2.18.2009

Backlash Backlash (update)

Wait: I had posted something about the cartoon of a monkey getting shot by cops. But some people on the radio today convinced me that it's not worth making a point of... so, nevermind. It's not worth making a point if it hurts anybody's feelings.

5 comments:

fenhopper said...

really? could you make that point so that i'll be convinced?

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Casey said...

Thanks Jesse. Maybe.

Well, my point was that you don't get to be a cartoonist at the New York Post by being a racist... I think the cartoon was trying, very unsuccessfully, to patch together two contemporary stories (the monkey shot in connecticut & the poorly written stimulus bill). I also said some mean things about how I can't stand the "rush to outrage" reaction that I'm seeing more and more in the media and in my classroom and everywhere -- everyone wants to be the first to express outrage. So Chris Matthews was "horrified" and "shocked," and David Schuster was "appalled" and "stunned," or whatever... and it's like, "Yeah, guys: racism's bad. Way to go. Do you want good-people points just for thinking racism's bad?" And so it seemed to me like people were jumping on this ambiguously suspicious cartoon to prove to themselves that they know about how black people used to be associated with monkeys in the popular imagination.

So I put a caption under a picture of a monkey: "Monkeys are stupid and smelly," and asked whether that cartoon would be considered racist.

My point: in some sense, this is a rorsharch (sp?) test... those who look at it and would never think to associate our President with a monkey will be like, "Oh, yeah--stimulus bill, 'written by monkeys'--I get it." But those who still do associate black people with monkeys are the ones seeing what they shouldn't see in the cartoon.

And then I heard an African American woman call into the radio station and tell our local host that he was very insensitive for saying effectively the same thing I was saying... and, hearing that she was genuinely upset, I came to my computer and took down my post.

I'm reminded of the controversies surrounding the use of the word "niggardly." If I had been invovled in that controversy, I would've just apologized for using the word and never used it again... despite the fact that I'd think to myself that any d-bag stupid enough to complain ought to be apologizing to me for complaining.

And one more thing: save the outrage for fighting more troubling instances of racial injustice: segregated schools, glass ceilings, profiling, prisons, etc.

Thoughts?

Wishydig said...

jumping around on the issue...

re: niggardly
i wrote about that a while ago. it seems to me that there are at least two ways of insisting on using it. 1) with an honest faith in its denotation. 2) with a cold disregard for its connotation.

my point there is that the disregard can be either cold or understanding. there are people who use the word thinking that they are understood without the negative association. and i'm willing to believe that.

it's a jump to say that if you don't feel discomfort using that word that you are disrespecting racial sensibilities. i don't make that jump.

if you insist on using the word *while* you're conscious that it can be poorly received and you offer no apology for causing that discomfort then you are attacking those sensibilities. for no good reason.

we have to be willing to separate our attacks tho.

my problem with the cartoon was that it showed a bad ear for the notes. for me to believe that requires that i believe the cartoonist had no intention to connect the image to racial issues. that he had no veiled message regarding race. that he had no thought other than monkeys clacking away at keyboards.

i can still criticize him for having a bad ear. but not his attitudes toward race.

and so i might make the point to counter someone who is arguing that this is clearly racist. and if i dismiss that argument i'm not dismissing the point of the argument -- that a better ear would serve the cartoonist well because of his public perch.

if someone points a finger and says "i believe that person is a racist and racism is bad" and i say "i don't believe that person is a racist" i haven't disagreed with the second claim.

i've said it before, that arguments have parts and cannot be treated as a whole. it's partly the fear of arguing against an argument against racism that stifles a real connection and exchange.

Casey said...

I totally agree with you, Fenhop -- but as I said in my revised post: if someone is convinced that the cartoon was a product of racism, they aren't going to have the patience to listen to your thoughtful response (or mine). So I just took it down. To me, preventing a perceived offense is almost as good as avoiding a real offense.