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Archive for Friday, February 27, 2009

Conversation on race calls for listening

February 27, 2009

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“Police and deputy sheriffs hunted Wednesday night for a negro ‘beast man.”’ — The Billings Gazette, Sept. 19, 1929

“An original Guinea negro whose blood has not been crossed is as docile as a shepherd dog.” — The Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1899

“Miss Mary Henderson The Victim of a Negro Beast” — The Moberly Weekly Monitor, Aug. 29, 1901

“For two minutes Joe Louis was a throwback to a wild jungle creature.” — The Associated Press, Jan. 14, 1940

“Towering above them all, his black apelike face, distorted with rage.” — The Oelwein Daily Register, April 24, 1919

“Northerners cannot realize how low in intelligence, how irresponsible the pure negro is. He is an animal.” — The New York Times, June 9, 1901

Just so we’re all clear on why black folk tend to get annoyed when newspapers compare them to animals.

For all that, though, it was not the New York Post’s now-notorious chimp cartoon that offended me. Rather, it was everything that came after.

Last week’s cartoon, referencing a recent incident in which police killed a chimpanzee that mauled a woman in Stamford, Conn., depicts two officers standing over the bullet-riddled body of a dead ape. One says to the other: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

Some observers were outraged, believing that cartoonist Sean Delonas had likened President Barack Obama to a chimp. I thought it equally likely he meant to taunt congressional Democrats (the president, after all, did not “write” the stimulus bill) and had inadvertently blundered into an awful racial stereotype. Given that ambiguity, my instinct was to give Delonas the benefit of the doubt.

Then he opened his mouth.

He and his bosses, actually. First, there was the strident defense: “absolutely friggin’ ridiculous” said the cartoonist in a statement to CNN. Later, with protesters ringing its building, and finding itself questioned and criticized by everyone from the National Association of Black Journalists to New York Gov. David Paterson to the NAACP, the paper issued a grudging, churlish apology in which, even while expressing regret, it tried to blame the controversy on “opportunists” to whom “no apology is due.”

It took nearly a week before it dawned on the paper’s brain trust that maybe people had good reason for their vexation. Tuesday, media baron Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Post, issued a new apology, no strings attached.

That it took so long to do the obvious speaks volumes.

Let’s be clear on one thing: The Post has a right to provoke and even offend. That is absolute and sacrosanct. But it is difficult not to be troubled by a suffocating cluelessness that allows it to provoke and offend without knowing it or meaning it or even, apparently, caring about it — and then, to dismiss provocation and offense as the work of “opportunists” instead of seeking to understand why people were so upset.

The paper’s attitude, its evident ignorance of historical context, are not unique. Rather, they have their echo in too many white Americans whose default defense is the proverbial good offense whenever they feel cornered on the subject of race.

And yes, that attitude is fed by the fact that in recent years too many African-Americans have found it convenient to cry wolf where race is concerned. But if arrogance on the one end and disingenuousness on the other are our only alternatives, we’re in trouble.

Fittingly, this all unfolds in the wake of Attorney General Eric Holder’s contention that we need to become better and braver in talking about race. Take the Post’s self-satisfied ignorance as Exhibit A.

The paper didn’t know that it didn’t know. One hopes the next time controversy comes calling, it will, before deploying its defenses, do what it should have done here.

Shut up and listen.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

jumpin_catfish 5 years, 1 month ago

What would Darwin say indeed!

I think he would say the strong survive and the rest whine a lot.

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ArumerZwarteHoop 5 years, 1 month ago

Where are all the sniveling, cowering, apologists? …………….No fun.

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Marion Lynn 5 years, 1 month ago

You should always listen to the calls when at the races.

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ArumerZwarteHoop 5 years, 1 month ago

Is it racist to say Patrick Ewing looks like a gorilla?................ Because he does.

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Kyle Reed 5 years, 1 month ago

"Curious that Pitts had to go back so far for such outrageous quotes, and missed far more recent one by Howard Cosell, circa 1983"

That would be because he was quoting newspapers. Howard Cosell = sportscaster.

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farfle 5 years, 1 month ago

Notice how this article starts with "Conversation" and ends with "shut up and listen?" I don't expect any two-way communication, just more victimhood and political correctness.

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Tom Shewmon 5 years, 1 month ago

Mr. Pitts, all I have to say to you is, "Cry me a river".

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beobachter 5 years, 1 month ago

ArumerZwarteHoop, are you trying to say Cal Thomas is a better writer?

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tempting_butnothanks 5 years, 1 month ago

why did this piece focus on White on Black racism and completely ignore Black on White, or even Black on Korean, or Mexican on Black? I demand equal time for equal racism!!

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ArumerZwarteHoop 5 years, 1 month ago

A monkey with a typewriter could write a better op-ed than Leonard Pitts Jr.

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think_about_it 5 years, 1 month ago

The choices for this paper's op ed pages are bizarre:

David Broder, Leonard Pitts Jr. and Garrison Keillor have all graced this paper's op ed and should put an end to the myth of a “conservative” media in Lawrence, KS. All of these are extreme leftwingers disguised as mainstream opinion.

God bless.


I must admit this was posted by our friend loggy a few days back and I just changed some of the names and labels for him.

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75x55 5 years, 1 month ago

Curious that Pitts had to go back so far for such outrageous quotes, and missed far more recent one by Howard Cosell, circa 1983...

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ArumerZwarteHoop 5 years, 1 month ago

Criminals of all colors are often compared to animals or less than human. It’s a shame that racism leads many to defend the animal behavior of some just because they happen to have similar skin color. As illustrated in the OJ Simpson murder trail.

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bjfisher 5 years, 1 month ago

Nothing here worth commenting over.

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grammaddy 5 years, 1 month ago

Love this guy. I always look forward to his columns.

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