Update, 2/20/09: The New York Post offered a half-assed apology for the Delonas cartoon today; by “half-assed,” I mean of the “we’re sorry if we hurt your delicate feefees” variety.
Naturally, the “apology” only addresses the racial aspects of the cartoon, while completely overlooking the speciesism inherent in comparing marginalized human group x to marginalized animal species y as a means of insult – and in mocking chimpanzee Travis’s needless and tragic death.
The above cartoon ran in today’s issue of The New York Post.
In one tidy little panel, cartoonist Sean Delonas – and, in printing and defending such trash, The New York Post – happily wallows in a toxic pool of racism and speciesism.
Here, President Obama is likened to Travis, a captive chimpanzee and former “animal actor,” who escaped from his “house” and attacked his “owner’s” friend on Monday. He was later shot and killed by police.
In bestializing Obama, Delonas engages in both racism and speciesism. Comparing people of color to nonhuman animals – particularly primates, such as chimps and monkeys – is a familiar, age-old racist meme. Denying the humanity of people of color – again, by likening them to nonhuman animals, which are presumably “sub-human,” “lesser beings,” “wild” incapable of intelligent thought or emotion, etc. – was used to justify slavery and segregation, and is still employed as a rationalization for current social inequities such as the disproportionately high rates of poverty, hunger and incarceration among people of color.
These comparisons are also speciesist, inasmuch as they rely upon and reinforce our (collective) stereotypes and prejudices re: nonhuman animals, as well as our utter lack of regard for their sentience and interests. Just as the above cartoon derides Obama by tying him to Travis, it also vilifies Travis (and, by extension, chimpanzees) for being “stupid,” “wild” and “vicious” – “less than.” To add insult to injury, Delonas turns Travis’s tragic death into the butt of a joke. (This didn’t have to happen: Travis should have been living in a sanctuary, with his own kind, not in the residential home of an elderly woman.)
Delonas apologists counter that this cartoon is just a play on the phrase “so easy a monkey could do it.” Here, Delonas is saying that the stimulus package is so stupid that a monkey could’ve written it. But this “explanation” only reinforces my point: the “joke” is predicated on the belief that nonhuman animals (even our closest primate relatives) are stupid and worthless. And it doesn’t even attempt to resolve Delonas’s utter disregard for cultural context. We don’t live in a “post-racial society”; not even close. One simply can’t employ such a loaded allusion, given its history and baggage, and expect that it will somehow transcend race and racism. *
Of course, there’s also the disturbing(ly violent) image this cartoon evokes – one of an African American man being gunned down by the police – which, again, happens with alarming regularity in “post-racial” America.
This is just fucking shameful, no matter which way you look at it.
Oh, and another not-so-friendly note the the MSM, courtesy the veg*n language police: there does not appear to be any evidence that Travis had rabies, so please stop calling him “rabid.” He was just an average adult male chimp, doing what adult male chimps do. Please do not treat normal chimp behavior like some sort of disease.
Nor was Travis a monkey. Chimpanzees are apes, not monkeys; however, all are simians. Get an effing clue, mmmkay?
* Updated to add: Another explanation being bandied about is that the “monkey” in question isn’t meant to represent Obama, but Nancy Pelosi or Congress. However, this is disingenuous at best; although Congress, not Obama, actually authored the bill, he’s been instrumental in “selling” it, and the stimulus package is widely seen as Obama’s bill. So no, I’m still not buying it.
Tagged: animals animal rights animal welfare race racism speciesism primates chimp chimpanzee monkey cartoon the new york post ny post sean delonas cartoon barack obama parallel oppressions intersections language msm mainstream media