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Black community’s righteous anger

Protests denounce N.Y. Post’s KKKartoon

Published Feb 25, 2009 3:23 PM

The New York Post created a firestorm of righteous anger and spontaneous protest here and around the country when it printed a horrific, racist cartoon Feb. 18 depicting President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee being shot to death by two white policemen. The caption of the cartoon reads, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” Days before the cartoon appeared, a 200-pound chimpanzee, which seriously mauled a woman in Stamford, Conn., was shot to death by the police. Despite Obama’s becoming the first African-American president of the U.S., this cartoon illustrates that this historic development has not altered the fact that institutionalized racism is still very much alive and thriving in this society. Many see the cartoon as advocating the assassination of the President, which is a legal violation of Title 18, Section 871 of U.S. Code and punishable with a fine and up to five years in prison.

Spike Lee, center, at New York march.
WW photo: Monica Moorehead

Once the cartoon hit the newsstands, an emergency protest was organized within 24 hours on Feb. 19 in front of the News Corporation building, the offices of the New York Post, by New York City Councilperson Charles Barron and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Close to 1,000 people, mainly Black, came out for the noontime picket line, demanding that there be a boycott of the New York Post. Some even demanded that the newspaper be shut down. Many protesters were carrying pictures of Obama and his family. There was also trade union representation from Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, the Service Employees International Union 32BJ and others. A spontaneous boycott of the Post began in Harlem on Feb. 19, where the newspaper was conspicuously absent from newsstands in this rapidly gentrifying community. Barron has called for a boycott of the Post.

Another protest against the Post was called on Feb. 20 during the evening rush hours and again hundreds of people came out, including a large delegation from the NAACP. Again the crowd was majority Black but also included more Latina/os and anti-racist whites. The picket line was led by African-American filmmaker Spike Lee and his son Jackson, along with Barron and Sharpton. Lee reminded the press and the crowd that the Post has had a long, sordid history of offending people of color with racist images and stereotypes.

Los Angeles protest,
Feb. 23.
Photo: Sekou Parker

A Feb. 23 protest against the New York Post was held in Los Angeles in front of Murdoch’s corporate headquarters. The initial endorsers of the protest included the International Action Center; Linda Dent, chair of the African American Committee SEIU Local 721; Rosie Martinez, chair of the Latino Committee SEIU Local 721; the Rev. Freda Lanoix, Love at Work—The Exchange; and the Bail Out the People Movement.

The Grammy-award-winning Black singer John Legend wrote a moving protest letter to the Post on Feb. 19 that reads in part: “I’m personally boycotting your paper and won’t do any interviews with any of your reporters, and I encourage all of my colleagues in the entertainment business to do so as well. I implore your advertisers to seriously reconsider their business relationships with you as well.” (www.johnlegend.com)

On Feb. 24, media mogul Rupert Murdoch—the chair of the New Post and Fox News—issued an “apology” for the cartoon. Part of it reads: “Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you—without a doubt—that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.” (New York Times, Feb. 24)

Even though this statement is very defensive in nature, it shows what mass anger can achieve in terms of hurting the image of someone as powerful as Murdoch, along with a drop in sales of the Post, which has the sixth largest circulation in the country. These protests also coincide with the recent resignation of Peter Chernin, News Corporation’s president and chief operating officer, due to the rapid economic decline of printed media, which has hit the Post much harder compared to other big business media. Chernin was in charge of operations of the Los Angeles-based 20th Century Fox film studio and Fox broadcast network.