NY Post Editorial Cartoon: Simian Stereotypes and Cartoonist Excuses

If nothing else, the now-infamous New York Post cartoon by Sean Delonas published Wednesday showing a chimp shot to death by police officers should be a clear answer to the question of whether we’re in a “post-racial” America.

As EJS President Eva Paterson and others have argued, the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

In a piece published Wednesday, Cal psychology professor Phillip Atiba Goff states that persistent simian stereotypes tagged to blacks are not mere small and unimportant post-racial leftovers of the “bad old days,” but significant psychological mechanisms of discrimination.

“It is tempting to … downplay the significance of ‘isolated events’ of bigotry and ‘armless words or pictures.’ But precisely because the dream of post-raciality is seductive for so many, it is all the more important that we not forget that cartoons like the one in today’s New York Post are never isolated-and consequently, never harmless,” he writes.

“Psychological science has long known that words and pictures, far from harmless, can be the very instruments of dehumanization necessary for collective violence-regardless of how innocently they are intended.”

Some editorial cartoonists don’t seem to be too alarmed by the negative structural impact of their drawings, falling back on old excuses that place freedom of speech and expression over responsibility.

In an article today, AP National Writer Jesse Washington gives voice to these cartoonists who feel beleagured in their attempts to practice their craft.

Washington even quotes Mike Lester of the Rome News Tribune in Georgia saying that “perhaps race relations would improve if black people lightened up a bit” and that Black folks are “not too good (at being) made fun of. We can all take a joke.”

This is a perfect example of why we need to reject the notion of a post-racial America: too many Americans want to use “post-racial” and the election of President Obama as excuses to dismiss the racism that exists in all of us and in society – and to fuel the illusion that our country has fully realized the promise of equal opportunity.

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