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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Mr. Murdoch, Is Obama Really a Chimp?

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Mr. Rupert Murdoch, it's certainly no surprise to you that New York Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan would hotly defend the racist Post cartoon comparing President Obama to a chimp. That's what your shock and smut dealing Post is in the business of doing and it does it well. The idea of course is to get the tongues furiously wagging, get enraged emails, letters and phone calls pouring in, and then put forth the predictable defense calling this and other inflammatory cartoons a parody, a free speech right, and harmless spoofery. Allan didn't stop there. He couldn't resist the urge to take a swipe at Al Sharpton, branding him with the standard tag of race baiter and media hound for daring to call out the Post on the vile cartoon.

The furor might have drawn little more than a public yawn and shrug except for two small points. One is the long, sordid and savage history of racist stereotyping of African-Americans. A few grotesque book titles from a century ago, such as The Negro a Beast, The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization, and the Clansman depicted blacks as apes, monkeys, bestial, and animal like. The image stuck in books, magazines, journals, and deeply colored the thinking of many Americans of that day.

Yes, Mr. Murdoch, it's true that was a long time ago, and as Allan intimated in his lame defense of the Post cartoon, no sober person could seriously believe that anyone would liken the president or for that matter any black to a chimp. Unfortunately, a lot still do.

That's the second small point about the Post cartoon. Post Cartoonist Sean Delonas could so casually and easily depict Obama as a monkey because that image didn't die a century, half century, decade, or even a year ago. In fact, exactly a year ago, Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young, and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. Their findings with the provocative title "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences," in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was published by the American Psychological Association.

Please keep in mind Mr. Murdoch that the overwhelming majority of the participants in the studies bristled probably as undoubtedly you would at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the animal savagery image and blacks was very much on their minds. The researchers found that participants, and that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images, were quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.

This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association and blacks has had devastating real life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 the Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than Whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as "barbaric," "beast," "brute," "savage" and "wild." And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial, and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.

The Post cartoon, Mr. Murdoch, was the complete package. It depicted violence, death, brutality, incitement, and animal like imagery. The topper was the not so subtle inference that the target of the chimp depiction and more was an African-American male, namely President Obama.

In recent days, Mr Murcdoch you've dropped a hint or two that you want to put the word balance back into the vocabulary of those who run your media empire. You can start by issuing this statement.

"News Corporation pledges that the Post's offensive cartoon will not be circulated, or reprinted, or syndicated. Further, we have zero tolerance toward racially insensitive and inflammatory cartoons or editorial depictions of African-Americans and other ethnic groups. Finally, we apologize for the Obama cartoon and pledge in the future that the Post and other Murdoch entities will hold to the highest standard of editorial sensitivity in our cartoons."

You'll issue that statement, Mr. Murdoch, if you are personally repelled by the comparison of President Obama to a chimp. That is so, right, Mr. Murdoch?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).