Thursday, February 19, 2009

Racist Code Words and Images Must Be Discussed

There are those who claim that the recent New York Post cartoon depicting the author of the "stimulus bill" as a chimpanzee is not racist. Drawing that cartoon may not have been an act of racism, but publishing it could not be seen otherwise. On the same day that our Attorney General complains that Americans are cowards in their refusal to deal with racism, there could not be a better example to prove him right.

Racist code words and images are powerful tools for resisting rational thought processes and clinging to old patterns of racism and bigotry. It is high time that these derogatory cultural obscenities be addressed directly and effectively. We can not afford to ignore the enculturation of racism through these primitive devices.

However, besides the obvious racism in the use of these code words (e.g., monkey or ape) and images, there is a more subtle problem. In allowing these words and images to remain associated with racism effectively removes important words and concepts from acceptable discourse. As long as we harbor racism in the association of black people with monkeys, we will be uncomfortable talking about primates in polite company - and certainly around black people.

It is entirely possible that the primate images associated with racism have been one of the reasons Darwin's theory of evolution has remained unpopular among large segments of the white populations. Think about it! White people who think that humans were created by God may have trouble associating themselves as primates, but they apparently don't have trouble associating black people as primates! Is this racism? You betcha!

Further, perhaps the notion of humans being created as divine beings is responsible for the bloated egos our species exhibits in dealing with our destruction of earth's climate and resources. If so, then we need to be able to talk about our primate nature in order to increase awareness that we are just another species on this planet - as special species, but nevertheless one of several species of primates that call this planet home.

This blog and blogger are not insensitive to the historic use of primate imagery by delusional racists. However, the path to sustainable living may require us to get this "monkey" off of our backs because it contributes to our reluctance to acknowledge our basic human primate nature. I apologize for being blunt, but any rational assessment of the situation would find that "Black" people are no closer to non-human primates than are "White" people. It is ridiculous that we have accepted racist imagery and code words into our culture.

In fact, many apes and monkeys far more closely resemble "White" people than "Black" people. In general, the hair of nonhuman primates (which is sometimes even reddish) is far closer to that of "White" people than it is to that of "Black" people, for example. So, we all need to get beyond the perception of monkey and ape as racist code words. We need those words and concepts in our language because they help us to understand our common origins and human nature.

The delusional racist imagery of African people somehow being closer to apes or monkeys may have entered our culture, but it is false, pernicious and must be exposed and replaced by rational imagery. While it may thus be uncomfortable at first, for some people of various ancestries to work with the Divine Primates imagery, it may be vital to our survival. This may be a necessary step in the process of reclaiming human nature from the history of ignorance and ego that has led us to believe that humans are divided into races, and that any humans could be so superior to other humans or other species that they no longer need to respect the planet we live on, and to work to live sustainably within the ecosystem constraints of planet earth.

Indeed, racism may be one of the major reasons our culture has spun out of control. The discomfort with our primate nature, from the days of Darwin to the present time, may have caused human culture to deny evolution, justify racism, and to collude in attitudes indicating that humans are not really even animals. As comforting as these attitudes may be for some, we are seeing their disastrous impacts in our culture today. The advertising and marketing industries are well aware of how to entice us into desiring, and spending money on, things we don't need. This is why many advertising jobs go to people with degrees in psychology and even anthropology!

It is time to reclaim our species from those who would make monkeys out of us, whether that means politicians who get us worked up about meaningless ideologies, religious leaders that convince us that ours is the only "right" way to live, media outlets that thrive on keeping old bigotries alive, and folks who make tons of money manipulating us into lifestyles that support their own greed, but which do not support the sustainability of our planet.

Black people are not apes or monkeys -- any more than white people or red people or yellow people. The entire rainbow of humans are primates, and not nearly as divine as we'd like to believe.


Earon S. Davis, J.D., M.P.H. is a writer, teacher, policy analyst and media advisor located in Evanston, IL. He was not one of those considered by ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich for appointment to the US Senate and has never offered to raise money for the politician he now affectionately refers to as "Ex-Rod". Earon is working on a project to create awareness that humans are a species of primates --


John said...

Perhaps if black people stopped acting like primates....?

Earon S. Davis, JD, MPH, LCMT said...

My whole point is that we are ALL primates! Perhaps, like me, you see the "primateness" of others more easily than you see it in yourself.

On another level, isn't this and example of "the pot calling the kettle black?"

Terry said...

The comment from "John" above simply reinforces the ignorance that perpetuates stereotypes. Isn't it interesting that the most savage and notorious evils that we have ever known have been perpetuated by "superior" Caucasians?

Earon S. Davis, JD, MPH, LCMT said...

Well stated, Terry!

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Will said...

So Terry, I guess the whole Africa thing with the genocide of black on black violence, and the whole history of Africans selling others into slavery, etc, just doesn't count?

Whites have not done "the most savage and notorious evils". Every group has done that over the course of history. Unless you think the world is only a few hundred years old.....

Earon S. Davis, JD, MPH, LCMT said...

Will, I agree with both Terry and you because I don't believe that Terry was doing much more than pointing out the hypocrisy of "white" people claiming to be superior to "black" people while being responsible for completely barbaric behavior. I don't believe that comparing depravities gets us anywhere useful.