Negative Racial Framing of Senator Obama

On Rush Limbaugh’s radio show recently here a caller phoned in thus:

“Hey, listen, my 12-year-old daughter, her statement last week was who cares what the guy’s middle name is, he looks like Curious George.”

Then Limbaugh replied:

“Don’t make me laugh. I can’t laugh. The point I was going to make to you is, you’re going to have to be very careful. You don’t have to disabuse Republicans of Obama . . . .”

He appears to want Obama to stay in the political race, apparently to enhance Democratic Party conflicts. Next Limbaugh asserts that he did not know that Curious George was a cartoon and toy monkey, and adds an apology:

“I’ve seen the pictures of Curious George, everybody is telling me about Curious George. So I wish to apologize to both Senator Obama and Senator McCain. It was not my intent to bring dishonor and guttural utterances into this campaign. “

Later Limbaugh adds:

“You see, ladies and gentlemen, I’m doing this as an illustration for you of how really uptight and tense everybody is going to be with any kind of criticism of Barack Obama on the Republican side. I think we may set a record in this upcoming campaign. If Obama is the nominee, we may set a record for the number of apologies to him and his campaign by various Republicans and so forth. “

This revealing commentary hints at the tension over the backstage racist commentaries about Black Americans common among many whites and the fear (“uptight”) that some of these backstage views and discussions will get into the public sphere and force whites constantly to apologize. Senator Obama seems to have become a trigger for backstage racism to come to the forefront, perhaps more often than one might otherwise have expected in these days of “colorblind” public performances by many whites.

Interestingly, later callers criticized Limbaugh and suggested he was lying about not knowing that Curious George was a monkey figure, and some significant discusssion ensured.

One of the older racist images in the centuries-old white racist frame is that of Black people as apelike or monkeylike, which apparently arose from early white traveler’s wild and stereotyped accounts of people and animals in Africa. In his famous book, Notes on the State of Virginia here, even the fabled Thomas Jefferson perpetuates such extreme racist stereotypes.

US whites and others have drawn on such derogatory images for centuries, and Limbaugh certainly knows about these old stereotypes. Yet, although he did apologize to Senator Obama (and, oddly, to McCain too), he did not discuss or condemn the vicious character of this old racist imagery or its continuing role in some/much white thinking today about Black Americans.

In this political season, if Obama has a chance of winning the presidency, this and similar racial framing needs to be taken out of the closet and attacked for the vicious racism that it is.


  1. matt

    I think you’re right. Barack’s candidacy is going to be accompanied by a great deal of apologizing from the conservative radio contingent. I also predict that on an international scale, there will be even more incomprehensibly racist political commentary and cartoons to dwarf anything Limbaugh might say. (I’m looking at you, Mexico.)

  2. Seattle in Texas

    He makes me so incredibly nauseous—you would think the Oxycodone and Viagra would have toned him down a bit? But no. That was no mistake, I can guarantee that—he knew better and I don’t buy his pitiful so-called apology either. But what stood out in that story is the transmission of racist perceptions and attitudes that has been internalized by his daughter obviously by his influence, and her surroundings. A child. What’s funny is that can’t say I know any African American folks that resemble our fellow primates, but do know a white man who speaks and communicates with them fluently—even with the facial expressions, the deep (Ooooh Ooooh Oooh) into the gradually higher pitched (Eeeee Eeeee EEEEE). Yes sireee.

    And shame on anybody who would vote based on what Rush attempts to dictate. However, I would like to say something through a special privilege that was granted to me this evening through a democratic vote at my local caucus from the Native Texan Obama supporters—being selected as a delegate for the State of Texas, even though I am not a Native Texan—it is truly an honor, but: Rush, DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS! And contrary to what the newspapers are reporting about the “Obamacans”—so far every one I have met personally is starving for real change and is voting for Obama because they believe in him—they are voting Democratic without shame guys and do plan to vote for him in November. I can’t speak for the Republicans voting for Clinton here as I haven’t interacted with any….

    But as I have said before, Obama supporters can’t just stop with their votes—they have a duty, in my opinion, to go much further, which includes education, resistance, and protection—of course through civil and peaceful means, whether it is related to racist and discriminatory acts and slurs directed at Obama, his supporters, or others. Obama envisions unity, which those like Rush above seek to prevent at all costs. Stay strong and optimistic Obama supporters!

    And Matt, I was talking with a Democrat this evening who is Jewish and a Clinton supporter—something has been going around (which I have heard about earlier–among other things) about Obama being “Anti-Israel”…information spread by the Clinton camp…. :`( Unfair blows if you ask me–she should really be ashamed of herself.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    And Matt, with relation to Mexico—they learn that from the racist whites in the U.S. and are even rewarded for it in various ways, depending on their surroundings and so on. I am not trying to excuse that type of behavior on behalf on Mexico and her citizens both here and there, but rather address the seeds of hatred….

  4. Will

    I don’t think the worst of it will be coming from Mexico. I’m looking at France, Germany and England especially with the recent acts towards African immigrants and skinheads that have become so popular there. France alone has had race riots twice since 05. I’m not worried about Mexico. Let us not forget Europe is the birthplace of racism, if only the concept more than the practice

  5. Seattle in Texas

    I am in a bit of a hurry but just wanted to share some thoughts that have crossed my mind related to the Rush fiasco…it seems to me that anything the Republicans try to say or use to hurt Obama and his campaign, can be said to only reflect worse on Bush and his administration—beginning with the Cocaine thing….. But with the monkey business? I remember years ago when several professors in a couple of different departments, including a couple of primatologists, had the pictures of Bush making faces and chimps making the same faces right next to his…Hmmmm? Remember those?

    But over this last weekend I was talking with someone back in the Pacific Northwest who had many questions about Barack—she is almost 60 and a Liberal, but does have her own racism she has to battle. She said: “I heard he attends an all Black church.” I said: “Well, yes that is true. But you know what? I have attended all Black churches with friends and found them to be much more alive than the white churches that I have attended.” (I am not religious but have attended several different types of churches of all sorts for different reasons…) But she saw the picture differently and spent time talking about the differences between them as she understood them. But then her tone changed again and she said: “Well, I heard he’s Muslim.” I explained those roots go back to his childhood and he is familiar with the Muslim religion, but is a Christian—as he has attended his church for the last twenty years. Then explained that I would much rather have a President who is familiar with the Muslim religion than not—he is far more qualified for making Peace between the U.S. and Muslim nations than the other candidates…we all want out of Iraq and peace? Just some more thoughts….

    And Will, I do like you point here. Though on the North American continent—the roots do go back to Europe, yes indeed. But I think it’s the U.S. Anglo-Saxon roots to look at in terms of have they have evolved here that impact the perceptions of our neighbors. White racism and systemic racism…here or abroad…yuck.

  6. Seattle in Texas

    (so sorry one more)–*take the empty Lever 2000 soapbox, drop in on the ground, step up on it with my right upper foot* ha ha, okay—first about religion. The Texas Democratic Party (as well as all Democratic Parties) maintains that: In separation of Church and State to preserve the freedom to pursue our beliefs. An answer to what Democrats value with relation to all citizens—something else to remind voters when they ask questions about Obama’s personal religious orientation—but yes, he is Christian. Church and State are supposed to be separate….

    And the other thing is with relation to that horrible commercial about the phone call in the middle of the night—I believe if Obama becomes the President, it will be less likely we will have to worry about that…. I don’t want to have to prepare to worry about that call—I would rather prepare to make peace throughout the world…just me though.

    And lastly—It’s snowing where I’m at! It’s snowing, it’s snowing!!! Alright *pick up the soap box, kick it toward a trash can across the way, and slam dunk*

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