Fordham Reacts to “Racist” New York Post Cartoon

Fordham Faculty Urge Students to Turn Controversy Into an Opportunity for Discussion


Published: March 12, 2009

On Feb. 18, the New York Post published a controversial political cartoon that depicted two white policemen, one holding a gun over a dead chimpanzee.  The other policeman says to the gunman, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” Americans reacted strongly, as did Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) students and faculty members who called the cartoon “disrespectful” and “disturbing.”

Monique Fortune, adjunct professor of communication and media studies at FCLC, said, “The cartoon was insensitive and disrespectful to all people, not just our president.”

Interpretations of the cartoon varied. The Huffington Post said the cartoon suggests that the stimulus bill was so poorly written that monkeys may as well have written it. The New York Times explained that critics of the cartoon said it “implicitly compared President Obama with the primate and evoked a history of racist imagery of blacks.”

The Huffington Post explained that the page preceding Sean Delonas’s political cartoon in the Post had a large photo of Obama signing the stimulus bill. The chimpanzee was meant to be a reflection of the one that attacked a woman in Connecticut the same week Obama signed the bill.

The Post put an editorial on its Web site on Feb. 20, hours after 200 people chanting “Boycott the Post! Shut it down!” marched in front of the newspaper’s office. The Post responded to the controversy by saying, “It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period.” The editorial went on to explain that the purpose of the cartoon was not to depict Obama as the primate or to show a “thinly veiled expression of racism.” The Post said, “This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.”

Allison Butler, adjunct professor of communication and media studies, said that she believes the cartoon took a casual view of violence. She said, “We’re not reading [for] intention and I think [the cartoon] is racist.” She said that she disagrees with the politics of the Post and said, “I don’t feel that I learn about the world or news, but rather propaganda.”

Christine Shim, FCLC ’11, said, “I wonder how much guts it took for the cartoonist to create and distribute this to the public… The cartoon is inappropriate and an embarrassment.” Shim said that she feels people should be outraged and disturbed by the cartoon.

Teresa Ryan, adjunct professor of English at FCLC, called the fact that the chimpanzee attack and the passing of the stimulus bill happened in the same week “untimely.” She said she feels the cartoon was an “unfortunate juxtaposition.” Ryan also said that, initially, she did not connect Obama to the cartoon.

Dominique Coleman, FCLC ’12, said, “The [racist aspect of the] chimp didn’t really click with me at first.” Coleman is currently taking Ryan’s Close Reading/Critical Writing course, which Ryan has dedicated to African American literature. After reading narratives of former slaves Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, Coleman said that she linked the chimp from Delonas’ cartoon to the descriptions of slaves being whipped and treated as animals in the narratives.

Amir Idris, assistant professor of African and African-American studies, said, “Of course, it’s unacceptable to reproduce such images appearing to compare President Obama to a chimpanzee.” He continued, “The New York Post should have recognized the historical and the political meaning of electing the first African-American as president of the U.S.A.”

Fortune said, “It is my opinion as a media professional that the New York Post, on the editorial level, felt that they did nothing wrong. As a private citizen, I am not moved by their explanations and half-hearted apologies.” She continued, “I have already urged my students, family and friends and others to not only get mad about the New York Post article, to not only write a letter or send an e-mail to the New York Post, but to do something!”

On Feb. 24, Rupert Murdoch, owner of the New York Post, issued a statement of apology and said that he takes full responsibility for what is printed in the pages of the newspaper. Murdoch said he holds the readers of the newspaper “in high regard” and said, “I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.”

Fortune said, “Mr. Murdoch’s apology may be sincere, but it is my hope that he will continue to learn more about why so many people were offended by the chimp cartoon.”

Idris said he feels that the production of the cartoon was unacceptable; however, he also said that he doesn’t feel that labeling the New York Post as racist is the best way to resolve the issue. “Rather,” he said, “this tasteless act of depicting people of African descent, or the president, as a chimpanzee should be turned by the public into a productive conversation about the importance of confronting the legacies of slavery and racism in the 21st century.”