Talk about racial correctness gone ape. How else can you describe the Washington Post's apology for an offensive cartoon that really didn't or at least shouldn't have offended any one? The cartoon depicts a woman hoisted over the shoulder of a very warm and fuzzy looking ape. The cartoon was a spoof of the Below the Beltway column in the Washington Post magazine that took a light hearted look at a survey that claimed women are sexually aroused by more things than straight men (women) and gay men (men). One of the supposed sex arousal tip points for women were shots of apes having sex. The cartoon did not demean women, men, blacks, or apes. The Washington Post editors overreacted to the other Post's sin with a panicky apology.
The Post apologized because it's scared stiff that someone might think that the ape depiction was a racial slur against blacks. Apparently, the Post editors had a nightmarish vision of being deluged with a torrent of angry letters, emails and faxes lambasting the cartoon and the Post as racist, trembling as the NAACP and Al Sharpton lead shouting protesters in front of the Post demanding an apology and a firing, and the threat of a boycott.
The Post's apology is more than a case of silliness. Or even a case of the staid, Post fearfully clawing at misguided political and racial correctness to plant itself firmly on the journalistic high ground.
The Post's apology gave a perverse back door egg on to the tiny but vocal minority who screamed that there is nothing wrong with the New York Post's Obama slurring Chimp cartoon. This bunch bought the Post's initial line that the cartoon was a good natured political poke at a president and his economic policy. Now, they'll howl that the Post's apology will further chill political criticism. It will make a writer think twice before jotting a critical word about a politician. Or in this instance a cartoonist will look over their shoulder before they draw a line skewering a politician or any other public figure. If that happens then that's one more bad behaving politician or public figure who gets a pass. The public loses.
The Post's needless act can be likened to the ancient brawl over the use of the word nigger. Some publications are so jittery and fearful of offending blacks that they absolutely bar the use of the word in their publication. The paranoia has morphed into calling nigger, the N word, N.............., the word, or simply N.
The word is objectionable when it used to racially slander and pillory blacks. This is hardly the same as the use of the word in a thoughtful, critical article or discussion on the controversy over the word or the damage that use of the word has wreaked.
The New York Post cartoon was, of course, not a legitimate use of free speech, a political spoof, let alone instructive punditry. It was vicious, vile, and a veiled incitement to violence against a president.
The New York Post cartoon obliterated the line between legitimate political criticism and racial denigration. The Washington Post cartoon didn't come close to that. The editors offered a mea culpa for as they explained the image and text inadvertently may conjure racial stereotypes that the Post does not countenance. They pleaded that they regretted the lapse.
The lapse was their senseless apology. They went ape over nothing.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).