*Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (pictured) has been a fierce and relentless critic of President Obama’s defense and foreign policy initiatives since Obama set foot in the White House. But Rumsfeld seemingly could have picked just about any other pejorative term or reference to make his never ending point about Obama’s alleged failure than the one he used. He told a Fox News interviewer that “a trained ape” could do better on foreign policy than Obama.
This was more than an ouch hit on Obama. Days before Rumsfeld linked the Ape image to Obama’s policies, a Belgium newspaper drew fire with a lead news photo of Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama depicted as monkeys. The paper De Morgen apologized but only after a fierce backlash. It went through the usual hoops to justify its depiction of the Obama’s as harmless political satire. Whether it’s De Morgen, which incidentally is not a right wing but a left leaning newspaper, or Rumsfeld, who is a hard nose conservative, the ape, monkey and gorilla depiction of or reference to the Obama’s has been a staple of the pack of race baiting websites, chat rooms, and college frat parties, and student websites that have ridiculed the Obamas (and African-Americans) in assorted offbeat, crude, vile cartoons and always with the vile depiction as monkeys or apes is by now standard fare. It’s no accident that it is.
The long, sordid and savage history of racist stereotyping of African-Americans has been the stock in trade of race baiting and racial ridicule for more than century. A few grotesque book titles from a century ago, such as The Negro a Beast, The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization, and The Clansman depicted blacks as apes, monkeys, bestial, and animal like. The image stuck in books, magazines, journals, and deeply colored the thinking of many Americans of that day…that day?
In the movie version of Rudyard Kipling children’s classic, The Jungle Book, the Disney Studios in 1967 graduated from the other standard animal depiction of African-Americans as black crows to depicting African-Americans as the monkey like jive, gibberish blathering King Louie. The film was remade in 1994.
The image endures and even touches a chord with many Americans because of the vile history of racist typecasting of African-Americans. In 2007 Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. Their findings with the provocative title “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was published by the American Psychological Association.
The overwhelming majority of the participants in the studies bristled at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the animal savagery image and blacks was very much on their minds. The researchers found that participants — and that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images — were quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.
This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association and blacks has had devastating real life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 the Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than Whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as “barbaric,” “beast,” “brute,” “savage” and “wild.” And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial, and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.
Now Rumsfeld’s likening a trained ape to Obama’s supposed foreign policy failures on the surface made little sense. He was speaking specifically about Obama’s purported failure to get a status of forces agreement with a number of countries. But what he was really irked about was not the failure to get a status of forces agreement with countries that specifically defined the level of military commitment to these countries. But the status of forces agreement that Obama enforced with the Iraq government. The agreement was negotiated by the Bush administration in 2008 with the Iraqi government. The agreement permitted more American troops to stay in the country until 2011. Obama, of course, simply redefined the agreement to sharply reduce the number of American troops in the country. This was the precursor to the formal wind down of the U.S. war. Rumsfeld loathed this and railed against it. It undid everything that he and the Bush administration did in squandering billions of dollars at the cost thousands of American lives in their failed, flawed war policy in Iraq. A policy that was soundly ultimately rejected by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Rumsfeld is a hard core neo-cold warrior who will never forget or forgive Obama for undoing Bush and his abominable military and foreign policy failures. So what does he do? He evokes an equally abominable racially insulting image to attack Obama’s policies. It doesn’t take a trained ape to see the insidiousness of that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson