The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, February 26, 2009

We didn't know!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/25/white-house-watermelon-em_n_169933.html

Of COURSE all these images of watermelons on the White House lawn, sent as a digital post card by a Republican mayor in Orange County, is totally innocent. He "didn't know" of the history of using such images as an insult to black people. Of course. And so the strategy takes shape: use racially-charged images and language, and then say: "Liberals are being too sensitive! No harm was meant! It's racist even to think there was!"

And racists, the ignorant, and those who cheer for their team even when it is cheating will nod their heads like bobble dolls. This is just totally predictable, and it's almost creepy fun to watch the vermin crawling out from under the flat rocks. My Conservative Republican friends: you have GOT to speak up about this, or lose your party. Right now, if is looking like your Big Tent is made out of a white sheet. I know that those who believe in the established wisdom of the past, and in small government, and Christian values conservatively interpreted don't really buy into the kind of vicious crap that has led to all the subtle and not-so-subtle racial digs, the calls for assassination, the suggestions that Michelle Obama is a "baby mama," the "affirmative action" stuff. Criticizing the man on personal terms is one thing. But it is clear than for many on the Right, he is not a man, primarily. He is a BLACK man, and that is something that is frightening as hell.

Your party needs you to speak out. Unless you agree, of course. In which case...well, your future is quite...pale.

##

To the fanboys who want every single panel of "The Watchmen" translated to the screen, every word, unchanged: those of you who have any hope of ever working in the industry, understand that unless you make the movies with your own money, there will always be compromise. And even if you do, you'd better grasp that a book is not a movie. Look at the reviews in Variety and Hollywood Reporter, which consider Zack Snyder's film "slavishly adapted." In other words, chained to its source material. And you STILL aren't satisfied. Many of you will never create anything original. But some of you will. I've worked in the industry for thirty years, and many, many of the fine writers, directors, and technicians were originally "fanboys," and they are often brilliant and have contributed much. But they learned to play with others. I only say these things because some of you are wondering how you might, one day, take your dreams and share them with the world. The truth is that, no, the original artist doesn't always know what would translate their work best. And that no movie ruins the original work. It still exists. There has always been a tension between the artist and the money people. Neither is a better quality human being...they just have different perspectives on the process. If you can't deal with both sides, you will never see your dreams on the big screen. Every single artist whose work you admire in film has learned this truth. I hope that those of you with genuine ability will grasp that I'm not saying this to insult you, but to encourage you to learn to compromise your visions a little, so that you can enjoy the fruits of creative labor. It really isn't that bad out there...for adults.

##

A prime example is someone who said it's "not professional" for Variety to speculate on the "Watchmen"'s potential box office. Are you kidding? It may not be artistic, but it is certainly professional. It took 100 million of shareholder money to make that movie, and the paymasters had BETTER care about it making money. Hollywood is a blend of art and commerce. This isn't a terrible thing. It's just a thing. Deal with it, or don't. The world belongs to those who can bridge the two worlds.

##

Can't help but think more about the emerging racial ugliness. Another core tactic is going to be to find a tasteless comment made by someone on the Left, and then promote it. When attacked, you say: "well, such-and-such a Democrat said it first!" This was used with the "Barack the Magical Negro" comment, first made by a Dem, and condemned by Dems. Then it got picked up by Limbaugh, who hid behind the "a Dem did it first" routine, and later turned into a song, which was sent out by a Republican legislator on a Christmas CD. And the claim, again and again, is: "we didn't know this was offensive." Well, if you say that, then you are stumping for the importance of Black History Month, because apparently half the country has no idea about black history, or the legacy of racism and oppression. For them, the statistical anomaly of an Obama presidency means far more than the mere 1% black representation in the Senate. They admit they know nothing of black people, but think they can decide about Affirmative Action, and interpret crime statistics, and make judgements about whether I.Q. tests might be skewed toward the culture of those who created it. All of these things would demand thorough, nuanced understanding of the people you are judging.

I fear for this country, because we need the Right, and its soul-searching, asking why it isn't attracting its share of non-whites seems to be mired in a desperate avoidance of the very issues that would save its soul. I don't see these issues being discussed anywhere, so I have to do it here, or they might not be said at all.

There is more of this poison coming. Watch for it. Be vigilant. The NY Post "Police shooting the monkey" cartoon might be seen as nothing but a bizarre blind spot. Hopefully the Watermelon Man cartoon won't be justified the same way.

##

50 comments:

Steve Perry said...

The election of Obama was a step in a good direction, for a lot of reasons.

It didn't end racism in this country. We still have miles to go before we sleep.

What? You people don't like watermelon and fried chicken?

(What do you mean when you say, 'You people'?

What do *you* mean when you say 'You people ...')

It's a long damn road, but the journey of a thousand miles and all ...

Marty S said...

Steve: The problem with your post is that you and other liberals like to use the idiots and hate mongers on the right to characterize all of us who have conservative views on certain issues. It is no more justifiable to point to Rush Limbaugh and say that he defines conservatives as a group, than it is to point to Chris Brown, as an example of how violent Blacks are as a group. As a conservative I can do about as much about the Rush Limbaughs as you can about the Chris Browns. Last week I caught two segments on FOX news ranting about the stimulus bill. Now, I don't like the stimulus bill any more than FOX does, but the presentations they used were ridiculous and could only convince someone who had no real understanding of how things work. That annoyed me because I felt false arguments undermine the sound ones, but what can I do about it, other than complain here on this blog and to my wife.

Michelle said...

The 'we didn't know' is getting incredibly old. What happens when you tell that to a judge...you go to jail.

I don't think this way...and I've posted on this blog before on how I feel about the use of "Baby Mama" (it should not be used, it's degrading, and FOX is lying when they say they didn't know.).

In Clerks 2 they did a running gag on the we didn't know line where the skinny white boy said he didn't know that Porch Monkey was a racist comment and then tried to take it back for the white people. It was funny because he got every beating he deserved.

Watchmen...you have to bend to get your creativity out the the people. That's where Bab5 failed. It's where LotR shinned. I'm looking forward to the watchmen.

Mike Ralls said...

I gave a pass to the monkey thing, because I don't think it was actually intended to be Obama, and because the left has spent the last 8 years referring to President Bush as a chimp. With the the Watermelon thing I don't have any reservations in condemning it. It was stupid and dumb and contemptible and I don't doubt for a minute that the po-dunk mayor is skeazy at heart.

I looked online and called the City of Los Almaitos [(562) 431-3538 ] and asked to speak with the mayor. Of course I got a recording and I left a message explaining that I was a conservative who voted against President Obama in the election, who is opposed to President Obama's policies and that his "joke" was vile and repugnant. That it made us all look bad and that he was actively hurting conservatism by such actions. I left my phone number, but I doubt he'll call me back. I'll let you know if he does.

I can tell you this, among conservatives who are friends of mine, I have never heard complaints or jokes about Obama that are racist. Just hasn't happened while I'm around, and I wouldn't put up with it if it did. We've damned him for being a socialist at heart, but making watermelon jokes? Just not part of our worldview.

That being said, the odds of the Republican's getting a higher % of the black vote are . . . ah to use the British art of understatement, not good. Most people don't change political parties, and most kids end up in the political party of their parents. Given how overwhelmingly Blacks are Democratic right now, and given Obama is President, Blacks are probably going to be voting Democrat in 80-90+% range for at least the next 20 years, and possibly for the next 30. The Republicans really don't have to worry about losing the black vote, because it's already lost and it would require monumental stupidity among the Democratic Party for it to be up in the air. More or less, the Democrats would have to do something to lose the Black vote, rather than the Republicans doing anything to win it.

The only thing the Republicans have to worry about is losing a % of the non-Black vote over such trash. Which is a factor.

Josh Jasper said...

At some point, when the right isn't predominantly anti-LGBT, I'll care about how much we need them. Right now, they're actively malignant, even to LGBT conservatives.

We've seen black leadership in the GOP. But LGBT? No. If you're queer, the GOP hates you.

So I'm cheering on the losses they're sustaining. I hope they dwindle to nothing.

BC Monkey said...

The Watermelon is tasteless and offensive.

Steve, where were you when the disgusting cartoons came from the left attacking Condi Rice?

Examples can be seen at
http://michellemalkin.com/2008/07/16/clueless-washington-journalist-of-the-day-john-harwood/

Contra your expectation that there would be a defense of "Well Democrats did it first", I say racism displayed by either side is repulsive.

I've seen you pay plenty of attention to conservatives' motives and prejudices, but very little to those whose politcs largely agree with your own. There have been eight years of "Kill Bush" t-shirts, buttons, signs with severed Bush heads, Bush manequins with nooses around their necks, cartoons of Bush as a ape, burnings in effigy and wishing Bush dead as acceptable polite conversation.

When conservative vitriol towards Obama starts to exceed that, then your primary focus on conservative antagonism will start to look very reasonable. Until then, your focus looks rather selective.

Mentioning leftist hatred in passing and then expounding on the motives behind conservative hatred at length is not balance. It's a fig leaf.

Josh Jasper said...

How badly does the GOP fail at getting race issues? This Bad


Curtis Sliwa: When you used the hip-hop vernacular, man, Barack Obama has bling bling in this stimulus package, you got people's attention.

Michael Steele: Absolutely. There's a lot of bling bling -- the bling bling's got bling bling in this package. That's how bad it is.


There's a huge problem with these poeple trying to sound "authentic". Obama doesn't do that. He doesn't play up ghetto talk that he never uses in real life. Steele does. He's trying to put on a show about how hip he can be, but it's not his real personality.

Sad.

Steve Perry said...

"ut what can I do about it, other than complain here on this blog and to my wife."

You could stop watching Fox news, and send them a note telling them why. Or Rush, or any of the other idiotic hate-spewers. Tell your friends to do the same.

Nothing makes an impact like hitting somebody in the pocketbook.

Kukulkan said...

I don't watch Fox News. I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh. I didn't vote for Pres. Obama. I'm not convinced the chimp 'toon was intended to reference Pres. Obama. I am convinced that the watermelon 'toon was intended to reference Pres. Obama's racial heritage and am disgusted by it. Saying that Rush exemplifies conservatives is only slightly more accurate than stating that Rev. Sharpton exemplifies liberals. As far as I'm concerned, they're both loons who don't represent the core values of the respective political philosophies with which each is associated.

Ethiopian Infidel said...

For the nearly quarter century since Reagan's election, the American Left has been marginalized and maligned for its perceived backwards-looking (i.e. 60's), ineffectual policies. The exclusion of much of the Left both deprived the Right of the checks and balances that constitute the main error-correcting mechanism in US politics, and ideologically skewered US policy. In the interest of restoring political equilibrium, perhaps its best that the Right suffer a period of political ostracism for several years. During the Late 70's, the Left arguably proved itself incapable of effectively confronting the economic and political challenges of the day (gas hikes, inflation, Iranian Revolution, Soviet adventurism) and of being fixated on Flower-Power. Currently, the Right appears inept in effectively responding to present domestic and foreign challenges and also seems captive to the social mores of (largely) bygone times, as epitomized by its ready use of racism when attacking the Obama Administration. It's time to bring the 'card-carrying ACLUers" in from the sidelines and have Limbaugh et al take their place in the uppermost farthest bleachers of the ballpark.

Mike Ralls said...

>he Right of the checks and balances that constitute the main error-correcting mechanism in US politics, and ideologically skewered US policy. In the interest of restoring political equilibrium, perhaps its best that the Right suffer a period of political ostracism for several years.<

Since the election of Reagan, the Democratic Party contorted Congress from 1981 - 1994 and from 2007 to now. That's more than half of the 28 years since Reagan. That's hardly ostracism.

Anonymous said...

"You could stop watching Fox news, and send them a note telling them why. Or Rush, or any of the other idiotic hate-spewers."

I don't own a TV -- haven't owned one ever -- and haven't listened to Rush even once in my life.

My opposition to Obama and the Dems is twofold: I can't agree with their vision of America, and I don't think that their economic and political methods will even work as advertised.

I have to assume that racism's real and driving some significant fraction of hostility to Obama. But I would really like to see an honest breakdown of just what fraction of disageement with Obama is racist. Does somebody out there really want to claim that it's 100%? Or even over 51%?

I would be happy to see racism disappear, or at least be greatly ameliorated. But even if it were, I think we'd be seeing criticism of Obama, and that it'd be at least as harsh as anything we've actually seen so far. Being a WASP didn't save Bush from being called "Chimpy Bushitler".


--Erich Schwarz

Mike Ralls said...

Oh and Steve;

In the Marvel Comic Universe, President Bush was captured, stripped naked, and forced to lick Magneto's boots on live television.

Another time, the Punisher slipped into the White House, knocked some Secret Service agents unconscious, and told President Bush that if he could sneak in once he could sneak in again, and the if President Bush did any more dirty ops the Punisher would kill him.

You ever hear any complaints or big hoopla about those?

When Marvel or DC or any other mainstream comic has something similar happen to President Obama, I'll be sure to let you know. (I would advise you not to hold your breath waiting for this to happen as it won't ever and humans need oxygen.)

I am not Star Jones said...

Slightly off topic:
My opposition to Obama and the Dems is twofold: I can't agree with their vision of America, and I don't think that their economic and political methods will even work as advertised.

But Erich...
what happened in the previous 8 years to convince you that Bush's economic and political methods worked as advertised?


And yes I agree with the post --- GOPers who swear that they love and embrace the diversity of America need to stand up and say proudly 'We will not tolerate this type of ugliness. It is divisive and unnecessary in the face of the real challenges we face as a country.'

Because ultimately isn't that what we all want to succeed as a country instead of sowing hate and animus?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Marty S, a major point of Steve's post was that there are many conservatives who are sensible people, but if they don't publicly divorce themselves from likes of Limbaugh, the Republican party is in big trouble.

Pissed Off said...

Call me hyper-sensitive, but I'll tell you something else that's just straight pissing me off.

Now Obama had it right from the jump when he stated "One president at a time". Somebody should tell this to Bill Clinton.

I'm getting a little damn sick and tired of Bill chiming in, and so early at that, and then Monday morning quarter backing Obama's policy. Yeah, yeah, I know. Somebody at a network news organization gets a wild hair and sticks a microphone in Bill's face and off to the races we go, but c'mon Bill, a little decorum and tact if you don't mind.

Steve I swear I've seen this too many times before in the same light, but different arenas. I would have thought by the time a black man made President of The United States the he wouldn't need a ... nevermind.

Anonymous said...

The gop's problem is that they are a little more obvious about who they really represent. yes there are principled people in the GOP but they are vastly out numbered by the the devotees of Lee Atwater school of thought. Do anything say anything, take care of the elite. say the right thing to get the people to vote for you. Not that the Dems are that much better. The Clinton's aren't poster boys/ girls for integrity in politics either. The real fault however lies with us. In France they protest the government handling of things. In the US by the time anyone cares it is too late. Obama is not pristine either but, he is smart, pragmatic, and a real leader. He is a step in the right direction. Hopefully we dont take two steps back.

poltergeist said...

We didn't know.

The part of the turkey that goes over the fence last!

It's a good thing I'm not on the Obama Advisory Team and he took me seriously, given my wicked humor bents.

Know what I wouldn't know? I wouldn't know how offensive and tasteless it would be to have a white jockey in boots and racing silks ... a LIVE jockey ... standing at the steps of the White House helicopter and Air Force One every single friggin' time Obama went up them and came down and handing him a mint julip.

No, I wouldn't know either. I'd be like Alfred E. Newman, "Who, me?". I didn't know.

What's next? Obama getting on the Soul Plane? Enough's enough.

Brian Dunbar said...

sent as a digital post card by a Republican mayor in Orange County, is totally innocent.

That is an un-good thing to do.

Question: is Dean Grose Republican? None of the news stories I find on the first page of google hits ID him as such, nor does the cities website.

But all of the blogs do.


Also - porch monkey is racist? I did not know that.

Marty S said...

In my previous post I was pointing out that characterizing all conservatives by the action of the few was just as bigoted as condemning Blacks for the actions of a few. I used the example of my own annoyance at some of the over the top stuff on FOX news as an example of how not all conservatives agree all the time. Now two points.

1)As a ordinary citizen, I can't really do much more about extreme conservatives then, voice my own opinion them in conversation and not vote for them when they run.

2)Saying I shouldn't watch FOX news because I don't like some of their commentators is an example of the liberal ostrich sticking it head in the sand. CNN, MSNBC and the network news have commentators that are just as bad in the liberal direction. I watch all news station and use the differing slants to help me understand the truth behind the slanted reporting everywhere.

Marty S said...

Oh by the way to be fair,, I would regard anybody who watches only FOX news as a conservative ostrich with their head in the sand.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

BC Monkey, it's normal for some fraction of people to hate their head of state. Still, there's a difference between vitriol in general and what the vitriol is about. It's one thing to hate a president for their policies, and another to hate them for the groups they're from.

It gets complicated when the group affiliation affects policies-- frex, GW and religion.

Being president is risky. Sometimes the hatred goes as far as assassination. On the one hand, there's a baseline level of people wanting a president dead. On the other, white Americans have a long history of murdering black men. I'm not especially willing to give the benefit of the doubt to people who are pleased at the idea of Obama being killed.

On the other hand, all those "shoot Cheney first" jokes didn't bother me, probably because there really isn't as much of a tradition of violence on the left in the US.

*****

If you guys will excuse a stored rant, this fried chicken and watermelon thing weirds me out. Americans in general like fried chicken. That's why most fast food chains offer it. Watermelon isn't as popular as fried chicken, but it's hardly a specialty fruit.

I suppose it just proves that with sufficient malice, anything can be turned into an insult.

Pagan Topologist said...

I suppose I will have to say that I also sdid not know the term "porch monkey" was racist. But, until reading it here, I had never heard it before in any context whatever, so my reaction to it's being racist is just puzzlement. I have no idea where or how the term has been used before.

As a Card-carrying ACLU-er, I will come down firmly on the side of stopping censorship, though. We can and should challenge racist cartoons, comments, etc, but if we try to suppress them, we are asking for even more trouble.

I have known lots of racist Christians in my life; so many that I am inclined to believe that racism is an unspoken dogma of most white Xtians, especially conservative ones.

Marty S said...

Nancy: When you talk about not being bothered by jokes about Cheney, because their isn't much history of violence on the left you should stop and think "weathermen", as one example of the wonderful history of the left on violence. Statements like yours confirm what I keep trying to say. Everyone sees the slightest imperfection on the other side as a glaring problem, while ignoring the warts on their own face. Neither evil nor good is the exclusive property of either side.

Christian M. Howell said...

Fuck em. He' still the Commander in Chief. That's the point. People like that want to drag you down to their level. Had he taken the bait he wouldn't be Commander in Chief so I'd say let sleeping rednecks lie. Or is that dogs?

Anonymous said...

"... what happened in the previous 8 years to convince you that Bush's economic and political methods worked as advertised?"

1. The absence of terrorist attacks on the U.S. after 9/11/2001, partly due to a surprisingly fast and successful initial counterattack on Afghanistan using 21st-century methods.

2. Freeing of Iraq from Hussein, and the (disgracefully late) pacification of Iraq via Petraeus' highly unpopular surge.

3. Not having stupid bans on ownership of firearms by private citizens.

4. Removing obstructions to nuclear power plant construction that had kept the U.S. from building new nuclear power plants for 30 years.

5. Significantly increasing aid for Africa (enough to impress people like Bob Geldof and Bono, neither of whom is exactly a GOP fanboy).

I could also write a long list of things Bush did that didn't work, but since you're asking for what I think were his positive accomplishments, there's my own list.

Of the above, Obama would have supported, at most, point (5); and points (3-4) are both likely to be reversed soon, unless the current economic meltdown gets so bad that the Obama administration loses all surplus emotional energy for Bobo atmospherics.

Meanwhile, Obama and the Democratic Congress in the first month of Obama's administration have achieved a miracle: they've actually managed to make George W. Bush, who was previously compared unfavorably to a "drunken sailor" by none other than John McCain, suddenly look like a marvel of fiscal conservatism. If they keep that up over the next 47 months of the Obama administration, very few people who rapturously voted Democrat in 2008 are going to be happy with the Dems in 2012.

Getting back to the subject of Steve's post: you'll notice that nothing I've written about above has anything to do with Obama's race. It's entirely possible to be delighted to see black Americans get one of their own into the White House (as I was, and am) and yet politically not agree very much with Obama and the Democratic Congress at all.


--Erich Schwarz

Christian M. Howell said...

BTW, maybe now you can understand why I act the way I act. I don't have a choice.
People are how they are.
The problem is that if you threaten the President, credibly, a devoted citizen could kill you and get away with it.

Anyone want to threaten the President?

Mike Ralls said...

>what happened in the previous 8 years to convince you that Bush's economic and political methods worked as advertised?<

I considered the Republicans to be "the least bad" on economics, rather than actively good. And considering that we are looking at deficits at over 10% of GDP, it looks like the Republicans really _were_ the party of fiscal conservatism.

Hugh said...

I believe that the NY Post cartoon was drawn to refer to the chimpanzee incident that was making the rounds at the time. What I can't believe is that it got published without anyone noticing the racist overtones.

"Porch monkey" surprises me, however - where I grew up it was used to refer to pre-teen kids, just like "yard ape." (Rural southern NH, 1970s).

mjholt said...

My problem isn't with conservatives. My problem is with people who have taken it upon themselves to define conservatives. My greatest complaint about the conservative movement today is that it is not lead by conservatives like Marty and Mike, but that it is led, as much as it is lead by anyone, by Joe the Plumber, Billo the Clown, and painfully ignorant politicians. The Chimp cartoon and the watermelon picture, and the responses to criticism that the originators gave, are painful reminders of how far outside of the normal course of American opinion they are.

Steve's original post and the 29 (at this time) comments demonstrate how conservatives, liberals, and those who are neither could discuss issues and serve as a very positive example.

In another example of embarrassing "conservative" balderdash, yesterday, I received a silly e-mail screaming in way-too-many capital letters that Obama was not listening to the American people. The whole several thousand words of electronic "screaming" went on about how the banks need TARP money, but those working people were ripping of the taxpayers. (Yes it said that. I deleted it after removing myself from the mailing list, so I can't prove it. In case you missed it, if you hold a job you aren't paying taxes???) This "conservative" lame brain was very out of touch.

After his speech Tuesday night, President Obama's approval rating jumped 8 points to 69%. I suspect that indicates that he is listening to the American people.

Steve Perry, I like your post here :-)

I agree with Hugh about "porch monkey," since I heard it used in Seattle by whites to describe their own kids. Also heard/hear "little monkey," "love monkey," and "stinky monkey" used by white parents referring to their own children.

Dan Moran said...

I don't often agree with Mike on politics, but I certainly do agree with his description of the last 8 years, economically, as conservative.

Marty S said...

MJHOLT mentioned political emails. I am absolutely convinced that the nuttiest people love sending out these emails. I get a lot of them. They are generally forwarded to me by two of my relatives. One conservative and one liberal.

Ethiopian Infidel said...

"Since the election of Reagan, the Democratic Party contorted Congress from 1981 - 1994 and from 2007 to now. That's more than half of the 28 years since Reagan. That's hardly ostracism."

I was referring to policies, not parties. Democratic control of Congress during the past 25 years has meant the de facto dominance of US politics by the Center-Right, with Clintonians often striving to out-conservative the Conservatives, as evidenced by draconian Welfare "Reforms" erosion to Affirmative Action and Abortion Rights, and the relentless Fundamentalist Christian permeation of political dialogue (i.e. every candidate nowadays seemingly has to proclaim belief in Jesus and to appear ambiguous on Evolution). Meanwhile, genuine 60's and New Deal Liberals (McGovern,etc) are relentlessly vilified (Tax-and-Spend Liberals, Femi-Nazis, etc.). What's needed to restore US political equilibrium are legions of unabashed LEFT-WING politicians.

Steve Perry said...

There are a plethora of insults offered for various minorities, and the South was rife with 'em for black folks from the git-go. "Porch monkey" is right up there with "coon," "spade," and "spook." Not as bad as "nigger," worse than "nigrah." Or "darkie ..."

I never heard "porch monkey" applied to anybody but black folks south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Hook-nose, taco-bender, beaner, slant, wop, kike, Christ-killers, dago, coon-ass -- though this one is worn as a badge of honor -- pollack, frog, spic, zip, sand-nigger, camel-jockey, wog -- you don't have to wander far off the road to hear all these still in use.

Sticks and stones are worse, but it starts with attitude. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but if you called it turd plant, people might not be so quick to sniff ...

Anonymous said...

I agree with Hugh about "porch monkey," since I heard it used in Seattle by whites to describe their own kids. Also heard/hear "little monkey," "love monkey," and "stinky monkey" used by white parents referring to their own children.

Well, I didn't know this.

So how do we know the intention of the white speaker, artist, commentator when they use a phrase that is going to be SEEN, HEARD, or EXPERIENCED by a significant number of black people as racist or racially insensitive?

Is a white person who DOES NOT know the racially charged history of comparing black people to primates, or the watermelon and fried chicken stuff likely to INNOCENTLY to use such a reference in work and/or conversations put out for public consumption?

It is no more justifiable to point to Rush Limbaugh and say that he defines conservatives as a group, than it is to point to Chris Brown, as an example of how violent Blacks are as a group.

Maybe. Conservatives as a group might share more common beliefs and values than blacks as a group. Being a member of the group black people is happenstance. I'd think that being a member of the group conservative people should require contemplation and choice.

That being said, the odds of the Republican's getting a higher % of the black vote are . . . ah to use the British art of understatement, not good.

The thing is many black people are very conservative. The Republicans should not be resigned to letting the Democrats have the black vote. Just because people traditionally vote how their parents vote doesn't mean they have to.

mjholt said...

re "Porch Monkey," it's use may be a bending of the original meaning. I most certainly do not know. Now that I have been told, if I hear it again, I will listen with a different ear.

After intense criticism, I read, Los Alamitos Mayor Dean Grose, who sent watermelon e-mails, resigned.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

In re using "monkey" or "ape" innocently: I suspect it's still possible. Not everyone follows the news, and not everyone makes it a mission to find out if they might be offensive. It's very easy to think that other people live in the same informational environment that you do, but you'd be wrong. In white culture, "monkey" can be used as an endearment for small children, and "monkey" and "ape" can be used as non-racial insults. There might be a northern/southern difference on this one.

I've got a strong aversion to "you should have known better". How were you supposed to know that you didn't know and needed to find something out? Being attached to ignorance is a problem, but not knowing in the first place seems rather innocent.

This may not apply to people who actually were constantly exposed to the information.

Part of what's going on is I've been thinking about my own reactions to anti-Semitism.

I haven't run into it for a while, but I'd occasionally hear or see "Jew" used as an adjective, as in "Let's go get some Jew food". My initial and quite strong reaction is that this is a person who I cannot trust to treat me or other Jews decently.

Hearing that use of language was rare and peripheral enough that I never had to have extended dealings with people who used it. I've run into *very* little anti-Semitism, even of the mildest sort, and I consider myself very fortunate. So, it's only now that I've been thinking about how extreme my reaction was, and how people who use "Jew" as an adjective probably live in places with very few Jews (mid-Westerners may have never met a Jew until well into adulthood), and only use the term because they haven't heard anything else.

Part of the situation-- and something I've seen all too much of lately in myself and other people-- is that if you're angry at someone, it's *very* easy to assume you know the their motivations with absolute certainty. You can be wrong.

Checking for horns (which I gather still happens) is another matter, though looking at my earlier point, I don't know if I can say they should know better.

Lynn said...

I beg for a little bit of patience and understanding for us poor ignorant white folks.

The White House watermelon picture is obviously offensive because it is obviously intended to be but I have to admit that I don't get the whole watermelon thing. I just accept it because I've been told it's offensive and I don't want to offend anyone. I have these return address labels with several different Americana icons, including a red, white and blue heart, a basket of apples, and a watermelon slice. When I was sending Christmas cards the watermelon slice just happened to be the next label on the sheet when I was addressing the card to my Black sister-in-law. I almost used it without thinking but at the last second I remembered and skipped to the next label - the red, white and blue heart.

How many times have I done or said something offensive without even realizing what I was doing? I have no idea. I had never heard "porch monkey" before. Have you ever heard the term "yard ape"? It refers to children of a certain age. We have called our two boys yard apes. It's an affectionate joke. Out of context I would have assumed that "porch monkey" was something similar to that. I wouldn't have automatically associated it with anything racial.

Yes, there are a lot of people who say offensive things and definitely know what they're saying but it's not right to assume that everyone always knows and it's not helpful to be hyper-sensitive. It just makes people who want to do the right thing close up and avoid talking to people outside their own group because they feel it's the only way to avoid offending anyone.

Marty S said...

In my opinion, judging a person's biases by phrases they use is a very chancy thing. I also have never heard the phrase "porch monkey" till I read it on this blog. Also consider the phrase "call a spade a spade". I have used that phrase and have no idea whether or not it has racial connotations.To me its simply one way of saying to someone "you are kidding yourself be real".

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Lynn, it's a lot easier to say "avoid being hyper-sensitive" than it is to do it.

I don't know if you read my long comment before yours, but what I don't think I made clear enough in my bit about trying to clean up some of my reactions to perceived anti-Semitism is that I'm 56, I've spent a decades trying to be a saner person, and my nerves aren't extremely raw on the subject because I've never personally been abused for being Jewish.

It took me a long weekend at a very nice Unitarian convention for me to get over my flinch reaction to the word "church".

Is it fair to the large number of Christians who aren't anti-Semitic that I'm afraid of their religion? No. Is it fair to me that there's been centuries of murder and abuse by Christians, not to mention on-going anti-Semitism here and there, that still affects me? No. There is no way for everyone to have convenient emotional reactions.

That hypersensitivity (think of the hypervigilence that's part of PTSD) is a very fast reaction, and it's not voluntary in the short run.

We're all in a situation where there's virulent prejudice, honest ignorance, semi-honest ignorance, background fear and anger that fades slowly over generations, and a lot of people who wish the whole goddamn problem would go away.

Marty S said...

Anonymous: Yes being conservative is different being Black. It is a label to describe where you stand on a whole pot load of issues as compared to a group who share a common heritage. Now conservatives and liberals differ from each other within their respective groups by where they stand on the different issues and the importance of these issues. I label myself as conservative because the preponderance of my positions on issues agrees with the conservative group. Now if one divide the issues up into say, social, economic, and foreign policy and then if we rate the importance of various issues to me on a scale of one least important to and ten most important then in general the social issues, such as gay rights, abortion, equal pay,affirmative action etc. would have ratings between 0ne and five in importance. The only social issue that is really important to me is keeping religion out of the schools. I absolutely would not vote for someone who supported teaching creationism along side evolution in science class. The economic and foreign policy issues are the issues that rate between five and ten for me and it is my position on these issues that cause me to identify myself as conservative. So, I regard myself as very different from those who are conservative primarily on the basis of social issues.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I forgot to mention that there are also people who are trying to make their emotional reactions universal.

One of the things I'm trying to sort out is what are my reactions vs. what are the reactions I'm being told I ought to have.

The casual use of Nazi to mean enforcing excessive amounts of rules didn't bother me. "Soup nazi" was just a joke from a television show I don't watch. But now, there's been efforts to restrict "Nazi" to its historical meaning, and as a result, I notice it when people use it casually. My reaction is more of an "Oooh-ooh, somebody was being careless/might get swatted" rather than an actual fear that the Holocaust is going to be discounted.

I'm not sure where to go with this-- I think there's going to be core bunch of things that just about everyone in a group is going to be offended by, but there's a big fringe, too.

jurassicpork said...

I'm still waiting for some Republican asshat to Photoshop Obama's face onto an old picture of a lynched black man.

That would pretty much complete the hysteria that we've been seeing.

Better start cleaning and porting your weapons, my gun toting liberal friends. Things are going to get messy over the next 4-8 years.

Anonymous said...

It's not right to assume that everyone always knows and it's not helpful to be hyper-sensitive.

It's very easy to think that other people live in the same informational environment that you do, but you'd be wrong.

Agreed. And, assuming that someone is hypersensitive could be just as problematic as assuming that someone is racist.

I'd hope that if someone innocently offended me and I calmly told them, they'd tell me that they I misunderstood their intention without blaming me for taking offense and calling me hypersensitive. Hopefully, we'd both really listen to the other and learn that there are other meanings of the particular "offensive" term/action and move on.

Steven Barnes said...

Human beings are sensitive to things that seem to threaten their lives or power. Every time you hear someone being "too sensitive" it is useful to ask what would have to be a part of your own heritage and history for members of your own group to behave the exact same way. Very few people have the perspective to do this, and it's critical. Otherwise, you end up with the "what's wrong with those people..." attitude...which is the very base of why people are scared in the first place:
1) believing that the other, minority group is really, basically different.
2) Believing that the majority group blames the victims for their wounds.
Neither is very pretty.

Michelle said...

Monkey is used in northern white families as a term of endearment to children. I've heard it used to describe children who are being lazy. I call my own child a monkey from time to time.

The first time I heard it as a racial slur was when I met my exhusband's NC family. We passed a house, a very nice house, they told me Porch Monkeys lived there. I found out later that meant black folk.

I didn't get along with his family at all.

Lynn said...

Maybe "it's not helpful to be hyper-sensitive" was not a good choice of words, or not specific enough. I can understand people being sensitive about some things. Heck, I'm sensitive about some things. I try to be understanding of other people's hot buttons but I can't be aware of them all and I hate to think that people who don't even know me are going to make assumptions about how I think based on a few words that have some kind of meaning that I'm not aware of. And you know what is considered acceptable changes at least every decade.

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

Calling a spade a spade is fine; calling a black man a spade is seldom meant as a term of endearment.

I had a Chinese friend once, and when we'd see each other, we'd yell out at each other: "Hey, Gook!" Or "Yo, Cracker!" We were screwing with people when we did it.

I can bust Barnes's with watermelon jokes, but only because we know each other and he knows I'm ragging him. Just as he can whack me about being a redneck cracker so inbred I have brothers who live in jars out at LSU's biology lab. Context matters.

Few people can be aware of all the hot buttons. Most of us will step on somebody's toes some of the time by accident. It's hard to know all the taboos. But: If we know them -- and as functional adult members of American society there are plenty that we should know -- then to deliberately push those buttons without being ironic is part of the problem.

If a four-year-old white boy uses the word "nigger," he might not know any better. Anybody my age born in the USA who uses the term out-of-group certainly knows better. If you blink and look surprised if somebody calls you on it, you aren't from around here. And by here, I mean this planet.

A man who was the mayor of a city with, one assumes, electricity and television, who managed to get through high school, who claims he doesn't know that showing a lawn covered with watermelons at the White House is insulting to black people is either lying or too stupid to tie his own shoes.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse for crimes under it. I didn't know stealing was wrong.

Ignorance of common social mores isn't carte blanche to be racist or sexist, either. Too many people duck behind that tree when called on it.

If you didn't know what the term "porch monkey" meant when you heard it applied to a black man, but there was some controversy, maybe you should have checked it out before you chimed in. Ignorance is easily cured.

Hugh said...

A bit of clarification, perhaps.

When I said I was surprised at the use of "porch monkey" as an insult, I meant it just that way. It wasn't something I had heard of, though almost all of the other derogatory terms Steve Perry mentioned were familiar to me.

It doesn't mean I'd apply it to a grown man of any race, especially a black man. When I was trying to work out the wording of this comment the other day, I thought to myself "After all, I'd refer to my son as 'boy', but I'd never use that on a black man."

Yeah, sometimes the clue train arrives a little late. I'm no longer surprised.