The recent New York Post political cartoon depicting two police officers shooting a "trained chimp" and commenting that "They'll have to find someone else to write the the next stimulus bill," is more than just mere satire. I spoke to several close friends and family members about the issue and there were some that commented that the authors of the stimulus package were not President Obama, but a group of economists. For a brief moment I agreed with that assumption, but still was angered because the face of this grand scheme to save the dying American economy is none other than our 44th President, Barack Obama.
As began to mull it over last night I really saw that there was no possible way that the cartoon could not be more than what it is...racist. However, rather than being something new it is more of the same racist ideology that has struggled to, and succeeded in some ways, in facilitating the creation of Africans and African Americans as subhuman and fit to endure the ill treatment and thought given to them by their fellow white Americans. In my search for context I thought back again to George Fredrickson's timeless treatise, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (I have mentioned this book on my blog before and I think it is well worth the read).
In the ninth chapter entitled, "The Negro as Beast: Southern Negrophobia at the Turn of the Century," Fredrickson discusses how so called "experts" of the alchemist study of phrenology, as well as other physical sciences, attempted to create a sustained understanding of Darwinist philosophy that explained African American "degeneracy". Such "scientific" studies were employed as the basis of, and accepted as, fact-- if not gospel truth. More importantly, the fact that such unscientific and racist dogma disguised as fruitful intellectual discourse was readily accepted by white Americans at the end of the nineteenth (and well into the early twentieth) century speaks to the entrenched nature of the warped, twisted, and indeed inhumane and incessant need to create a mythology that made the sons and daughters of Africa ripe for extinction.
White Americans, not just in the South, took heart in the fact that they would help mother nature in this biological process of genetic elimination through wanton violence against African Americans, commonly understood through the hangman's noose.
Therefore, there is no justifiable way that in a nation wrought with a history of racial antagonisms that after the election of the first African American President of the United States that such a so called satirical cartoon can be tolerated. However, I recognize too that some are more concerned about whether or not they will have jobs in the next year to really be too concerned with the strange fruits of racist ideology in print media. Their concerns are much more pragmatic and personal--and I sympathize with that train of thought.
The question now is why are we still fighting against the specter of institutional racism? Well, I will tell you. Racism is not dead and has not met the untimely demise that those who want President Obama to symbolize some grandiose post racial watershed moment would like to think. The even larger inquiry I have is why should we care at all about the "Black Image in the White Mind"?
For far too long African Americans, the poster children of the dispossessed of this great nation, have had to engage in physical, political, socio-economic, spiritual, intellectual and emotional warfare with their Anglo counterparts. The response to such actions must take place on several fronts that embolden the mind, body, and spirit to its most righteous levels to illustrate that greatness is still attainable.
To that end, I took sublime comfort in OUR First Lady, Michelle Obama, who spoke to a group of 200 schoolchildren in the East Room of the White House encouraging them to look far beyond the historical figures found in their text books and to "think about the extraordinary people who live in your own world--all those folks who play important roles in black history and American history every single day."
Her words are the rebuttal needed. It is very likely, and I would contest that their have not been so many black and brown faces in the White House since the slave labor erected the structure in 1800 (when President Jefferson moved in...though work continued up to 1809). Despite it all, the last stanza of Maya Angelou's most powerful poem, "Still I Rise" rings in my ear and should be the intellectual and spiritual backdrop for the children that were in the East Room of the White House yesterday:
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.