No Joke For Some


To the Editors of The Crimson:

In December, as some people are sure to remember, right about the time when we were studying for finals and right about the time when few people wanted to become absorbed in any controversial battle over any issue, the Harvard Lampoon made a "joke" about Africa and African people. In the Lampoon's issue, "On Civilized Man," located inside the front and back cover there was a strip entitled "My Summer in Africa" that looked very much like the cartoon images that were being portrayed about Africa in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries by groups who wished to use such propaganda to legitimize the colonization, enslavement, and general inhumane treatment of these very some people. Africa and African cultures have been under attack ever since slavery made it essential that large groups of people actually believed that the enslaved Africans were too uncivilized to possess the "right" or the desire to have their own freedom, just as very similar images of savagery were being used to justify the many genocidal acts committed against Native Americans during these same periods of time. The Lampoon's depictions of what looked like less-than-human savages were no better than the frequent attacks in the past on the legitimacy of African and Native American peoples to live and exist freely in their own lands and under their own rule.

Too long and too often have Black people been made to feel ashamed of their roots among Africa's beautiful cultures because of these "Tarzan" depictions that have been hung over our heads by exploitative and unsensitive mediums such as the Lampoon. It has even gotten to the point where there are many Black people who just cannot stand to hear about their own past heritage in Africa because of all the belittling lies that we have been, and are still being told. And as these lies ruthlessly take away and sense of pride or respect that we as Black people can have in our own pre-American history, nobody seems to realize or care about the fact that the African communities of our past were not the savage and unsophisticated nightmares that the Lampoon chose to depict, but in fact they were based on very supportive, communal, and democratic systems that for the most part lived in harmony with one another, and just were not as warlike as many other cultures have proven to be.

If we accept the lack of concern and respect that the Lampoon has shown us by depicting Africans as what appears to be smiling spear-chuckers, putting women on stone altars for sacrifice, and carrying white men (Bwanas?) around on thrones as if they were kings or gods, as being nothing more than just another cultural, joke, or perhaps a simple outlet for the divergent humor of some member of the Lampoon staff, then we are allowing a painful history of cruel persecution through colonization, degradation, and outright humiliation to be abused once again. We just can't allow people to go on ignoring the vital lessons which should have been learned from our painful history and the many horrible wounds that it has left us with. Although it may seem insufficient and even unrealistic, the fact is the Harvard Lampoon owes us some form of retribution, or at least some type of apology. And more importantly, it is not just the Black students who unfortunately saw that cartoon to whom the Lampoon must apologize to, for really the Lampoon owes an apology to all the Black people whose past has been victimized by 400 years of a truly savage custom known as slavery, and to all the Black people living right now in a truly savage country known as South Africa, and to all the Black people all over the world who are still being subjected to savage racial hatred and bigotry.

Indeed, the Lampoon issues is an outrage, but what really bothers me is that after all that has happened to people of African descent for the last 400 years all around the Western world, there could still be anyone from any background who could in any way think it was funny. Alan Shaw '85, BSA President