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Utahns’ Obama monkeys racist?

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WEST JORDAN — A West Jordan company selling a sock monkey modeled after black presidential candidate Barack Obama contends the idea wasn't racially motivated.

TheSockObama LLC is marketing the dolls online as a way to "fall in love with your chosen candidate all over again."

However, the racial undertones of depicting black Americans as monkeys date back to the Jim Crow era when blacks were compared to monkeys in efforts to frame them as a lesser race.

"When I saw something like that going on locally, I was a little bit upset," said Misty Fowler of Utah for Obama. But then she decided the sellers either have a misguided sense of humor "or are someone to be ignored."

Asked if the item was racist, she said, "It could be taken that way." Or, Fowler said, "It's entirely possible somebody couldn't see how it could be offensive. I'm not worried about it."

Either way, she said, the product shouldn't be seen as representing all Utahns' attitudes toward race. "There are people like that everywhere, so I don't think it is a reflection on the average Utahn," Fowler said.

Contacts for TheSockObama are listed with the state as David J. and Elizabeth A. Lawson of West Jordan. David Lawson declined to comment on Friday. But in a letter to New York Magazine, TheSockObama indicated the doll wasn't meant to offend anyone.

"We guess there is an element of naivete on our part, in that we don't think in terms of myths, fables, fairy tales and folk lore," the letter read. "We wonder now if this might be a great opportunity to take this moment to really try and transcend still existing racial biases."

The letter goes on to explain that the company is considering a Republican candidate doll starting with a "slightly lumpy, fuzzy Idaho potato," and had considered crafting a "Squirellary" doll if Sen. Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic nomination.

However, Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP, said the sock monkey can only be interpreted as offensive.

"In essence, it's pure racism at its extreme," Williams said. "I hope it does not reflect Utah's values as a people."

The sock monkey isn't the first merchandise to compare Obama to a monkey. Last month, a Georgia bar owner came under fire for selling T-shirts depicting the cartoon chimp Curious George peeling a banana with "Obama in '08" written underneath.

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com