Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.
Roland S. Martin says NY Post editors should have seen that the cartoon would be considered offensive.
(CNN) -- President Obama earned kudos from the media when he said he screwed up in nominating Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services despite his problem with paying taxes.
Too bad the leadership of the New York Post didn't follow the lead of the president in admitting that an editorial cartoon they ran today by Sean Delonas was offensive, careless and racist.
If you haven't seen the editorial in question, it shouldn't take you long to figure out that the subtle message was clear: comparing President Obama to a chimpanzee.
In the cartoon, a cop is holding a smoking gun and, with another officer, looking at a bullet-riddled body of a chimpanzee. The caption reads: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." New York Post: See Sean Delonas cartoons
In a statement to The Associated Press, Col Allan, the Post's editor-in-chief, said the cartoon was an obvious reference to the story of a chimp in Connecticut that viciously attacked a woman and was killed by police.
"The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist," he said, referencing a news release the civil rights activist sent out blasting the paper and demanding an apology.
Delonas, the cartoonist, said to CNN, "It's absolutely friggin ridiculous. Do you really think I'm saying Obama should be shot? I didn't see that in the cartoon. The chimpanzee was a major story in the Post. Every paper in New York, except The New York Times, covered the chimpanzee story. It's just ridiculous. It's about the economic stimulus bill. If you're going to make that about anybody, it would be [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, which it's not." Watch Roland Martin, other CNN panelists debate cartoon »
To the editors who approved the cartoon, as well as the cartoonist, the piece was clearly all fun and laughs. But anyone with half a brain, especially someone knowing the history of African-Americans being called monkeys and gorillas, would have said, "We need to rethink this."
First, mixing the two stories is ridiculous. Yes, the chimpanzee incident and the passage of the stimulus bill have a lot of folks talking, but to put them in the same element just doesn't make sense. Watch civil rights groups criticize the cartoon »
Second, the cartoonist didn't hang a sign around the neck of the chimp, so he left it up to the reader to determine exactly who the cops were referring to.
We all know that the stimulus bill was the first priority of the new president, so when reading the caption, it was easy to infer that the cartoonist was implying the president of the United States.
You know, the black guy.
And that's where the problem comes in.
What could be seen as silly humor if President George W. Bush were in the White House has to be seen through the lens of America's racist past, as noted by the leaders of the New York Association of Black Journalists, who also are demanding an apology from the Post. iReport.com: iReporter very offended by cartoon
"How do you think the Jewish community would feel about the use of rats in any depiction of them? How do you think the Italian community would feel about being generalized with mobsters?" the organization said in a statement.
"Monkey slurs against Africans and African-Americans go back to the days of early colonialism, when Anglo Saxon, Spanish and Portuguese conquerors used these types of drawings and descriptions to dehumanize black people so that their mistreatment and enslavement would not be viewed as wrong or sinful. The practice also took on more sinister roles later in history including during the slave trade here in the U.S. and in Hitler's Nazi Germany."
Ignorant leaders of the New York Post and others may think everything is fair game, and certainly criticizing the president of the United States is just fine. Yet while everyone seems to be caught up in the delusion of a post-racial America, we cannot forget the reality of the racial America, where African-Americans were treated and portrayed as inferior and less than others.
And just as some members of the media brotherhood were taken to task for their obvious sexism during the Democratic primaries because of comments about then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, we had to be sensitive to the historical treatment of women.
Oh yes, the Post will have its defenders, accusing African-Americans and others of being hypersensitive. The Post has already shown its hand by trying to make this all about Sharpton, since they know he's the black bogeyman to white America. But they should understand that my e-mail box and Facebook page are filled with comments from folks of different backgrounds stunned by the callousness of the Post. iReport.com: Is the cartoon racist?
I guess it's fitting the cartoon ran today, because the best statement to sum up the issue can be taken from a black history month speech given today by our first black attorney general, Eric Holder.
"Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African-American as our president for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past -- and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country -- endures," he said.
"One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country, one must examine its racial soul."
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.