! That "idea" is no more emerging than the horse and buggy. Are some racists happy that Obama was elected president? I doubt it. Is there a larger body of people who are more worried about Obama's socialist ideas than his race? You bet. Have we so quickly forgotten that the majority of voters, most of them white, voted him into office?
    Oh, but wait! That somehow doesn't let us keep fighting the paper tiger of old racial attitudes that, although not eliminated, are nonetheless significantly diminishing.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  3. I was here. I appreciate what you wrote. I am in agreement with you. We the people must see to it that liberty wins out over censorship, and in the case where bigoted individuals want to act on and display their skewed values in public, we must also assure that justice prevails over immaturity, ignorance, and stupidity.

  4. Great post if it wasn't untrue.