COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A state Republican activist has admitted to and apologized for calling a gorilla that escaped from the Riverbanks Zoo Friday an "ancestor" of First Lady Michelle Obama.
A screen capture of the comment, made on the Internet site Facebook, was obtained by FITSNews, the website of South Carolina politico Will Folks.
The image shows a post by an aide to state Attorney General Henry McMaster describing Friday morning's gorilla escape at Columbia's Riverbanks Zoo.
Longtime SCGOP activist and former state Senate candidate Rusty DePass responded with the comment, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors - probably harmless."
DePass told WIS News 10 he was talking about First Lady Michelle Obama.
And then DePass offered the rote non-apology apology:
We spoke with DePass over the phone Friday night. He said, "I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest."
Clearly in jest. Clearly. Surely. Only humorless, hypersensitive, politically correct people would make a stink over something so harmless. How could anybody be offended by a joke that DePass probably heard the first version of from his grandfather who heard it from his grandfather?
Ah, yes, those Republicans have such a rambunctious funnybone. So funny, in fact, that they can't leave well enough alone and nearly always make things worse by just making shit up:
DePass took his apology a bit further. He also said, "The comment was hers. Not mine," saying the first lady made statements in the media recently saying we are all descendants of apes.
But an Internet search for those comments turned up no news articles of the like.
No surprise there. In fact, the ape reference in relation to African Americans has a long history. But it's not just history. Some Americans, especially those of us raised in the South, grew up with it as standard fare, even in the classroom. While the crudest depictions of black people as apes have disappeared from American culture, for many there remains a mental association of African Americans with apes.
Not only is it not a jest, it is also not harmless prejudice. According to six cognitive studies put together by a team of psychologists led by Professor Philip Atiba Goff, "participants’ basic cognitive processes ... significantly alter[ed] their judgments in criminal justice contexts."
Included in the team's studies - published as "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences" - was an archival look at hundreds of articles published in the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1979-1999. They discovered that blacks convicted of capital crimes were four times more likely than convicted whites to be described with "ape-relevant" language, such as "barbaric," "beast," "brute," "savage" and "wild." Worse, they wrote:
...those who are implicitly portrayed as more apelike in these articles are more likely to be executed by the state than those who are not. [My emphasis - MB]
Arriving in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, I went on dozens of ridealongs in police cruisers as part of an effort to get acquainted with the gang phenomenon in the part of the city that was then called South Central, then predominately African American. Officers constantly would refer to a call as an N.H.I. I soon discovered this meant No Humans Involved.
I suppose Rusty DePass would find that pretty funny, too.