Sunday, February 22, 2009

Problematic Post-ing

The New York Post's recent editorial cartoon associating the shooting of a chimpanzee with the authorship of the economic stimulus bill is problematic on several levels.

Since the dawn of the Atlantic slave trade, Black people have been categorized through “science”, religion, and social morés as being sub-human: something more akin to apes, than Homo sapiens. It was this classification among others that was used as justification of chattel slavery that brought Africans to the Americas and other parts of the world. As supposed non-humans, we were not to bear any rights justified for humans let alone the landed gentry of a “free society”. It was thereby taken for granted that we were subject to capture, enslavement, and subsequent trade; and that we were to be used as a disposable commodities, abused, killed, or discarded at the society's whim.

Undermining this fallacy and blank hypocrisy was chief in the grueling transformation of social consciousness undertaken by the abolitionist movement. Challenging this archetype ultimately led to the passage of the Slave Trade Act which ended the United Kingdom's slave trade and lead to the much later abolition of slavery in the United States.

Sadly it did not end there, as shown through a continuing century-plus of Jim Crow laws and other racial subjugation in the form of segregation and social stigma. The Post's tone-deaf editorial cartoon and it's subsequent luke-warm apology demonstrate how this pernicious association continues to play out even to this day.

Granted, the cartoon in part lampoons the recent police shooting of a pet chimpanzee in Connecticut. However as the dialog balloon tags the violent act of the shooting (implicitly justified) with the writing and passage of the stimulus bill (implicitly unjustified) it takes on a sinister tone if not one of outright incitement. The message is simple. Resolve political disagreement through violence. Coupled with the racial overtones and the fact that we have unprecedented numbers of Black Americans holding high office and appointments (including President Obama and members of his cabinet) the message goes beyond sinister to a vicious call for the deletion of 400-plus years of social progress.

I would expect any newspaper, even The Post to hold itself to a higher standard. The press was nicknamed the fourth estate for its role as steward and guardian of democratic ideals. The Post's negligent eye, and self-serving extenuation demonstrate its opposition to those ideals where its interests are involved. I can only hope that with the era ushered in through President Obama's election, we will also see the demise of this irresponsible brand of journalism and the institutions that support it.