Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Presidents and Chimps

I've enrolled in a course called "Race, Rhetoric and Technology" this semester, and our very first course reading really got me thinking. (A good sign!) It was an article on race in America by Victor Villanueva. Although I certainly didn't agree with everything in the article (especially the notion of "reverse discrimination," which is a discriminatory term in itself), there were several good points to be had. Two of the narrative examples which stood out to me were:

  • The story of two young Latino children found covered in flour, saying they wanted to be white enough to go to school.
  • The example of a graduate student who appeared at a Halloween party in blackface, saying he was portraying black jazz musicians, who he admired.

While the reactions to these two situations were typical -- very little reaction to the Latino children, university-wide outrage at the white student -- the rhetorical tension between the two situations reminded me of the much-debated New York Post monkey cartoon.

This cartoon sparked outrage because many felt it portrayed President Barack Obama, our nation's first "black" president, as a monkey -- which, if true, would obviously be an unethical and outrageous racist commentary. The cartoon's defenders said it did nothing of the sort, rather, it portrayed our political system as the violent chimpanzee that had been gunned down that same week in Stamford, Conn.

Regardless of the cartoonist's true intentions, the fact that there was significant outrage over this cartoon and not a bit of hype over the myriad comparisons between former President George Bush and chimpanzees indicates that race/color is still a visible characteristic that sparks a ridiculous amount of tension in our society. (Regardless of whether "race" is even real or just a social construction -- see my recent post on my culture, rhetoric, and technology blog.)

We still have a lot of work to do here in America.

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