In contrast to the political cartoon discussed in the previous post, THIS is a racist cartoon. Below is the Ethics Alarms post from 2014 titled, “9 Observations On The Boston Herald’s ‘Racist’ Cartoon”:
1. I’m adding this new #1 right at the beginning—there were originally only 8 observations—because some of the early comments suggest that I over-estimated some of my readers’ scholarship, historical knowledge and/or sensitivity on this issue, so let me be direct: the reference to any African- American having an affinity to watermelon is about a half-step from calling him or her a nigger, and maybe even closer than that. Clear? This is not a political correctness matter. If the reference is intentional, there can be no debate over whether it is racist or not. It is. The President of the United States should not be subjected to intentional racial slurs.
2. I’m amazed—I just don’t know how this could happen. How could this cartoon make it into print? Cartoonist Jerry Holbert explained that he came up with the idea to use watermelon flavor after finding “kids Colgate watermelon flavor” toothpaste in his bathroom at home. “I was completely naive or innocent to any racial connotations,” Holbert said. “I wasn’t thinking along those lines at all.” Is this possible? In a political cartoonist? On one hand, since the racial connotation is so obvious and so predictably offensive, it seems incredible that a cartoonist for a major daily would dare offer such a cartoon unless he really didn’t perceive the racial stereotype it referenced. On the other, the man is a political cartoonist, not a Japanese soldier who’s been hiding in a cave for decades. How could he not know this? How could his ethics alarms, racial slur alarms, survival alarms not go off?
I don’t get it.
3. Hence the quotes around “racist.” The only way the cartoon makes any sense to me is if Holbert is amazingly, wonderfully non-racist, and completely color blind. The flavor of the toothpaste is innocuous if one doesn’t think in racial terms at all. Maybe he just thinks about the President as the President. If so, isn’t that terrific? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was like that? Wouldn’t it be swell if a dumb detail like the flavor of the toothpaste in a cartoon that has nothing to do with race OR toothpaste wasn’t even noticed?
4. Except that Holbert works for a conservative newspaper, and was drawing a President whose supporters won’t let anyone forget he is black, since they interpret every critique or instance of opposition as racist, and have used race-baiting as a tactic unconscionably, and divisively, since before Obama was even elected. If Holbert hasn’t noticed any of this, his problem isn’t racism, it’s negligent inattention to the news, politics and culture. For someone in his field, that’s unethical too.
5. How did editors, publishers, proofreaders, printers, everyone not catch and stop this? Is everyone at the Herald 1) race-blind; 2) racist or 3) unbelievably lazy and inattentive?
It would seem so. Does anyone have another theory?
6. The Herald’s apology is ridiculous:
“As Jerry Holbert discussed on Boston Herald Radio this morning, his cartoon satirizing the U.S. Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people and to them we apologize. His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful. We stand by Jerry, who is a veteran cartoonist with the utmost integrity.”
What? The cartoon is per se offensive, however it was intended. The paper should be apologizing to the President, Boston, the nation and the world, not just those sensitive souls who the offensive cartoon offended. So, in other words, “All of you racists out there who like a good “Feets don’t fail me now!” gag, watermelon jokes and a fine minstrel show now and then, we’re glad you enjoyed it!” Seriously? No wonder no one stopped the presses. These are idiots we have here.
7. The Herald’s management, competence, and culture problems go beyond Holbert. I don’t see how he can stay employed there, and after they have fired him, management should consider firing itself. Or perhaps fold the paper. This is signature significance: such fools shouldn’t be reporting the news. How can you trust people like this? They are either lazy, stupid, reckless, or racist. Or all of these.
8. Various liberal websites, like this one, ran the cartoon without the caption. Despicable. The cartoon wasn’t bad enough: they had to materially misrepresent it to their red meat progressive readers who believe anyone who doesn’t cheer Obama is a racist. Without the caption, the cartoon appears to be racist by design and in message. This is lying.
9. Jeff, a.k.a. King Kool, is our resident cartoonist here, and though he walked out on Ethics Alarms, I would sure love to know what Barry Deutsch would suggest doing with Holbert too. Can a political cartoonist be allowed to have a second chance after this? Wouldn’t he be afraid of ever criticizing Obama again, and wouldn’t that render him useless?
Ampersand, aka Barry Deutch, did weigh in after my request (King Kool did not: where are you, Jeff?), and offered this:
“Keeping Holbert on or not shouldn’t be decided based on a single appalling mistake. First, because it’s a better world if everyone gets a second chance when reasonably possible. (I can think of exceptions – airline pilots who show up to work drunk shouldn’t get another shot, for instance – but as a general rule I want employers to err on the side of mercy.)
“Second, and more important, firing people for one stupid mistake sends a terrible message to all the other cartoonists, and would lead to worse cartooning in the long run. If cartoonists (and columnists) believe they can lose their careers based on a single day’s single stupid error, that will encourage meek, boring cartoons.
Wouldn’t he be afraid of ever criticizing Obama again, and wouldn’t that render him useless?
“If the goal is to avoid meek, overly cautious cartoons, then it’s better to retain Holbert than to fire him, for the reason I state above.
“If six months from now Holbert has turned out six months of terrible cartoons, then let him go at that time based on his terrible work. Pre-emptively firing him based on speculation about his future work maybe declining is wrong.”
* * *
“I generally agree with your post.
“A friend of mine did a long series of cartoons representing the US government as various sorts of monkeys and apes. He quit doing that series once it became clear Obama was going to be President. That was the right call to make; good political cartoonists avoid images that carry racist baggage when dealing with Black public figures. The question isn’t “is the cartoonist’s heart pure?,” but “is there an obvious horrible reading of this cartoon that the cartoonist could reasonably have avoided?”
“Also, agree with you that Liberal America’s cutting out the caption was appalling. I wrote the editor, but probably she’ll ignore me.”