The Joplin Globe’s “Monkey House” Problem

In his response to my post about a local Joplin Globe columnist’s racist tweet, Anson Burlingame, a local blogger who sometimes contributes to the Joplin Globe and who often contributes to the comment section of this blog, wrote in to defend columnist Geoff Caldwell’s use of the term “monkey” in reference to President Obama:

…a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing”. When one is accused of “acting like a monkey” I never considered it a racist comment. Get off this liberal racist accusation against any and all opposing Obama.

Another frequent contributor to this blog, King Beauregard, wrote in response to Anson’s claim:

“Monkey” carries racial baggage and you know it, and more importantly, Geoff knows it. That was the entire point of his tweet.

Exactly. That was the entire point of the tweet, whether Anson realizes it or not. And another commenter, Henry Morgan, put some force behind King Beauregard’s claim:

Anson tells us that “a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing.”
Yes, and a “coon” is a small animal of American forests known for its fastidious eating habits.
And an “ape” is a member of a family of primates inhabiting tropical environs.
A “buck” is a male deer.
A “boy” is a young human male.
And most certainly, as Anson implies, one’s first meaning attached to these words when African-Americans are part of the discussion, is the denotative, not the connotative.
Gee, just nice, kindly words.

Brilliant stuff.

Another frequent contributor, Jim Wheeler, doubted whether Anson was unaware of the obvious fact “that the monkey reference is terminology historically used to deprecate the inferiority of the black race.” Jim writes:

Anson presents an apparently blind eye to this, despite having grown up in Kentucky. That he really didn’t understand the slur is about as likely as believing that Archie Bunker wouldn’t. But wait. I can picture Archie using it and not even realizing its effect, so never mind.😉

Okay. I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that Anson genuinely was not aware that the term “monkey” has historically been used as a racial epithet and worse. I’m going to assume that Anson didn’t see the story earlier this year about North Korea’s state media describing President Obama as a “wicked black monkey.” I suppose it could be that the North Koreans were just saying that our wicked president was a “funny and scatter brained like ‘thing.'” They’re known for their playful chatter, right? Not even Anson Burlingame would believe that, I am sure.

In any case, in order to help make Anson—and others tempted to think that a local columnist comparing our first African-American president to a monkey was just a playful form of criticism—aware of the awful history behind the connection, I’m going to introduce them to Ota Benga, a Congolese man who actually became part of an exhibition at the Bronx Zoo in 1906.  According to Encylopedia Virginia,

…tens of thousands of people came to see the famous Pygmy who shared a cage with an Asian orangutan, several chimpanzees, and a parrot…The so-called man and monkey show was immediately controversial. 

As Wikipedia notes, Benga was displayed in the zoo’s famous “Monkey House,” which closed in 2012. But pay particular attention to this historical fact on the Wiki page:

Displays of non-Western humans as examples of “earlier stages” of human evolution were common in the early 20th century, when racial theories were frequently intertwined with concepts from evolutionary biology.

It’s no accident when someone who wishes to disparage an African-American uses the term monkey. It’s not just “another word for a funny and scatter brained like ‘thing,'” as Anson claimed. And it is especially no accident when someone who literally despises Barack Obama tweets the following:

caldwell and monkey tweet

Geoff Caldwell, a disturbingly reactionary columnist for the Joplin Globe, may never have heard of Ota Benga and his appearance as an exhibit in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. But he most certainly knows the awful and racist meaning behind calling President Obama a monkey. And that is precisely why he did it.

The only question remaining is whether the Joplin Globe will tolerate such behavior.

5 Comments

  1. Troy

     /  November 25, 2014

    Bravo! One has to learn how to listen to these right wingers with the “third” ear. He knew exactly what was being said by that idiot ! The globe should dismiss that asshole!

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  2. King Beauregard

     /  November 25, 2014

    Anson Burlingame is a steaming pile of shit.

    By which I clearly mean that he provides warmth and nourishment to the world around us.

    Like

  3. Ben Field

     /  November 26, 2014

    One thing Anson did not learn from his hero, Oliver North, is plausible deniability. He instead chooses Martha Stewart, and says its a good thing…to refer to the POTUS as a funny, scatter brained little “thing”. He is not Papa bear (too far to the left), nor Mama bear (too far to the right), he is Anson bear which is always just right. I am not saying Caldwell is Duane’s bitch, that is Anson.

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  November 26, 2014

    OK, one last shot at trying to get this particular argument back to earth.

    “You (he) is acting like a monkey” is a phrase often heard when I was growing up. It was not considered as a racial slur at that time. “Bush is a Nazi” was heard and read all over America in the recent past. No that is not a racial slur, but a slur against the character of the President of the United States? You bet it is.

    “Obama acts like (is a) monkey”. Obviously many consider that, today, a racial slur. Be my guest to so consider it. I on the other hand would read such opinion of our President, a slur for sure, as one reporting that Obama jumps from tree to tree with no plan for where he is going.

    I do not defend Caldwell for using the term monkey in reference to our President. He was wrong to do so and equally wrong for Duane to emphasis that remark when many other issues before us are “burning issues”. Nor do I defend anyone calling a past President a Nazi. What I usually do in such cases is ignore the writer or speaker of such nonsense, consider the statement or use of such words as sound bite hyperbole with no sense or reasoning behind it. Best thing to do with such people is ignore them, just as I ignore the “piece of shit” comment above.

    Who knows the final legacy of Barrack Obama. I certainly will not try to predict such a legacy. But I view Obama as an extraordinarily divisive President and use the amazing filp-flops in elections of recent years as the example. Obviously the whole country, a politically united country has failed to get behind the President and support his actions. Neither did the country do so for Bush II.

    I saw Romney as a potential uniter in 2012. In 2008 McCain would not have done so, unite America. Add Palin into the mix and no wonder Obama was elected in 2008. But he, Obama, gravely failed to unite America and American voters gave him full control of the Federal Government to put his various ideas in place. That lasted two long years and then look what happened as demanded by the majority of American voters.

    All of you blame the GOP for today’s political divide. Need I go back and get samples of all the slurs used by many against any and all things GOP, pieces of shit they all might be in your view.

    Obviously I have great concern for one party government in America and have written as such for a long time. No single man, nor a single party has a lock on the right thing to do in America or around the world on behalf of America. And yes, for a man with the ideas of Obama in the White House, one reflecting the sentiments in this blog, but stymied by Congress in carrying out all that he would like to do, well scares me for the sake of the future of America. If Duane Graham was President supported by a majority in Congress of his supporters that would give me as much concern for America, particularly my grand children, as if Rick Santorum were President supported by a majority of Tea Party men and women in Congress

    That is not a personal slur against Duane by the way. I know, almost instinctive”ly. where Duane will come down on a particular issue. Sometimes he surprises me, but not often, and I comment accordingly. But I respect Duane’s research, his clarity in writing and when he takes a position counter to normal liberal thinking (Syria comes to mind of late) he stands up against liberals who try to oppose him.

    Here is a burning example right now, Ferguson. Duane has yet to post on the events on Monday. I waited about 6 hours to see what he would say but then went ahead and posted on my blog my views on the matter. I was surprised this morning that Duane chose to post a full blog on the “monkey issue” and his shots at me therein. Ferguson is a helluva lot more important than my call for liberals to get off the racist epitaths against Obama detractors.

    Summing up another wall of text, which is worse? Caldwell calling Obama a monkey or the step father for inciting a riot by saying “Burn this bitch down”, repeatedly. No reaction, anywhere except herein to Caldwell’s use of the monkey slur but in fact part of the “bitch was burned” disastorously on Monday night.

    All the events in Ferguson SHOULD BE a full debate about the fairness of our justice system. Instead it is yet again a violent disagreement over issues of race.

    Too bad, a disastor, for America, in my view that we cannot get beyond race and rich v poor arguments. And here we are arguing about the use of the word monkey!!!

    Anson

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    • You wrote,

      I do not defend Caldwell for using the term monkey in reference to our President. He was wrong to do so and equally wrong for Duane to emphasis that remark when many other issues before us are “burning issues”.

      This is exactly what is wrong with contemporary conservatism. A guy makes a racist remark and another guy calls him out for it and both are “equally wrong.” That is utter bullshit, Anson.

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