Eric Holder

How’s That Postracial Thing Working Out For You?

Jose 12 Comments

Eric Holder

Eric Holder

O, humans. After Barack Obama was elected, some of you seriously thought that the color barrier had officially collapsed. Some of you were grinning extra hard since you thought all the problems of the world were laid off your shoulders, as if we were only one John Hancock away from true world peace. Evidently, someone didn’t send the memo to Eric Holder, the first African-American US Attorney General:

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. “Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial …This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle, it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race-conscious, and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.”

Tough talk coming from a man born and raised in Bronx, NY. But that’s for the majority of Black people, right? I mean, white people consider a neighborhood less desireable if Black people live in it, and most people, Blacks and Whites included, don’t truly know the reason why Black History Month was created, right? There’s still higher poverty rates amongst Blacks and Latinos than Whites even though we’re “all” going through an economic crisis, but that’s OK, because there’s a Black man in the White House. He’s smart, athletic, polite, conversational, and articulate, so he’ll be attacked on his policies, not on his ethnicity, looks, or background right?

NY Post Editorial Cartoon (2/18/09)

NY Post Editorial Cartoon (2/18/09)

BANG!

Apparently, even cool, calm, and collected Obama, the same Obama who won the millions (and millions) of people’s votes (and minds) fairly through a really tight election, who galvanized many Americans throughout the United States to become more active in their communities, who within a month of being inaugurated has made tremendous strides towards bringing normalcy to this country, can still be easily compared (not so much contrasted) to an angry “uncivilized” primate who wouldn’t stop ripping people’s faces off until two presumably White cops put him in his place.

Some have contended that there’s a double standard associated with this comparison because, while we’re outraged at the aforementioned cartoon, we were fine with the Bush monkey cartoons and the Condoleeza Rice as House Nanny references. While I see what they’re getting at, I also think that highlighting the President of the United States getting shot and killed and simultaneously showing a Black man getting shot “like the monkey he is” raises the stakes to degrees that underrepresented people are all too accustomed to in this country. I’m not excusing the Bush monkey stuff or the Condoleeza stuff because, frankly, I disagree way more with their policies than their person. But this comparison is shallow at best. I just don’t think comparing George W. Bush’s facial expressions to a monkey’s carries the same implications to, say, Barack Obama as a shot-down angry monkey. You can disagree with the policies, but this takes it to a whole ‘nother level.

And again, I’m not the racial polemicist usually. I’m not saying that race relations haven’t come a long way from, say, 100 years ago. Yet, we humans are foolish to believe that people like Obama and Holder symbolize such a revolutionary shift in our national thinking that we no longer, for instance, need affirmative action or have check boxes for race / ethnicity. Until this dynamic changes, then the artist isn’t just representing an isolated case. He is not an isolated case; he is a representative of a significant portion of Americans’ thinking. Until we ALL have those conversations (and not just talking points we regurgitate from whoever we decide to idolize as our racial savior), we won’t get anywhere.

So to those of you who love singing Kumbayah around imaginary campfires, how’s that postracial thing working out for you? The grass over there must be really green.

Jose, who still doesn’t see everyone’s voices fully integrated into American history right?

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 12

  1. J.M. Holland

    I think the only thing that changed when Obama was elected is that that particular barrier to possibility changed. My little pre-k kids could actually become president. Other than that nothing has changed. I see that some of the dominant white culture are so uncomfortable with Obama that the pressure of accepting this small change in their reality is making the the real racism that underlies their true views “squirt out the sides” like the jelly from their white bread sandwiches. I guess those sandwiches are probably whole wheat now and the peanut butter is organic. Us white folks have to maintain some kind of cultural identity.

    The only thing that has changed is the possibility, not the reality.

  2. james vilson

    J,
    that pic is an outrage. would you believe that we had a similar incident in Miami? a Barnes and Nobles store in Coral gables had a Presidential display in whick a book entitled Monkeys could also be viewed. yes, with Mr. Obama in offie, it shows a made progress. However, we have a long way to go.

  3. adriana

    It’s a really tasteless and racist cartoon. I do think that the Bush/chimp comparisons are shallow and not as relevant because as you point out, this primate is getting shot. As I said on another blog discussing this cartoon, when I think of primate, I really do think of GWB (not black people)…

  4. Aaron

    If google can filter out 1,000s of potential racist web sites and blog posts – banning them from accidental view; how on earth does the “monkey” editorial cartoon slip past the team of NY post editors?

    There are alot of reasons why the newspaper business model is failing; this is one of them.

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    Author
    Jose

    JM, that was excellent. You really put things in good perspective for people to understand. I love this quote: “The only thing that has changed is the possibility, not the reality.”

    James, I’m not surprised. With all the Obama monkey references, I’m getting more annoyed with the lack of creativity than anything. (just kidding of course).

    Adriana, it really was tasteless. I think, more than anything, or because we’re in the situation we’re in in this country, we have to focus on their policies more than the shallow observations we make about these men and women. :: shakes head:: This whole situation is a mess.

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    Jose

    Aaron, your comment is officially on point. Then again, I don’t think the NY Post particularly cared. As long as their names are on people’s lips, they’ll stay content with their content.

  7. richard

    Wow. You people just complain all the damned time, eh? Ive never seen another group of Americans moan so much as blacks, or is that colored people?People of color? Etc….As an Indian—we have had it a lot worse than you. Yet, we don’t bitch and whine and sue and protest like you. Your opinion , as always, is nothing but bs.

  8. Scott

    To be fair, this cartoon just came out almost a full year after my post on the subject of primate-comparison double standards. I find this cartoon over the line myself, as it includes (as you say) the implication of a death wish.

    Furthermore, automatically equating the chimp to Obama might itself be the product of racist thinking, no?

    Consider that Congress were actually the masterminds behind the Stimulus Bill and President Obama merely signed it into law, and the cartoon can be taken to merely calling Congress a bunch of crazy monkeys.

    (However, most people would probably assume the President is the one in charge, so that adds another layer of ‘What did the artist intend?’ there…)

    That having been said, it’s not like Bush hasn’t been the object of countless assassination fantasies, wishes, cartoons, and even computer games and a Hollywood pseudo-documentary film.

  9. Post
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    Jose

    Richard, with all due respect, I think as someone who has an indigenous background, you too would be considered a person of color. Secondly, “bitching and whining” isn’t apropos to what’s going on here. I’m not here stomping and crying like “It’s not fair, it’s not fair.” I’m stating facts based on the opinions presented. If you can’t handle it, then I suppose you should categorize your opinion of my opinion as BS as well.

    Scott, thanks for the reply. Congress may in fact have been the ones who masterminded the original Stimulus Plan, but the prevailing thought from liberal and conservative talking heads is that it was Obama who initiated the plan, and from what I’ve read, the plan is in general very similar to the original plan Obama started. Also, yesterday was the day that Obama was to sign the stimulus bill, so that juxtaposition is too hard to ignore.

    I don’t think it’s racist thinking, but the inference is pretty strong. I did think of the Congress inference there, though, and saw why someone might also think that the monkey might refer to Congress, but I feel like that wasn’t made clear to the general populace. We also know the Post appeals to the lowest common denominator, unlike, say, a New Yorker.

    Bush has definitely been the fodder for that sort of anger after the last 8 or so years, but like I said, in the end, I don’t agree with murdering him.

  10. NYC Educator

    I think there’s a stark difference between comparing GW and Obama to monkeys. GW rates this comparison because of his ineptitude and abysmal judgment. There’s no history of comparing white people to monkeys because of their skin color. Attacking people personally, while it may not be the best of manners, does not rely on stereotypes and is not remotely racist.

    On the other hand, I think you’d have a hard time tagging Barack Obama with stupidity, whatever else you may think of him (and while I like him a lot better than McCain or Bush, I’m not yet his biggest fan). Associating Obama with a monkey is ignorant, highly offensive and indefensible.

  11. Scott

    NYC Educator, I do believe you are revealing a hint of bias there.

    ‘It’s okay to make fun of some people because I think they are stupid so they deserve it’ is not exactly a politically correct, sensitive approach.

    But if it represents a valid reason, then can I draw a chimp presiding over the wreckage that is a certain organized community in Grove Parc, or perhaps one that is joyfully sliding down the Dow’s steep chart of ElectionWin-Inauguration-StimulusPassed declines?

    Context works, dammit!

    Jose, being a paranoid cynic (on some days), I’d have to think that the artist meant parallels to be drawn between the chimp and Obama, but cunningly did it in such a way as to be able to defend himself by claiming it was meant to represent Nancy Pelosi.

    (Is it sexist to do that?)

  12. Amauri T.

    I think the NY Post knows EXACTLY what they were doing. This kind of thing is a cynical, calculated way for them to sell more papers. That aside it was mentioned above that the President is causing some previously contained feelings to ooze out into the open. I think in moderation this oozing is a net positive, and will cause more of what Mr. Holder might call ‘non-cowardly’ discourses on race. The question is whether we really want ‘non-cowardly’ convos on a large scale … remember our nation is full of people like richard above who are not equipped to discuss with these matters without feeling threatened or becoming adversarial. Candor takes maturity. Personally I think the ongoing struggle for incremental improvements, like increased participation in government, is the better path. In that spirit those being put into positions of authority like Mr. Holder should aim to be more diplomatic than calling his countrymen cowards. It’s one thing to gauge your personal audience’s maturity and give them complete candor as say a blogger, or a comic artist…but Mr. Holder is a servant to as many richards as not and to my thinking needs to bear this in ind in public speeches.

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