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About That Loaded Imagery: Racism In "Post Partisan" America

There is nothing that disgusts me more than the view of four privileged white men known for their conservative views sitting around and discussing w

There is nothing that disgusts me more than the view of four privileged white men known for their conservative views sitting around and discussing whether they found the NY Post cartoon of yesterday racist, as they did this morning on Morning Joe. ("I didn't think it was racist; did you find it racist, Pat Buchanan?" "I didn't, Joe, and I think Halperin will back me up on that. You know, blacks can be so sensitive sometimes." Not an exact transcript, but close enough) And as expected, they brought up the fact that Bush had been portrayed as a chimp frequently.

Talking about missing the forest for the trees. It wasn't just the metaphor of the chimp, but the fact that the chimp was shot dead by the cops. Remind me again when any political commentator EVER suggested killing Bush or even the Bushchimp? Oh that's right, never. 1600 Penn guest and blogger at Jack & Jill Politics, Baratunde Thurston reminds us of the long, sordid history of conflating African Americans with primates and police brutality:

I mentioned that a psychologist at UCLA has studied the link between seeing blacks as apes, monkeys, etc and treating them brutally. [..]The psychologist is Dr. Phillip A. Goff. I actually attended undergrad with him which is why I’m familiar with his work. [..]

In short, what Dr. Goff and his colleagues have found is a clear connection between the psychology of racism and real harm to black people. Further, they have been working with police departments across the nation to study their records, analyze their people and adjust their training in order to save the lives of black people and improve the effectiveness of policing. This is truly where the academy meets the streets.

Next week in NYC, on February 26, there will be a summit on racial and gender bias in policing and the need to expand these studies and their remedies. Here’s an article Dr. Goff wrote yesterday in response to the NY Post cartoon. I strongly urge you to read the entire thing and follow the links.

Little Things Are Still a Big Deal

By: Phillip Atiba Goff

[..]Though much of the reaction to the cartoon has been outrage at the implication that our 44th president is remotely simian, there have been other messages in the blogosphere as well. A few pleaded with us to see reason in this post-Obama era. They begged us to understand that the cartoonist clearly meant to impugn congress, Wall Street executives and academic economists and that there was no racial subtext to the piece. Others saw the cartoon as racist but declined to become outraged. Saw the injustice in the image, but saw it as a minor injustice, not one worth worrying too much about. After all, having a black president means that America is post-racial and does not need to worry about petty things like harmless pictures in a paper.

The messages in my inbox mirrored the commentaries I saw online. A few (though not many) defending the cartoon. Many more exasperated with indifference. All of them insisted this was a little thing.

The best science available suggests otherwise.

For the better part of the past seven years, my colleagues and I have conducted research on the psychological phenomenon of dehumanization. Specifically, we have examined cognitive associations between African Americans and non-human apes. And the association leads to bad things. When we began the research, we were skeptical of whether or not participants even knew that people of African descent were caricatured as ape-like — as less than human — throughout the better part of the past 400 years. And, in fact, many were not. However, even those who were unaware of this historical association demonstrated a cognitive association between blacks and apes. That is, when they thought of apes, they thought of blacks and vice versa — when they thought of blacks, they thought of apes.

But the fact of this cognitive association was not the most disturbing part of the research. Rather, it was the fact that the association between blacks and apes could lead to violence.

In one study, participants who were made to think about apes were more likely to support police violence against black (but not white) criminal suspects. The association actually caused them to endorse anti-black violence. Most disturbing of all, however, was a study of media coverage and the death penalty. Looking at a sample of death-eligible cases in Philadelphia from 1979 to 1999, the more that media coverage used ape-like metaphors to describe a murder trial (i.e. “urban jungle,” “aping the suspects behavior,” etc.) the more likely black suspects, but not white suspects were to be put to death.

Not surprisingly, black suspects were much more likely to be described in ape-like terms. And they were more frequently executed by the state.

Pam Spaulding: I'm glad we don't have to worry about racism any more.

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