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?