An American, a Briton and an Indonesian are arguing about their countries advances in medical technology.
The Brit says "We had a woman who lost her arm in a train wreck, yet our surgeons were able to graft onto her a prosthetic arm that worked so well that she can still do her job as a doctor."
The American says, "Yeah? Well, we took a man with severe heart problems and transplanted a pig's heart into his body. He's still alive and is able to run marathons."
The Indonesian scoffs. "That's nothing. We had a man whose head was cut off and crushed, but our doctors were able to graft the head of a monkey onto his body. He is now the President of Indonesia."Fast forward to 2011, and you may have caught the story last week of Marilyn Davenport, the Orange County Republican party official who sent around an email depicting Barack Obama as a monkey.
Now, predictably, in her excuse-making response to claims of racism, Davenport offered up that old chestnut that people seem to think is the universal get-out-of-jail card for racist behaviour - "I have black friends". Of course you do, dear. Or you did once, anyway.
George W Bush was caricatured as a monkey quite a bit though. And conservatives love to point that out, as a rejoinder to claims that portraying Barack or Michelle Obama as simians is racist. How can it be racist, when Dubya was portrayed as a monkey all the time?
Well, here's how. Bush was likened to a monkey because he was almost universally regarded as an buffoon with low intelligence. (I for one don't think Bush was quite as dumb as he was made out to be, but he certainly gave plenty of ammunition to those who would see him that way.)
Now, why is Obama being likened to a monkey? Even his staunchest opponents don't seem to think he is stupid or buffoonish. They prefer out-of-touch, elitist, sinister, communist or a secret Muslim. None of which are really associated with being apelike.
He is, however, black. And some people of questionable intellect seem to associate blackness with being some kind of lower primate. Ask the hooligans in Spain and Eastern Europe who bring bananas to football matches with no other purpose other than to throw them at black players. When Nigerian international Peter Odemwingie left his club Lokomotiv Moscow to play in the English league, a section of the home crowd unveiled a huge sign basically saying "good riddance", accompanied by a picture of a huge banana. White players don't get this treatment.
But here's the thing. Some people do actually resemble monkeys or apes. Some of them are black. Do black people really look more like monkeys than any other racial group? Only if you look through a racist lens. You could just as easily argue that Europeans, being the most hirsute of all peoples, are the most monkey-like, but you never hear anyone bring that up.
Returning to the joke about B.J. Habibie above, that's a joke made by Indonesian people about another Indonesian. There is no racial subtext. And anyone who's actually observed Habibie in action would probably agree that with his facial features, small stature and quirky mannerisms, he does remind one of a monkey.
So if a person actually does look like one of our simian cousins, in theory it shouldn't be a bad thing to make a joke about that. But the ugly legacy of racism means that likening people of African origin to monkeys is likely to induce too much angst from various quarters, whether you think that individual person resembles a monkey or not.
There are plenty of white foks who look like they'd be at home in the treetops. For example:
|English singer Mick Hucknall, |
of the band Simply Red
|Belarusian footballer Alexander Hleb|
|Actor Robin Williams|
|Welsh footballer Gareth Bale|
|Former New Kids on the Block singer Danny Wood|
|Former NBA star Patrick Ewing.|
If Patrick Ewing was president, however...
DISCLAIMER: If anyone decides that comparing anyone to a monkey as I have done in this post is racist, let me hereby declare that some of my best friends are white. And black. And Asian. Oh, and monkeys. I think that covers all the bases.