Commentary Magazine


Sometimes a Chimp Is Just a Chimp

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder observed Black History Month by stating that “though the nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

I’d like to take up that challenge, in part, and bring up the now-infamous New York Post cartoon from last week. The cartoon depicts two police officers holding gun and standing over a shot-up chimpanzee. “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” reads the caption.

This was immediately denounced as racist, and even threatening the life of President Obama.


The cartoon is not referring to President Obama, even indirectly. It is about a chimp that went berserk and nearly killed a woman before being shot by police.  The cartoonist seems to be saying that the stimulus bill is so bad, that it could only have been conceived of by a crazed chimp.

It’s not a particularly effective cartoon. There is no real world connection between the two incidents, and the message is not clearly conveyed.

But is it racist? Absolutely not. There is  nothing anthropomorphic about the chimp — it’s clearly a chimp. It has not been altered to resemble President Obama (unlike countless cartoons of chimps resembling George W. Bush).

The action attributed to the chimp — writing the stimulus bill — was not done by President Obama, but by the House of Representatives. More specifically, it was crafted by the House Democrats under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  It was altered a bit in the Senate, but President Obama was only tangentially involved in its crafting.

This interpretation is backed up by Scott Adams, the creatof of Dilbert. The uncommonly-intelligent Adams writes that he doesn’t believe that the cartoon was racist, but should have been flagged by an editor as potentially offensive, under what Adams calls the “remindsmeof” trap — when a cartoon (or other phenomenon) isn’t in and of itself offensive, but could prompt others to draw associations the artist didn’t intend.

Adams isn’t the only cartoonist who’s concerned about illustrating President Obama. Cartoonists have spent literally over a century reducing public figures to caricatures, but now they have to worry that the slightest exaggeration or deviation from photo-like accuracy can cause them to be labeled as racists — or worse.

We may never be completely free of racism. It’s too deeply ingrained in human nature. To attempt to eradicate every trace of racism is an impossible task. And it becomes a fool’s quest when we devote our energies to debating whether a dead chimp is or is not a cryptic reference to President Obama.

Worst of all, it gives professional race-baiters like Al Sharpton  an excuse to grab headlines and air time — and that’s the last thing this nation needs when we’re trying to have a serious discussion about anything.