More Ape Stereotyping: The White Racist Frame’s Key Images

Ah, more “Post-Racial America” (HatTip:

A prominent South Carolina Republican [Rusty DePass] killed his Facebook page Sunday after being caught likening the First Lady to an escaped gorilla. Commenting on a report posted to Facebook about a gorilla escape at a zoo in Columbia, S.C., Friday, longtime GOP activist Rusty DePass wrote, “I’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors – probably harmless.”

He, like most white racist commentators these days, of course apologized, and guess what, claimed:

“I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest.”

Odd, how joking is supposted to make blatant racism OK….. DePass is not a small fish, but

former chairman of the Richland County GOP, was an early backer of George W. Bush and co-chairman of Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 campaign in Richland County, the state’s largest.

And, of course, the other prominent Republicans are pressing him to apologize:

Eric Davis, the current chairman of the Richland County Republicans, said his predecessor should get a pass. “Everyone says stupid things they regret later. I think the world should move on,” he said.

Racism is just no big deal for many white Americans. See too how that old white racial frame is powerful, as whites just cannot seem to let go of the ape imagery for Americans of color. This stuff is hundreds of years old. One finds it in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, our first major book by our first secular intellectual–and white supremacist thinker.

Why are white men so slow to learn about what is blatantly racist in our post-racial America?


  1. Shawn

    Perhaps if these white men had the wisdom of a Latina, they would exercise better judgment in their comments and avoid having to apologize for such idiotic comments???

  2. Hello Dr. Feagin,

    This is off-topic, but today on the front page of the web version of the New York Times, there’s an editorial by Brent Staples about psychological racial bias entitled “Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’”.

  3. DavePaul

    You’re off-base. It is important to point out when white men exhibit clearly-racist behavior and attitudes because, for the most part, white men run this country, and for that matter, the world economy. Also, white men are the prime beneficiaries of 400 years of racialized expropriation.

    The reason why your comment is uncalled for, besides it’s obvious reference to Sotomayor, is that Latina women do not have an extant history of raping, pillaging, and enslaving native peoples.

    I believe white men don’t learn the bounds of human consideration because we are still the most privileged social group in this nation, or for that matter, the world. We have yet to reflect on our racist history to see how our contemporary lifestyle is born out of centuries of racial oppression. Until we know who we are as a group and where we came from, we can never see just how myopic our worldview is.

  4. distance88

    It kind of does assume that all white men are the same…
    “Why are white men so slow to learn about what is blatantly racist in our post-racial America?”

    If you had said, “Why are most white men so slow to learn about…” then I’d agree with the statement and your assessment.

  5. distance88

    BTW, Joe, I whole-heartedly agree with the crux of your post. But as a social scientist I cringe when I see statements that proclaim absolutes–no matter who the target is.

  6. @ distance – This is something else I’m not saying lightly, but the fact that a person would have to say, “Why are most white men so slow . . . ?” only further demonstrates the problem. 1 – It is the case factually that as a collective group, white man have been and remain to be slow to come to grips with racism. 2 – The other problem with using most is that when white men read such a proclamation, most will assume, wrongly so, that it doesn’t apply to them. I mean, more as an anti-racist than a social scientist, it bothers me that when a “broad brush” is used, the number of people criticizing the broad bush outnumber the actual few who could claim to be an exception to the “rule.”

  7. Nquest

    Re: distance88’s “broadbrush” idea…
    Why is there the automatic assumption that a statement regarding a general, collective and, historically accurate, reality/trend is geared towards ALL when ALL is not stated?
    Also, qualifiers like “some”, “many” or “most” are largely vacuous and rarely add anything to the statement other than eliminating the pre-school (and vacuous) defense that “ALL” white men, in this case, don’t fit a description that never clearly stated that it applied to ALL white men.
    distance88’s idea is not only complicated by the warned out internet grass roots movement (sarcasm) to rid the world of generalizations by responding to them with knee-jerk, hasty generalizations but distance88’s objection is rife with poor reading comprehension (as was DavePaul’s post, I believe).
    In DavePaul’s post, there are clear modifying clauses which make distance88’s objections seem as weird as they are inappropriate. For example, DavePaul’s first point:
    “It is important to point out when white men exhibit clearly-racist behavior and attitude…”
    By definition, his statement allows for situations and, indeed, white men who don’t exhibit racist attitudes, etc.
    So this prudishly anal desire for an explicit “most” qualifier is truly what’s off-base and uncalled for. It’s also ridiculous because there is nothing inherently wrong with generalizing when, after all the huffing and puffing, distance88 agrees with the generalization — i.e. that DavePaul’s statement applies to “most” white men.
    IMO, reasonable objections against “broad brushed” statements comprise of arguing that a trend isn’t significant enough to state what’s generally true about a given group/topic. Agreeing that “most” is an accurate quantifier becomes little more than numerical semantics — both the person ASSUMED to imply “all” and the objector saying, “it’s not all, it’s most” fundamentally agree that, in this case, white men generally do harbor or exhibit racist attitudes/behavior. As such, the argument isn’t substantive especially since “most” can include a wide range of possibilities where the argument could be over the perception… the perception of whether it’s accurate to “paint with a broad brush” giving the impression to “some” people that 99% (a value = “most”) is the same a ALL – i.e. 100%.
    Beyond that, distance88’s argument is ridiculous because no one would assume that DavePaul’s comment about white men and racism applied to Dr. Feagin or, from what I can tell, DavePaul himself (see the “we” in his last two sentences).

  8. JDF

    I’m with No1KState and Nquest on this one. It bugs me how (most!) whites have no problem making blanket generalizations about Blacks, Hispanics, etc., and then get all bent out of shape when someone generalizes about whites. It happens all too often in academia, considering how liberal we like to think we are.

  9. distance88

    Sheesh! I apologize to for my poor, vague, and weird attempt at playing the devil’s advocate. Next time I’ll fill out the appropriate disclaimer and bring a shield to deflect all the stones being cast. Are there some sort of credentials I should flash so everyone knows I’m not the enemy?

    Let me try to be clearer. My only problem and discomfort with the initial article is the very last sentence (which indeed takes it out of context):

    “Why are white men so slow to learn about what is blatantly racist in our post-racial America?”

    Replace the subject of that sentence with any demographic or group, then attach some perceived negative/positive ‘trend’, ‘history’, or stereotype and what are we really left with? I take ‘white men’ to include old, young, rich, poor, lawyers, truck drivers, married, divorced, college educated, high-school drop-outs, etc. Would it really hurt to tease demographic terms out a little bit and be cautious with our language (especially when using a social science lens)?

    All I’m suggesting that you can’t combat racism, which is the epitome of hasty generalization, with more hasty generalization (which I understand was in no way an overall theme of the article).

  10. Joe

    I agree with distance88 that my language should have been more precise and unambiguous. I am sorry my imprecise language has taken some of the focus off the way in which a great many white men, including our “leaders,” still make blatantly (and I do mean blatantly) racist comments in public and private, and then back off with lame half-apologies like this. Also note the extremely common defense, of just “joking.”

  11. distance – The problem isn’t that you’re “the enemy.” The problem was your critique. Joe’s apologized. Ok. And I understand the crux of your argument. But it remains the case the white men of all ages, educational and vocational backgrous, are slow to come to grips with racism.
    And though I do understand the argument that you can’t fight generalizations with more generalizations, I’ve also come to understand that a lot of people, not necessarily you, only bring this out their back pocket with the generalization is about white people. After sometime of dialoguing with others about these things, the act gets kinda old.

  12. Nquest

    All I’m suggesting that you can’t combat racism, which is the epitome of hasty generalization, with more hasty generalization (which I understand was in no way an overall theme of the article).
    And I addressed that directly. Pre-emptively. Again, your own agreement that DavePaul’s statement applied to “most” white men — which would include white men who are old, young, rich, poor, lawyers, truck drivers, married, divorced, college educated, high-school drop-outs, etc. — doesn’t make DavePaul’s statement a “hasty generalization.”

    Again, DavePaul didn’t say ALL. You feigned offense (i.e. played Devil’s Advocate) because you made the ridiculous assumption that DavePaul suggested that his statement applied to ALL white men which, again, is ridiculous because the same cognitive abilities that allowed you to make assumptions about what DavePaul said, putting words into his mouth, could have also been used to note how DavePaul, while suggesting that he is a white male, is obviously someone that doesn’t fit the description, let alone Dr. Joe Feagin.
    Replace the subject of that sentence with any demographic or group…
    Sorry, that doesn’t work. Again, I already addressed that. But, first, cite the rule in the English language that states that you should assume the author means ALL instead of SOME or MOST or whatever when s/he makes a statement about group.

    More directly, the type of stereotyping that often occurs with other demographic groups attempt to take some quality, characteristic or behavior of a sub-set, a numerical minority (i.e. the opposite of “most”), of some group and stretch it to the point where the stereotype is said to be representative of said group.

    That’s not the problem here because, by your very agreement that DavePaul’s statement applies to “most” white men, you’re already saying DavePaul’s statement is representative.

    Furthermore, as far as African-Americans are concerned (me being one), it is not uncommon for us to talk in general terms our group and every general statement made about us by someone who isn’t Black/African-American doesn’t draw the kind of reaction you assume would be made. So the issue is always the character of the statement as opposed to the mere fact a general statement says Black/African-Americans this or that.

    In political discussions people remark about how Black/African-Americans vote for Democrats. Show me when and where Black/African-Americans objected to a generalized statement that they/we admit applies to “most” of us — i.e. don’t make these “if it was anybody else” statements unless you have comparable examples.

  13. Nquest

    Are there some sort of credentials I should flash so everyone knows I’m not the enemy?
    Who declared you the enemy?
    Explain how come it’s okay for you to disagree with some aspect of what DavePaul said but, when you’re disagreed with, it’s a problem. What’s up with this pretense that you’re being mistreated — i.e. treated like “the enemy” vs. an ally?
    Sounds like you support treating people differently simply on the basis of whether they are “the enemy” vs. a friend/ally. Hmm… So, I guess when “a friend” and “the enemy” both do something equally disagreeable… the “friend” should be treated differently as if their behavior/statement is less disagreeable simply due to their “friend” status.

  14. distance88

    I haven’t been addressing DavePaul in any of my comments. I was addressing the one line from Joe’s post entitled “More Ape Stereotyping: The White Racist…”. Again, my apologies for not being more clear initially. And I didn’t mean to sound like I was propping-up or condoning Rusty DePass’ or countless others’ repugnant behavior.

    In total deference to a man I hold in high esteem, I merely felt that Joe could’ve wrapped up an otherwise spot-on post in a better way..

  15. Yeah, there is something amiss about the whole “enemy vs ally” thing. And I meant to explain earlier that the difference between a “generalization” about white men and “if it were anybody else” is about power and status. White men got it. Everybody else is down the list.

  16. jwbe

    and I was wondering with the last sentence why Joe is only referring to white men and not also white women. Whites in general are quite slow I would say when it comes to learning what’s racist.

  17. Nquest

    @ distance88
    Ah, okay. My mistake because comment #4 (your first) came right after DavePaul’s post. Yet, again, no one would assume that Dr. Feagin would be one of those white men who are “so slow” when it comes to recognizing racism. So, again, there was no reason to assume that any of his statements attempted to make a statement about ALL white men. He’s white, male and hardly someone who fits the description.
    He also started wrapping his commentary up with the very kind of qualifier you tried to pretend was absent:
    “Racism is just no big deal for many white Americans.”
    The simple English of it all, beside including both white men and women in the clause “many white Americans”, says that this is essentially Dr. Feagin main point/thesis of which the rhetorical question at the end of his commentary is clearly an extension of — i.e. the question reiterates or builds on that point (as the sentences in between explained the basis/rationale for making the point in the first place).
    How exactly you separated the sentence with the “many white Americans” from Dr. Feagin’s final question is hard to understand.
    Regardless, I doubt anyone viewed your observation/objection as supporting or condoning Rusty DePass. Still, my point is: there was nothing wrong with Dr. Feagin’s post outside of some personal preference of yours for Dr. Feagin to be so circumspect as to avoid giving people who can’t or won’t follow the basic English argument building/context, for whatever reason, a reason to knee-jerk.
    Also, it would be nice when you float these unexamined cliche-like thoughts like “you can’t combat racism, which is the epitome of hasty generalization, with more hasty generalization” and half-baked substitutions/comparisons like “replace the subject of that sentence with any demographic or group… and what are we really left with” for you to actually address scrutiny the way Dr. Feagin did regarding your scrutiny of his commentary.

  18. jwbe

    I think we whites should finally face the reality that those who are opposed to racism are just not effective and probably also not powerful enough (in numbers) to actually stop this system. And this is also I think because most white anti-racists aren’t willing to truly challenge white supremacy and white culture also within their own mindset, organizations and movements.

    It doesn’t make sense that individual whites want to be considered not racist or want to be considered a friend or ally and this becomes more important than the actual issue.
    Nobody of all of us (white) anti-racists would truly have an idea how to stop a second Hitler. We can quickly judge those Germans back then how stupid or whatever they have been, not realizing that with a word-wide declining economy and a right with simple sounding solutions to ‘all problems’ becoming again more powerful today we are exactly again in a similar situation, where ‘minorities’ are being blamed and too many whites are again believing these lies.
    And the only thing most whites can do is whining ‘I am not racist’ or something like that

  19. @jwbe – I only disagree with the somewhat “giving up” tone of your first sentence. I do agree that whites who would like to be anti-racist should consciously fight their own racism. You’re right that whites’ making the issue about people’s opinions of them and not about combating racism itself don’t help. This need, this sense of entitlement to being the focus of attention is just one way in which white supremacy operates. So, I agree with you. I just wouldn’t be so fatalistic.

  20. siss – I don’t know exactly what jwbe had in mind, but I do know, for example, that the publicans blamed the housing bubble and financial crisis on irresponsible minority borrowers when the actual fault lies with the white execs who devised loan-backed securities on the thinking that the housing bubble wouldn’t burst.

  21. distance88

    @Nquest – I agree with all your points, I clearly took the last sentence out of the context of the article, which is a huge leap and something I should not have done–particularly since my intentions were not clear.

    RE: substitutions/comparisons, for instance, I have heard some members of the gay community ask the question “why are Blacks (and in particular, Black men) so homophobic?” in a rhetorical manner (my response would be that a) homophobia is present in all races and b) homophobia is not a function of race, but more a function of religious attitudes and attendance of religious services. Perhaps I was off-base, but I saw at least some similarity between this question and the question that Dr. Feagin used at the end of his article (again, when vicariously removed from context and understanding that this was not Dr. Feagin’s intent).

    @jwbe – the 88 in my nickname refers to the year 1988, IMO the greatest year in (recorded) music history.

  22. jwbe


    >@jwbe – I only disagree with the somewhat “giving up” tone of your first sentence.
    you got this sentence wrong, it isn’t about giving up and also not about being fatalistic.
    It’s just the reality.

    America went on war, and there was a majority of whites supporting it, a war in the fight ‘against terror’. The arrogant mentality in the belief of a Blitzkrieg, because Iraqis were considered backward and stupid as it seems, the arrogance with showing war on TV for bored Americans, a war because the white entitlement was hurt. The disbelief that America could be attacked, the disbelief that not everybody on earth loves the US and not everybody outside America, probably almost nobody, believes American lies white Americans are so busy believing.
    Back then, with Bush’s words towards the rest of the world ‘you are either with us or against us’ and the flag waving hysterical Americans I understood how Hitler was possible. How masses can be so blinded and too few are trying to stop them, also nations. Because it is about money, resources and power and masses are easily manipulated. The West is united in a system of white supremacy but white anti-racists seem to fail to understand this.

    We are told that non-white nations with alleged nuclear weapons are the threat to the world and nobody could explain to me up to now why anybody should ‘trust’ the USA, the only nation on earth that actually dropped two atomic bombs, why should we ‘trust’ a nation where whites still celebrate their history in a way of fantasy that it is scary and which stations their military throughout the world.
    Racism is not just a problem in the US, and the system of white supremacy is a problem world-wide which is more than ‘just’ racism.
    And regardless how eager the West might be to ‘explore’ the universe if there is life outside earth, there only this planet regardless if we act in a way as if there are more. And yes I believe that for a white anti-racist trying to also understand the Eurocentric attitude towards nature also is important, understanding our own culture would be important and how deeply it impacts us while we try to combat the system. It is not possible to combat a system with ways that keep this system alive.
    White anti-racists should understand that they don’t do it only for ‘the other’ but for all of us humans and life on earth.
    Considering the magnitude of ws, considering the pain we as a collective inflict on others, not only within our own nations but world-wide, how laughable becomes a white whose only interest is not to be considered a racist or to be considered a ‘good ally’ or wants to learn with all time needed for him/her until he/she will finally ‘get it’ or mostly not.
    Victor Frankl: “Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”
    But ok, I think I am off topic probably.
    >jwbe – “where ‘minorities’ are being blamed and too many whites are again believing these lies.” Can you elaborate?
    I don’t understand what I should elaborate?

  23. @jwbe – Fair enough. My apologies. I guess we have to accept what is and go from there. Though, and I believe we can agree on this, I do wish more white Americans would actually listen to minorities when we explain the racial reality.

Leave a Reply