Is this cartoon racist?
(UPDATE: Looks like I'll be appearing on National Public Radio's All Things Considered discussing this issue later today. I basically said that determining whether or not the cartoon is racist is only half the conversation. Click here to hear the interview.
Because, even if most people don't think the cartoon is consciously racist, why would a major newspaper in the most diverse city in America publish a cartoon which could be taken this way? And is it more disturbing if they published the cartoon with no awareness of its racial connotation, or if they published it after discussing it at length?)
Riddle me this: the New York Post, a famously combative, conservative newspaper owned by Fox News proprietor Rupert Murdoch, runs a cartoon implying that a crazed chimpanzee wrote the recent economic stimulus bill, which was actually championed and developed by our nation's first black president.
Is that a racist joke?
As a media critic, this is where times get interesting. Because our leaders have been aging white guys for so long, pundits, cartoonists, comedians and journalists have had a relatively narrow scope of concerns when it came to pointed political satire.
But we live in a new age. We have a black president; a woman came within a few hundred primary delegates of snagging the job, too. And jokes that might have rolled off the back of a typical politician now take on new resonance when levied against someone from a race of people who were stereotyped as ape-ish animals for hundreds of years.
Frankly, I doubt the Post was smart enough to craft such a ham-handed cartoon to serve such a subtle agenda. Instead, the Post seems to be referencing this awful story of a chimp shot and killed by police after attacking and seriously injuring the owner's best friend.
I think they made an awful joke that had a resonance beyond what they planned -- a lesson, perhaps, in jumping too gleefully on the train of in-your-face parody. A friend online just called it "unintentional racism."
But, as any person of color can tell you, it's tough to know what someone means when they say something like this. And if you really don't mean to be racist, do you really want some people thinking that you might be?