“Offensive” Michelle Obama ape picture one of dozens

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Google posted an apology for image search results in which the top image depicted first lady Michelle Obama as an ape. The image, however, was just one of dozens of images of celebrities and political figures altered to look like apes.

The image, which has been circulating on the Internet for over a year, drew little attention until it began appearing as the top result in Google image searches for Michelle Obama after being posted to a spam blog. That site has since taken down the picture, and the image no longer appears in the top image search results.

Google says that its search results are automatically generated via computer algorithms. “The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results,” the statement said.

Ironically, the interest in this image has caused Google’s automated system to suggest a related search of “michelle obama monkey” when people search for images of Michelle Obama.

Many people have called the image racist and offensive. But Jasmine Waters, whose entertainment blog FlyStyleLife was among the first to republish the image, disagreed, attributing the image to a site called Celebrity Apes.

“If you choose to visit the source site, you will see that this picture WAS NOT created out of racially motivated ignorance,” Waters wrote after posting the image of Mrs. Obama. “Had that have been the case, as a journalist, an American and most importantly, a Black woman, I would have NEVER posted it.”

Before being taken down Wednesday, Celebrity Apes contained altered images of John McCain, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, Michael Jackson, Jessica Alba, Sarah Silverman, Barack Obama himself, and dozens of other celebrities and political figures. Nobody was spared, not even Ron Paul.

Celebrity Apes is owned by Michael Hussey, 31, of Alfred, Maine. Hussey runs Sharper Communications, a public relations firm which says on its web site that its “goal is to develop & implement creative and strategic breakthrough PR programs that get our clients noticed via news publicity.” In the 1990s Hussey created the Rate My Face web site, a precursor to the better-known Hot or Not. His personal blog shows an image of Sarah Palin as a parrot.

Likening a “person of color” to an ape or monkey has been considered a racial insult since the times of African slavery. Since the Darwinian theory of evolution became widely accepted, the insult has been used to refer to anyone, regardless of race, to suggest that the person had not sufficiently evolved. In the case of Celebrity Apes and the photo in question, it appears to be simply a series of ill-considered jokes.

Nevertheless, reading the news as I do, sometimes I have to wonder whether the people who are running the country, whatever race, color or political party they are, have actually evolved past the monkey stage.

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