The New York Post has apologized for a cartoon it carried earlier this week which was open to the construal that President Obama was being portrayed as a chimpanzee. As the Guardian reports, there have been protests on the grounds that 'the cartoon echoed racist stereotypes of blacks as monkeys'. I think that these protests are justified, and indeed I have anticipated something like this very episode in a number of earlier posts, citing the example of a monkey cartoon to argue that symbols have public meanings which sometimes go beyond what their users intend, and that a symbol can be racist - as this one evidently is, given the way that monkey imagery and gesture have often been used to mock and demean black people - even if the person deploying it is unaware of its being so.
For these reasons, the New York Post's apology is an inadequate one. It is both relevant and of some import (in a mitigating sense) that the intent of the cartoonist wasn't racist. But the symbol is racist nonetheless, and therefore the newspaper should have apologized, without qualification, for using it. By addressing its apology only 'to those who were offended by the image', the paper encourages the inference that it is apologizing because some were offended, rather than because of its own misuse - albeit merely thoughtless rather than malicious - of a racist image. The taking of offence, however, is not necessarily sound justification for the offer of an apology; people can take offence without good reason. The giving of good reasons for offence, as in the present case - this can be a proper matter for apology. But then the apology should be unambiguously for the action that caused offence and not just a response to the fact that offence was taken.