There Is Nothing Amusing About Equating Black People With Monkeys, Apes and Other Animals! Period!

After realizing that she had committed a major faux pas, KOCO-TV Oklahoma City news anchor Alex Houston tearfully took to the airwaves, looked viewers directly in the eye and offered an apology for engaging in › Oklahoma-tv-anchor-apologizes-racist-comments-soh,what can only be referred to as menacingly untoward behavior by referring that her Black co-anchor resembled an ape! Yes, she did baby!

What was just as noteworthy was the fact that her co-anchor and victim of the slur, Jason Hackett accepted her apology. He further stated that the two were close, personal friends, associated with one another outside of work, confided in one another etc… but not without making it clear that Houston had indeed crossed a line and that hopefully, such an incident would serve as a teaching lesson for all involved.

The fact that Mr. Hackett accepted Ms. Houston’s apology did not surprise me. Moreover, I doubt that it surprised many other Black people as well. The truth is that, historically speaking, Black people have long been a very forgiving people. Some have argued that in some instances, much too ready and willing to forgive. Nonetheless, this has been the undeniable reality. Indeed, Black folks have religiously and steadfastly adhered to the good book (the Bible) in abiding by this specific parable that advocates forgiveness.

While the apology appeared to be genuine, (at least to me), as can be imagined, Houston was justifiably raked over the coals by irate viewers for her vehemently insensitive and racist behavior. Black folk and some other folk as well in Oklahoma City and beyond took to various media platforms chiding Houston about her wayward and undisciplined mouth.

While we are on the subject, an even more dramatic situation occurred in the spring of 2018 when comedian, entertainer and recent Trump syncopath Roseanne Barr referred to Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama as a hybrid of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.” Not surprisingly, Barr had engaged in similar juvenile behavior several years earlier referring to then National Security Advisor, Susan Rice as an ape with mannish attributes. No one can ever mistake Roseanne as the epitome of dignity and class!

Indeed, Black twitter and much of social media went on the warpath against Barr for her rancidly, bigoted invective. Such rancid commentary eventually culminated in the routinely rude, crude, viral, acid tongued entertainer being fired from the recently revived version of her previous late 1980s/1990s hit program, “Roseanne” by former ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey, a Black woman.

To be sure, Hackett, Rice and Jarrett have not been the only Black people referred to in such a despicable manner. Former first lady Michelle Obama was routinely derided by racist critics as an “ape,” and other deplorable terms. Despite being the recipient of such brash, disrespectful behavior, the always elegant and regal Ms. Obama remained the consummate professional and never resorted to the level of her pathetic detractors by engaging in similar mentally unbalanced behavior. Rather, she admirably took the high road, ignored such human vermin and always rose to the occasion. After all, it was Michelle Obama who stated at the democratic national convention in 2016, “when they go low, we go high.” She practiced what she preached!

Truth be told, referring to Black Americans and people of African descent as monkey, apes, and other primates has long, deeply etched, historical roots. From the time of our arrival to this nation, Black people were immediately and routinely characterized as subhuman species. Correlations between Africans and apes without tails was common myth and legend propagated by the English in the early 17th century. Equating Black people with animals was commonplace. Throughout the century, a number of writers, did not hesitate to imply that Africans were the descendants of apes or unknown African beasts or vice versa.

Here on American shores, similar regressive ides were commonplace as well. Founding father Thomas Jefferson, (yes that Thomas Jefferson) wrote without any degree of hesitation in “Notes on the State of Virginia” › southlit › jefferson › Jefferson that Black men were a lower species who lusted after White women. He did not hesitate to express his deep misgivings about interracial relationships. Mind you, this is the same Jefferson who would later produce a number of children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings. Such a level of rank hypocrisy speaks for itself!

By the mid-19th century, equating Blacks with animals was par for the course. Even more chilling was the fact that the ideology of Darwinism emerged into the public sphere rearing its troubling, disturbing and dangerous message. In 1859, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. While revolutionary the book did not disregard or discredit prior scientific racial literature. On the contrary, Darwinism would become just one more weapon for eugenic minded racists to employ in their bigoted arsenal to bolster and justify the retrograde rhetoric of White Supremacy.

It was due to such vile and negative rhetoric of equating Black people (in particular, males) as vile, animalistic, savage beasts that resulted in centuries of degradation, denigration, denunciation and downright humiliation for people of African descent. Such mistreatment manifested itself in the form of Jim Crow, chattel slavery, lynching, wanton violence and other abominable forms of marginalization. The reductive 1915 film “Birth of a Nation,” produced by D. W. Griffith assisted in propagating this horrendous, intellectually dishonest mythology.

Indeed, well into the 20th century such attitudes continued to flourish during the civil rights movement when Black marchers and demonstrators were frequently referred to as monkeys, apes, baboons and other sorts of primates by virulently, violent White racists and segregationists. Often times, such verbal animus was accompanied with physical violence. In fact, a favorite nickname for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., among many such mentally unhinged rabid bigots was “ Martin Luther Coon.”

In our present day 21st century culture, in addition to Roseanne Barr and news anchors, we have witnessed countless numbers of White people engage in and employ similarly vile rhetoric toward Black people. From law enforcement to academics to k-12 educators to attorneys to entertainers to politicians and so on. The already warm temperatures have only gotten hotter! There seems to be no cooling down in the forecast!

The undeniable fact is that Black person as monkey, ape, gorilla, animal trope is very problematic. There is nothing humorous about it, despite what some misguided, mentally disturbed White people believe. Such regressive commentary has/had devastating messages on Black people, in particular, young Black people. Such rhetoric provides the false message that Black people are not fully human! Such sinister dialogue cannot be allowed to continue in a nation or diaspora that is becoming blacker and browner on a daily basis. Period!

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University. His forthcoming book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year. You can follow him on Facebook and twitter at @bleachbred

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Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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