Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A timely repost

[NOTE: This blog has had a boost in readership today... mainly because of people Googling phrases like “black people monkeys” and “comparison to monkeys blacks.”

[The Googlers were inspired, no doubt, by the controversial New York Post cartoon above, which seems to compare President Obama to a crazed chimpanzee.

[So... why would Googling “black people monkeys” lead folks to here? The reason is below: an edited version of a piece I posted in October 2007... about the history of comparing black people to monkeys.]

I recently discovered an old text online – “The Negro: What Is His Ethnological Status?” It was published in 1867 under the pseudonym “Ariel.” In fact, the author was a Southern clergyman, the Rev. Buckner H. Payne of Nashville, Tennessee.

Rev. Payne argued that Negroes weren’t descended from Adam and Eve.

“... Adam and Eve being white, ... they could never be the father or mother of the kinky-headed, low forehead, flat nose, thick lip and black-skinned negro...”

The minister continued: “[I]t follows, beyond all the reasonings of men on earth to controvert, that [the negro] was created before Adam, that, like all beasts and cattle, they have no souls.”

Rev. Payne then broke it down scientifically: “[W]e take up the monkey, and trace him ... through his upward and advancing orders – baboon, ourang-outang and gorilla, up to the negro, another noble animal, the noblest of the beast creation.

“The difference between these higher orders of the monkey and the negro is very slight, and consists mainly in this one thing: the negro can utter sounds that can be imitated; hence he could talk with Adam and Eve, for they could imitate his sounds.”

(You can download the full 48-page text of Buckner Payne’s “The Negro” as a PDF file, courtesy of Google, by following this link.)

To me, it’s no coincidence that this description of blacks as non-human was published in 1867 – after the South lost the Civil War. Southern whites didn’t have to bother defining Negroes as animals while they were enslaved. But once the Negro was free – and politically empowered during Reconstruction – that’s when the defeated white Southerner felt the need (psychologically, not just politically) to put forth this ugly idea.

And guess what? When white Southerners reclaimed their political dominance and disenfranchised black people, the monkey thing stuck.

In 1900, Charles Carroll published a book advancing Buckner Payne’s notion. “The Negro a Beast” cites the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts.”

Carroll wrote: “[I]t becomes plain that the dog, the swine and the negro all belong to one kind of flesh – the flesh of beasts.”

He argued further that the “red, yellow and brown” races resulted from the “amalgamation” of whites and blacks. Therefore, all those non-whites aren’t human either. To argue otherwise, according to Carroll, was a blasphemy equal to Darwin’s theory of evolution:

“This modern church theory that the negro and the mixed-bloods are included in the Plan of Salvation is another result of putting man and the ape in the same family.”

(Charles Carroll wasn’t a clergyman, but there are many references to him as “Professor.” I haven’t been able to find out where he was a professor, or what his field of scholarship was.)

Carroll’s book was sold door-to-door across the South and was “enormously influential,” according to Jane Dailey, a Johns Hopkins University historian. In a 2004 essay, Prof. Dailey quotes an earlier historian:

“During the opening years of the twentieth century [‘The Negro a Beast’] has become the Scripture of tens of thousands of poor whites, and its doctrine is maintained with an appalling stubbornness and persistence.”

To give you a sense of the impact of “The Negro a Beast,” I dug up a reference to it by Bill Arp, a newspaper columnist who was hugely popular in the South. The following appeared in Arp’s column in the Atlanta Constitution on May 18, 1902:

“I have just received a pleasant letter from a North Carolina friend asking me what I think of Carroll’s book, ‘The Negro a Beast,’ and he asks, ‘Do you believe the nigger is a beast?’ I answered at the bottom of his letter, ‘Which nigger?’ ”

UPDATE (02/19/09): It turns out that CNN’s Kyra Phillips quoted from my blog post, even though she didn’t credit me. (Note the phrase “breaks it down scientifically.”)


Wanda said...

I guess I'm a weirdo, but when I saw the Post cartoon I didn't immediately think of Obama. My mind went first to that Face-Off chimp and then to the congressmen who went crazy with the stimulus bill and the cartoonist was saying they needed to be shot.

Maybe its my naive demeanor or something.

Anonymous said...

The amount of time that racists spend meditating on black folks is scary.

Such folks thrive on attention.

UBM, thanks for that most interesting link!

Eurasian Sensation said...

I wonder if Rev. Buckner H. Payne and the like really did believe that stuff about black people being monkeys and so forth... or was it just something they held on to in order to make themselves feel better than somebody.

Luckily they weren't comparing the amount of body hair when deciding which race was the most apelike - they may not have liked that conclusion!

Wanda said...

did you write cnn and tell them they stole from you?

maria said...

cnn didn't steal, but should have credited the site. and then had you on camera!

you really excel at this kind of reporting.

Davida said...

Someone remind me the last time the New York Post did ANYTHING in good taste!

Can't we find someone besides Al Sharpton to speak on issues involving black folks?

Undercover Black Man said...

did you write cnn and tell them they stole from you?

Eh. No big deal. It did tickle me, though.

Undercover Black Man said...

you really excel at this kind of reporting.

Thanks, maria. I ain't even trying to be on camera, though.

bigmountain said...

People always try to equate everything to race. Ease up your butt cheeks. Obama did not write the Stimulus Bill, Congress did. The cartoon does not try to picture the Prez as a monkey but as the 500 pound Gorilla (Stimulus Bill) that could not be stopped. The one that had to be voted on before Congress read it so it could sit for 4 days for Prez Obama to sign it.

Undercover Black Man said...

The cartoon does not try to picture the Prez as a monkey but as the 500 pound Gorilla (Stimulus Bill) that could not be stopped.

That makes no sense, chum.

Read the words coming from the policeman's mouth. The monkey is clearly represented as the author of the stimulus bill.

And the news columns of the New York Post for weeks have referred to "President Obama's stimulus plan" and "President Obama's stimulus package."

So try again, bigmountain.

Anne Mimms said...

I think this incomprehensible in this age and time. What person wouldn't interpret the words "stimulus bill" with Pres. Obama. It appears to instigate that he should be assassinated. Shame on him and the Post if they don't take necessary action to ensure it won't happen again. According to my bible, what's in the heart DOES come out.

Geneva Girl said...

Did you see this nonsense that a host on Fox compared AG Eric Holder to a monkey? "At the end of a long and pointless conversation between two Fox News reporters covering a zoo escape, John Gibson compared Attorney General Eric Holder to a monkey."

Don't you think that these idiots would have a moratorium on talking about monkeys in any context at least for a week? Comparing anyone, especially a black man, to a monkey should be a fireable offense, Of course, it was Fox so Gibson probably got a bonus.

John B. said...

Apart from the racial overtones, the cartoon isn't even funny on its own terms. Right-wingers are notably humor-impaired.

bklyn6 said...

The amount of time that racists spend meditating on black folks is scary.

Racists suck.

Why can't they convert all the energy they expend on hating and turn it into something positive? Bastids.

Josh said...


I can completely understand why a cartoon depicting President Obama as a "monkey" would be glaringly racist.

The bygone era in which people did not understand their own history, much less the history of others, spawned endless accounts of bigotry and mind-blowing ignorance.

However, there's also a refusal to believe this cartoonist when he claims that he was not intending it to be that. I'm inclined to take the autor's word, simply because I can't see an end-game in his lying about it.

For example, if he were to say, "You're right. It was insensitive and I really should have considered the historic interchange and not portray any African-American as a 'monkey' - much less one that's been shot. I apologize to my readers, the country, and the African-American community for this cartoon."

Okay. All is, maybe not forgiven, but eventually forgotten in today's America.

But the fact that he insists that he wasn't attempting to link the shot chimp with President Obama, to me, screams of brutal honesty.

If likening to Obama was his purpose, there's no sense in continuing to deny it. It can cost him his job, any remnants of a future career, his family's wellbeing, and make him a social pariah.

The fact that he's willing to risk that and stand by his cartoon not being meant for that -- well, I don't feel as if he's lying.

Yes, it can be deemed insensitive and offensive just for having the two together; but is that a tightrope we're always going to walk as a society of people trying to erase the ignorance of yesteryear?

I have a blog post that makes light of "racist" photos. It's great for a laugh, IMO. :-)

Undercover Black Man said...

... I can't see an end-game in his lying about it.

Except for the fact that everybody lies almost always, I'd be with you, Josh.

Josh said...

No doubt about that; almost everyone lies. Moreover, even the people who don't lie are fully capable of doing so.

But to judge someone and call them a liar is a whole other matter entirely.

For all I know, the dude's lying his @$$ off. I have no personal stake in it either way.

He's taking the hard, long and winding road to nowhere good or fast if he is lying, however. That's all I know.