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‘Apology not accepted’ — Dallas County monkeypox flyer image of African American man causes stir

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Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price had some pointed questions for Dr. Philip Huang, the head of the county's public health department, over a monkeypox poster that featured the cartoon of a smiling African American man.

A flyer advertising a pop-up clinic for monkeypox vaccines in Dallas this month had information about the date, time, and location. It had a QR code so people could book appointments.

But it also contained something disturbing: a cartoon drawing of a solitary African American man smiling about his new vaccine.

There were no other races depicted on the flyer. The flyer had the potential of incorrectly stigmatizing African American men. Associating people of color with monkeys has a long racist history. And NPR reported last month that experts worry feelings of stigma around the name "monkeypox’" could discourage people from seeking medical care.

The flyer led to complaints and, eventually, to heated criticism during Tuesday’s meeting of the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court.

“Why do you put an African American man on the dadgum flyer?” asked Commissioner John Wiley Price, the only African American on the court.

The head of the county’s public health department, Dr. Philip Huang, apologized. He said the flyer “was not well executed” and then replaced as soon as he heard complaints.

“Apology not accepted, Dr. Huang,” Price said. "I love people who always apologize after the cow has left the barn.”

Huang said the flyer was made by employees within his department, but he took responsibility for it.

The flyer advertised a “Monkeypox Pop-Up Clinic” on Sept. 9 and 11 at Station 4, a gay dance club in Dallas.

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Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
A flier advertising a pop-up clinic for monkeypox vaccines in Dallas this month caused a stir at the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday.

Both Price and Huang agreed the correct strategy would have been to put drawings of men of several races on the flyer. Monkeypox is often transmitted by close skin-to-skin contact. Cases are primarily found among men who have sex with men.

According to statistics Huang presented Tuesday, there are 677 cases of monkeypox in Dallas County. Ten cases are among women, and the rest are men. The racial breakdown is: white (124), Black (229), Hispanic (127), Asian or Pacific Islander (13), other (43), and unknown (141).

“It was an error,” Huang said. “We pulled it as soon as it became apparent, and we replaced it.”

Price has repeatedly criticized Parkland Hospital recently for a 2020 incident when a vice president gifted sock monkey mugs to some Black employees. Officials there investigated after receiving complaints the mugs were offensive, according the Dallas Morning News.

“Much as I’ve talked about this whole monkey thing, you publish a piece with a Black man’s picture on monkeypox,” Price said Tuesday. “Unacceptable.”

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.