A Monkey On My Back?

by Bob Frankenberg

As many of you know, this year's Technology Community Association's Freshman Picture Book was printed with a cartoon of a monkey on the cover, asking ``What does `intuitively obvious' mean?'' M.I.T. President Charles Vest prohibited the distribution of the book with this cover on the grounds that it might be offensive to African-American students, 1 claiming that the drawing ``could be misinterpreted as racially derogatory.''

Mind you, there was no reference to Africa or African-American students on the cover. It was just a drawing of a monkey in a lab coat. Somehow, though, Dr. Vest infered that this drawing might be offensive to African-American students. Are the statements ``African-Americans could be offended by depictions of monkeys'' and ``African-Americans are monkeys'' that dissimilar? Doesn't Dr. Vest bolster this outrageous viewpoint by making the implication himself? Does high octane fuel really get you higher gas mileage?

Assistant Dean for Residence and Campus Activities Susan Allen supported the decision, saying ``the concern about the picture was that the symbolism of a monkey-type creature has traditionally been used negatively in a racist manner in the United States to depict African-Americans.'' Does this mean that all drawings of monkeys are racially insensitive? Isn't Susan Allen more responsible than the artist for perpetuating any such bigotry? 2

Wouldn't I be considered anti-Semitic if I pronounced, ``All depictions of large noses and greedy bankers are offensive to Jews?'' Aren't I then as guilty of perpetuating these evil stereotypes as anyone who would purposely depict Jewish people in this manner? Wouldn't demanding that Lobdell not serve beans, because of Mexican students, be similarly distasteful? 3

I am Gay, and I love fruit. Apples, plums, bananas, and oranges: I could eat a couple of pounds of fruit a day. 4 The ``Fruit Fesitival'' at Senior House a couple of years ago was my favorite Rush event of all time. Should Dr. Vest and Ms. Allen prohibit this Rush event? Should they regulate the uses of fruit on campus, for my sake, so that I never become offended at a misplaced tomato, or an inappropriate kumquat?

Charles Vest and Susan Allen have made a terrible decision, bumbling through the whole issue of racial insensitivity, and setting a very dangerous precedent. I call upon them to immediately reverse this decision and apologize to the Freshman Picture Book people and the African-American community, before we decide that they should be offended by blocks-of-wood and vacuum-cylinders. 5


1 - Completely ignoring the real issue, which was that the cartoon wasn't funny

2 - And responsible for blatantly mistreating prepositions in the preceding quote

3 - The beans at Lobdell are pretty offensive, aren't they?

4 - If it weren't for the ``consequences''

5 - Or worse