By Farooq A. Kperogi
The American mainstream is pretending to be in shock over the invidious racist slander against Michelle Obama by a prominent South Carolina conservative Republican activist identified as Rusty DePass who described his country's First Lady as being descended from a "gorilla."
DePass, a former Republican state senate candidate and early supporter of George W. Bush in South Carolina in 2000, remarked on his Facebook status update that a gorilla that recently escaped from Columbia's Riverbank Zoo is "just one of Michelle's ancestors - probably harmless." (Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina).
Rusty DePass: The face of a racist
But what actually shocks me is that people are shocked at all that a Southern conservative Republican harbors such sick and virulent anti-black gall. South Carolina, for starters, has the dubious honor of being the first Southern state to secede from the United States in the 1800s on account of its desire to keep black Americans enslaved in perpetuity.
And this state, which ironically has the highest percentage of American blacks in the entire United States, has since been one of the most depressing outposts of racial intolerance in America. But, well, to be fair, this isn't merely a South Carolina problem; it's a southern United States problem.
Usually, any Southerner who is conservative and Republican is more likely than not to nurse deep-seated historical and personal grudges against American blacks for any number of reasons, chief among which is that they dared to set themselves free from slavery and Jim Crow segregation with the active help, of course, of white liberals, especially white liberals from the American North whom conservative Southern whites derisively called "carpet baggers."
So, for me, to be shocked that a Southern (and, for that matter, a South Carolinian)conservative Republican activist is racist is the real shock. What did mainstream America expect?
I have pointed out in this blog many times that my own experience living in (southern) United States is that Republicanism and conservatism have now become almost synonymous with and indistinguishable from racism, xenophobia and other vile forms of intolerance.
But DePass said his “comment was clearly in jest." Jest, my foot! Well, perhaps his is right. "Conservative humor" is often no more than the ventilation of undisguised bile against weak, historically marginalized minorities in the American society--blacks, Hispanics, women, non-Christians, the poor, etc--whom hate-filled white conservatives perceive as constituting a threat to their privilege:
This knowledge explained why when one of my good American friends who describes himself as "conservative" (but who often strikes me as too decent and too broadminded to be conservative) forwarded to me a "conservative joke" sometime ago, it took me weeks before I could summon the courage to open it.
I didn't want another gratuitous insult at my humanity in the name of "conservative humor." It is hard enough to be uprooted, even if voluntarily, in a strange land away from one's family and the familiar sights and sounds of the land of one's birth; it's intolerable to have to suffer the denigration of my human worth by socially insensitive wimps whose stock in trade is to perpetually crack "jokes" at the expense of the humanity of the weak and the disadvantaged.
Thank goodness, it turned out that the "joke" was merely a simplistic and uninformed jibe on the poor and the disempowered. Well, since the bulk of poor and disaffiliated people in America are, in any case, American blacks, perhaps the joke could be called racist on the sly.
And, believe me, many will consider this racist-on-the-sly joke from conservatives gracious. American conservatives have no reputation for being sly about their intolerance and hate; they are often, for the most part, unapologetic, even aggressive, about it.
So when the South Carolina Republican activist "joked" on his Facebook status update that a gorilla that escaped at Columbia's Riverbank Zoo is "just one of Michelle's ancestors," he was merely repeating a familiar, well-worn (southern) conservative Republican so-called simian "jokes" about black people. These guys still call our humanity into question--in this day and age!
Any typical conservative web site you visit will not fail to provide you with limitless examples of references to black people as monkeys, gorillas, apes, etc. In fact, "King Kong," a fictional giant ape in a 1933 movie of the same name, is the favorite nickname for Michelle Obama in conservative blogs and web sites.
Well, the best response to DePass and his ilk is to remind them, for whatever it's worth, that a "gorilla" is their First Lady and the wife of their president who is also part "gorilla." Now, what does that make them?
The original story is reproduced below:
GOP activist says escaped gorilla was "ancestor" of Michelle Obama
Posted: June 12, 2009 07:19 PM
Updated: June 13, 2009 05:07 PM
By Ben Hoover - bio | email
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.
DePass has been involved in state politics for decades, and helped elect Republican Governor Jim Edwards in 1974. He was an early South Carolina supporter of former President George W. Bush in 2000.
We asked some of DePass' political allies and rivals what they thought about the comment.
"Even if it was taken out of context - its not something that should have ever been said. It's sad, disappointing, and unfortunate," said former SCGOP Chairman Katon Dawson.
Columbia Mayor Bob Coble also condemns the comment.
"You know, I think the comment is inappropriate. It's a racist comment," he says. "I think Mr. DePass should apologize."
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."
"You know, I don't think there's anything funny about that comment," says Coble. "That is the First Lady of the United States. We've had a long tradition of wonderful first ladies, and I don't think any of them deserve that type of comment."
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 descendents of apes.
But an Internet search for those comments turned up no news articles of the like.
"I don't know of any," says Coble.
All of that aside, the mayor wants a clear-cut apology.
"Rusty DePass is well known in the community, and I know he's done very good things in addition to his political work," says Mayor Coble. "I don't want a comment like that coming out of Columbia, South Carolina for the world to comment on."
The comment has been removed from Facebook. DePass' Facebook page has also been deleted.