The Racists Monkey Around

People are no doubt aware of the controversy over the New York Post cartoon. For my part, I find it impossible to believe that the editors weren’t aware of the racist associations the image would have. I grew up in a small town full of right-wing Republicans. I know how these people think. The notion that Black people are somehow similar to apes is near and dear to their hearts. Also, I used to read the New York Post when I lived in the Big Apple. (Not that I ever paid for it, mind you. I would find discarded copies on the subway or in the break room where I worked.) I know what a sleazy newspaper it is. The only thing I find surprising is that something like this didn’t happen before.

This reminds of something that once happened to me a long time ago. After I left that hellish small town, I moved to Boston, where I naively assumed that people would be more enlightened. One night I was having some drinks with a friend of mine. He was a comedy writer. He wrote jokes for some of the local comedians, and he sometimes did stand-up himself. At one point, he told me of a joke he had written for another comedian. It involved Roxbury, a predominately Black neighborhood of Boston. It went something like this: “Roxbury has announced its new plan for public transportation. They’re going to move the trees closer together.” This baffled me. What do trees have to do with public transportation? I repeatedly asked my friend to explain the joke to me, but he just looked blankly at me, as though he couldn’t conceive of the possibility that someone might not understand it. Finally, he explained it to me. The underlying assumption is that Black people swing from tree to tree, the way some apes supposedly do. My friend sold this joke to a white comedian, who told it to white audiences, who apparently didn’t need to have it explained to them.

By the way, my friend was Black.

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