Comparing Black People to Apes: It’s Worse Than You Thought

Race Manners: A friend who makes this type of comment needs a lesson about the contemporary implications of an age-old racist association.

Earlier in 2014, the Belgian newspaper De Morgen ran an image depicting President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama as apes. Twitter

“The association between ‘black’ and ‘ape’ left our white respondents more open to the possibility that police violence might, in fact, be justified,” Goff said.

In another study—examining 183 criminal cases in which a defendant was eligible for the death penalty, as well as the language used in Philadelphia Enquirer articles about those cases—“it turned out African Americans had significantly more ape-related images ascribed to them than did whites,” said Goff. Worse: “Among African Americans, the more ape-related images you had in your press coverage, the more likely you were to be put to death.”

Let’s assume that your wife’s friend doesn’t think these are good things and doesn’t want to perpetuate theses connections, here or abroad. Given that she had dinner in your (black) home and is a longtime friend of your (black) wife, I doubt she’s coming from the same place as the people on the white supremacist website Chimpout (I won’t link to it here), or any of the other hateful places the Internet has to offer for those who put “blacks” and “monkeys” into a search engine.

Consider sending her an email to let her know why her remarks troubled you, and include a link to Goff’s research.

Hopefully she’ll scrutinize her views. But at the very least, she’ll have some information that may make her pause before behaving like a monkey by expressing those views while she’s a guest in someone else’s home.

Jenée Desmond-Harris, The Root’s associate editor of features, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

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Previously in Race Manners: “Is Using Lotion a Black Thing?

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