The Honorable Dwight Tillery
Former Mayor of Cincinnati and Co-Convener of the Black Agenda Cincinnati
Now that several weeks have passed since Roseanne Barr tweeted that former President Barack Obama adviser, Valerie Jarrett was a child of the “Muslim brotherhood and Planet of the Apes” I purposely decided to wait to share my thoughts. Of course, like so many Americans, Black and White, I was outraged. It is so hard for me to reach this point in my life to see the blatant bigotry that pours through the public scene. Whether in workplaces or entertainment venues, racial jokes and racial stereotypes continue to exist. Like many Black Americans, we at times struggle with the notion of being too sensitive when Whites tell racial jokes or make fun of Black people in a racial way. Yes, we all do make jokes about one’s ethnicity or race but so called harmless jokes or negative racial stereotyping that goes beyond simple jest to hurtful comments are easily distinguishable. Was Roseanne’s comment meant to be funny or hurtful or does one’s intent really matter?
Black Americans have been the victims of racial stereotyping since their arrival on American soil. There is no question that other racial and ethnic groups have been victim of stereotyping. However, that stereotyping pales by comparison of what Black people experience. Because of the history of Blacks in this nation, their treatment is very different from other racial and ethnic groups who came here as immigrants. Blacks came here as slaves and that experience too often portrays Blacks in a negative context and perpetuate beliefs, values, and attitudes. Comparing Black people to apes has a long history in this country. Melissa Burley, PhD wrote an article about Roseanne’s tweet in the magazine, Psychology Today. She wrote in part:
“…The idea that Black people were less evolved than White people, and therefore genetically closer to apes than Whites, was historically used to hide the justification of slavery and unequal rights in a cloak of science. Such “scientific racism” spread the false idea that Blacks are inherently inferior to Whites. As a result, the portrayal of Black people as apelike became an iconic representation in the 19th and early 20 centuries.”
So, was Roseanne’s comment racially harmless or did she try to convey a deeper message? According to Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychologist whose done research regarding racial attitudes stated “…that most Americans—liberal and conservative. White and non-White—hold an unconscious association between Black people and apes. And this isn’t just among racist people; his studies found the association existed even in the most egalitarian individuals.” “…Some racial associations are embedded so deeply that they are difficult to recognize, much less eradicate-and they continue to shape our behavior and ideas.”
Valerie Jarrett is not the only prominent Black compared to an ape. LeBron James on the cover of Vogue in 2008, President Obama photo shopped with a banana and Michelle being compared to “an ape in heels.” Roseanne Barr’s tweet was neither funny nor instructive. It is what it is—racist. It reflects a deep and ugly past where black people were defined as three-fifths human. The ability to define black people as less than human allowed the slave master to wreak havoc on the souls of Black people. When you are devalue the lives of people, man can commit some of the most heinous acts towards people like the Holocaust. As Dr. Goff said, Americans have a conscious and implicit bias that are deep within us that are harmful and when surface does great destruction to the recipients of such mindset. Racial bigotry has no place in our society on anyone’s part and when a person who uses their celebrity status to perpetuate racism, they should pay a consequence. According to Dr. Goff, It is the subconscious belief today by many Whites that Blacks are three fifths human allowing White supremacy to flourish at the suffering of Blacks.
The Black agenda cincinnati
The Black Agenda is a Movement of individuals and organizations working cooperatively to improve the lives of Black Cincinnatians. The purpose is to bring the Black Community of Cincinnati together to prioritize our challenges as a race.