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Open Letter: John Legend Addresses NY Post’s “Racist” Cartoon

Open Letter to the New York Post

Dear Editor:

I’m trying to understand what possible motivation you may have had for publishing that vile cartoon depicting the shooting of the chimpanzee that went crazy. I guess you thought it would be funny to suggest that whomever was responsible for writing the Economic Recovery legislation must have the intelligence and judgment of a deranged, violent chimpanzee, and should be shot to protect the larger community. Really? Did it occur to you that this suggestion would imply a connection between President Barack Obama and the deranged chimpanzee? Did it occur to you that our President has been receiving death threats since early in his candidacy? Did it occur to you that blacks have historically been compared to various apes as a way of racist insult and mockery? Did you intend to invoke these painful themes when you printed the cartoon?

If that’s not what you intended, then it was stupid and willfully ignorant of you not to connect these easily connectible dots. If it is what you intended, then you obviously wanted to be grossly provocative, racist and offensive to the sensibilities of most reasonable Americans. Either way, you should not have printed this cartoon, and the fact that you did is truly reprehensible. I can’t imagine what possible justification you have for this. I’ve read your lame statement in response to the outrage you provoked. Shame on you for dodging the real issue and then using the letter as an opportunity to attack Rev. Sharpton. This is not about Rev. Sharpton. It’s about the cartoon being blatantly racist and offensive.

I believe in freedom of speech, and you have every right to print what you want. But freedom of speech still comes with responsibilities and consequences. You are responsible for printing this cartoon, and I hope you experience some real consequences for it. I’m personally boycotting your paper and won’t do any interviews with any of your reporters, and I encourage all of my colleagues in the entertainment business to do so as well. I implore your advertisers to seriously reconsider their business relationships with you as well.

You should print an apology in your paper acknowledging that this cartoon was ignorant, offensive and racist and should not have been printed.

I’m well aware of our country’s history of racism and violence, but I truly believe we are better than this filth. As we attempt to rise above our difficult past and look toward a better future, we don’t need the New York Post to resurrect the images of Jim Crow to deride the new administration and put black folks in our place. Please feel free to criticize and honestly evaluate our new President, but do so without the incendiary images and rhetoric.

Sincerely,

John Legend

Editor’s note: The New York Post has apologized with the following statement, but defended their position:

Wednesday’s Page Six cartoon — caricaturing Monday’s police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut — has created considerable controversy. But it has been taken as something else — as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism. This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize. However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past — and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback. To them, no apology is due. Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon — even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.”

Reverend Al Sharpton offered a counter statement:

“The New York Post statement will be discussed by all of the leadership of the various groups that have mobilized and we will respond to it at the rally at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow outside of the New York Post. At this point there will be no cancellation of the rally and though we think it is the right thing for them to apologize to those they offended, they seem to want to want to blame the offense on those of whom raised the issue, rather than take responsibility for what they did. However, rather than engage as they are in name calling back and forth, we will make a collective decision on how to proceed. All of us can only wish the New York Post had taken a more mature position when the issue was first raised rather than belatedly come with a conditional statement after people began mobilizing and preparing to challenge the waiver of News Corp in the City where they own several television stations and newspapers.”

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