Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sometimes a monkey is a monkey: Did Rep. Roy Blunt really make a racist Obama joke at "Values" Summit?

This is up as a recommended diary at Daily Kos, and has been bluntly (excuse the pun) cited as an act of GOP racism. Is it?

Watching the video above, my inclination is: Probably not. But he certainly used unadvisable imagery, and put himself in a situation where out-of-context quoting would lead people to believe that he was essentially calling Obama a monkey. (Seriously, GOP: Stay away from monkey jokes. Period.)

Here's the situation: Blunt uses an anecdote about how British colonialists (he actually uses the term "occupiers") built a golf course in the middle of a jungle in India, and encountered an unexpected hazard:

Almost from the day the first ball was hit on this golf course something happened they didn't anticipate: monkeys would come running out of the jungle and then grab the golf balls.
(pause for chuckles)

And if it was in the fairway, they might throw it in the rough. And if it was in the rough, they might throw it -- they might throw it back at you!
(pause for mild laughs)

And I can point to great and long detail about how many things they tried to eliminate the monkey problem, but they never got it done.

So finally for this golf course and this golf course only, they passed a rule and the rule was, you have to play the ball where the monkey throws it.
(pause for laughs)

And that is the rule in Washington all the time.
(pause for huge laughs)

However. Blunt then goes on to immediately cite Al Franken becoming senator and Tom DeLay performing on "Dancing with the Stars" as supporting examples -- making it clear, I think, that his target is the unpredictability of politics rather than the president. You can make the case that this was dog-whistle racism, but it's just not a strong enough charge to make stick for anyone not actively listening for such things.

Contrast this with the New York Post's execrable monkey cartoon, which used a tragic incident in which a chimp was shot to death by police officers after attacking its owner to invite comparison with the "author" of the stimulus bill. Of course, the bill had no single legislative author, and the person most identified with the stimulus (including and especially by the Right) is and was the president.

Of course, one doesn't need to go into the historical record to find examples of the toxic, racist usage of lower primates in calumny against Africans and African Americans. But I think the term racist (like so many other words) loses its power when invoked too freely, and Blunt, as horrible as he is in so many other ways -- for instance, coddling the crazies of the "Birther" movement, or lying about healthcare reform, or divorcing his wife of 35 years in favor of a younger tobacco lobbyist upon arriving in D.C. -- doesn't have a public record of offensive bigotry, unlike, for instance, Post cartoonist Sean Delonas.

Let's not be knee-jerks. There are enough examples of racism and radical hatred out there to not have to add questionable ones to the sh*tpile, and frankly, I'm wondering if there isn't a secret campaign by right-wingers to throw line-toeing stuff like this out there just to get progressives riled up -- so they can be accused of being thin-skinned conspiracy theorists.

Posted via email from Originalspin


Blogger Serena said...

i agree. we have to be careful who we call a racist so that when we really see one, we're not accused of being the boy who cried wolf. knawmean. anyway, my name is serena kim, and i was once a features editor at vibe magazine (i'm korean-american if that helps any? and a long time ago i DJ'ed an A magazine party, too). now i'm a music publicist in los angeles. i'd like to get in touch with you if possible. i don't have any contact info for you. but if you don't mind emailing me, i'd be much obliged:

1:25 PM  

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