Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Republican Racism Example #3: Prominent Republican Compares Michelle Obama to Cheetah

Early in the Obama administration, Republicans in high places got into a habit of depicting the nation’s first African American President, Barack Obama, and his wife Michelle as simians.

In March 2010, Walt Baker, a supporter of the GOP and the Chief Executive Officer of the Tennessee Hospitality Association, sent out an email to a dozen people, including a member of the press and the Nashville mayor’s legislative  aide Todd Compton, with a picture of First Lady Michelle Obama next to a photo of Cheetah, the chimpanzee sidekick of movie and children’s literature hero Tarzan, a fictitious white man who lived in the wilds of Africa.  The email, in which Baker claimed he discussed the characters in several Tarzan books and movies  with the title character, read as follows:

“Quoting Larry the Cable Guy...I don't care who you are, this is funny...
I was at the store yesterday, and I ran into Tarzan! I asked him how it was going and if he was into anymore [sic.] movies.

He told me that he could no longer make any more movies as he had severe arthritis in both shoulders and could no longer swing from vine to tree.
I asked how Jane was doing, he told me she was in bad shape, in a nursing home, has Alzheimer's and no longer recognizes anyone, how sad. I asked about Boy, and he told me that Boy had gone to the big city, got hooked up with bad women, drugs, alcohol, and the only time he heard from him was if he was in trouble or needed something.

I asked about Cheeta [sic.], he beamed and said she was doing good, had married a Lawyer and now lived in the White House!!!”  (Baker apparently thinks a joke is funnier if you add multiple exclamation points).

This text was above these pictures of a chimp and the first lady:

Walt Baker,  Republican activist and the Chief Executive Officer of the Tennessee Hospitality Association, insisted he didn't see anything shocking about comparing these photographs of a chimpanzee and the First Lady.  (Images from http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2010/03/05/nothing-funny-about-this-monkey-mail). 
In the standard non-apology apology Baker said the email was "political humor.  " He told a reporter that he didn't think about the racist implications when he sent it. He said he was is sorry if "anyone was offended.”
Baker insisted,  “It's not a political statement.  It was done in the spirit of having some fun with some close friends. It was something that was forwarded to me, and I forwarded it to a couple of people that, quite honestly, I thought might find some humor in it like I did." The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau didn’t buy Baker’s explanation and, after describing the email as “unacceptable and not representative of our organization and what we stand for,” they fired him.  Baker then sent a one-word email that said, “Sorry.” For more, see http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2010/03/05/nothing-funny-about-this-monkey-mail, http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/2010/03/07/michelle-obama-compared-to-tarzans/ and http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/tennessee-ceo-walt-baker-humor-e-mail-gag-comparing-michelle-obama-tarzan-chimp-article-1.176291.)

Walt Baker’s racist email comparing Michelle Obama to an ape led to his dismissal.  To paraphrase Baker, I don’t care who you are, his email was not funny.  Just racist and  extremely stupid.  (Photo from http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-03-07/news/27058303_1_e-mail-tarzans-political-humor). 

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History
(Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States,
Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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