A radio talk show host's reference to "little monkeys" while talking about students at Toledo Public Schools on Friday generated outrage that the language was insensitive to African-American students, and all students.
The host of WSPD-AM, 1370's Brian Wilson and the Afternoon Drive, said the city's school system fails to teach students to think or be entrepreneurs.
"But certainly, teaching little monkeys to peel bananas and so on and them learning to do it correctly on cue does not mean that they've learned everything except a funny parlor trick," Mr. Wilson told his audience.
Mr. Wilson, who was broadcasting the show from Virginia where he now lives, said he had no racial intent.
Wilson's 'little monkeys' comment
Two members of the Toledo Board of Education and the new president of the Toledo chapter of the NAACP said Mr. Wilson's remarks were demeaning to blacks and that Mr. Wilson should have known it.
The Rev. Kevin Bedford, president of the NAACP, said, "that language is absolutely deplorable and should not be tolerated. He is using an expression that has portrayed African-Americans in a most derogatory way," said Mr. Bedford. "The NAACP will send a letter to the parent company asking that he retract that statement and apologize to the community."
Mr. Bedford said Mr. Wilson is "picking on a very innocent population," and said Mr. Wilson should have used better language to express his frustration.
"That is a stinging metaphor in the African-American community. I hope that he would clarify that and be a person of good will. I hope that he would take the high road and clarify his position," Mr. Bedford said.
He said he would try to set up a "bridge-building" meeting with Mr. Wilson.
Larry Sykes, an African-American member of the Toledo Board of Education, noted there is a history of whites referring to blacks as monkeys, baboons, and gorillas.
He said Mr. Wilson was wrong to attack the school system for an educational curriculum that is largely dictated by state and national educational policies. He also said Toledo Public Schools has a good graduation rate (83.7 percent for 2008-09) and a large number of students who win scholarships to college.
"For him to relate to teaching kids like monkeys is an insult not just to me, but to all the parents who entrust their kids to Toledo Public Schools," Mr. Sykes said.
"It is an insult to all children, calling them animals. I hold Clear Channel accountable for allowing him to have the means to air stuff like that. It's insulting to our city. It's insulting to our parents that you would qualify them as animals. I want an apology from him."
Bob Vasquez, the newly re-elected president of the Toledo Board of Education, was equally outraged.
"That phrase is totally inappropriate and I find it offensive," Mr. Vasquez said. "And I will stand by the quality of our teachers and our administration and I will also stand by the students of Toledo Public Schools as students who want to learn as much as anyone else."
Following the "monkey" reference, Mr. Wilson explained that, "similarly, the children, just because you can teach them the answers to what are the capitals of the 50 states of America — that's a fun exercise, but it does not teach them how to think, it doesn't teach them how to be objective, it doesn't teach them how to be entrepreneurs and individuals, and things of that order."
Andy Stuart, vice president and general manager for the Clear Channel Communications station, said he had not heard the remarks by Mr. Wilson and refused to comment about them.
Later in the same program, in a discussion with a caller about parents who send their children to school unfed and unbathed, Mr. Wilson said that it is a mistake for the schools to provide everything from toothpaste to birth control pills because it creates a disincentive and fosters a "plantation mentality."
Contacted later by phone at his home near Lynchburg, Va., Mr. Wilson sloughed off the criticism of those who read racism into his diatribe about public education.
He said academic studies have been done that prove his point.
"The information is out there. The fact that I encapsulate it and reference it and so on for individuals who are too ignorant to grasp the essential meaning of it and would prefer the cheaper out of calling me a racist, that's just another ad hominem showing me that those people are intellectually out of ammunition and their brains just went ‘click,'" Mr. Wilson said.
He said he was not referencing African-American students.
He said he often uses the plantation analogy to express his idea that schools teach motor skills and how to pass tests and to obey rules but "stunt the intellectual growth and intellectual advancement of students."
During the interview he used another animal metaphor, saying that American education follows a model established in Germany to train "young minds to be good little government lemmings."
WSPD's talk jocks have a history of creating race controversy, sometimes in the name of humor.
Talk show host Scott Sloan was suspended for a week after he told listeners in November, 1999, that the Rev. Jesse Jackson wanted to be assassinated and be a martyr like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and then added, "All we need now is a shooter."
A couple of weeks later, another former Toledo Clear Channel personality, Denny Schaffer of WVKS-FM, 92.5, apologized on the air to WilliAnn Moore, then the president of the Toledo NAACP chapter, for airing a telephone call to her in which he said he wanted to eat lunch with her at a Denny's restaurant "and see if we all get served." The national restaurant chain had been the target of a federal discrimination probe and in 1994 settled a pair of class-action lawsuits for $54 million.
In March, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission fined the station $4,000 for Mr. Schaffer's action in broadcasting the telephone exchange between him and Ms. Moore without notifying her in advance. FCC policy requires radio stations to notify a person that he or she is live on the air or being taped for possible use on the air.
In a statement on Dec. 6, 1999, Clear Channel vowed it would have "a zero-tolerance policy on racially biased themes or stereotypes as a means to harm, degrade, or injure individuals or groups."
To make amends for the two incidents, WSPD in May, 2000, conducted a multiday seminar on racial sensitivity and pledged to establish a minority-issues advisory board, start an internship program for Toledo Public Schools students, and set aside $30,000 in advertising time to publicize fund-raisers for minority groups.
Two years later, a Toledo representative of Mr. Jackson's organization, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, commended WSPD for living up to its commitments. It was not known last night if WSPD still follows the commitments made in 2000.
A phone call and an e-mail to a spokesman for Clear Channel Communications in San Antonio were not immediately returned Friday night.
Nationally, monkey references in connection with blacks have gotten people in trouble.
New York Post owner Rupert Murdoch in 2009 apologized after a racially offensive political cartoon sparked daily protests outside the newspaper's offices. The cartoon depicted two New York cops shooting a chimpanzee and saying, "They'll have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill." The stimulus was an initiative of President Obama, the nation's first black president.
In 1983, sportscaster Howard Cosell was criticized for calling a black football player a little monkey on a Monday Night Football broadcast. Mr. Cosell said, in reference to Washington Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett, "That little monkey gets loose, doesn't he?" Mr. Cosell refused calls from civil rights leaders to apologize, saying the term was one of endearment. He quit Monday Night Football at the end of the season.