“Assassinate the Nigger Ape” : Obama, Implicit Imagery, and the Dire Consequences of Racist Jokes
In 1994, Congress passed legislation stating that Presidents elected to office after January 1, 1997 would no longer receive lifetime Secret Service protection. Such legislation was unremarkable until the first Black President—Barack Obama—was elected. From the outset of his campaign until today, and likely beyond, President Obama has received unprecedented death threats. These threats, we argue, are at least in part tied to critics’ and commentators’ use of symbols, pictures, and words to characterize Obama as a primate in various forms. As a point of departure, we refer specifically to the racist humor in Sean Delonas’ controversial New York Post cartoon of February 2009. Against this backdrop while looking to history, cultural studies, theories of humor, federal case law, as well as cognitive and social psychology, we explore how the use of seemingly harmless imagery may still be racially-laden and evoke violence against its object. By employing this rigorously interdisciplinary approach to the topic, we bridge the theoretical with the empirical in order to make a compelling case for the direct link between jokes—and cultural symbolism more broadly—and assassination threat to the United States’ first Black President.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Assassination threats, Racism
Parks, Gregory S. and Heard, Danielle C., "“Assassinate the Nigger Ape” : Obama, Implicit Imagery, and the Dire Consequences of Racist Jokes" (2009). Cornell Law Faculty Working Papers. Paper 61.