It’s happened to me before. About once every five years, according to my editor, I draw something and people react very negatively. In those cases, the symbolism that I’ve chosen overwhelms the message I’m trying to make. I’m not trying to let the guy off the hook, but he just didn’t do a good enough job looking at the big picture, so that a small mistake turned into a big one.
You still have to show sensitivity because of the African-American experience with racism. You can’t ignore that, even though we’re making strides. With Obama, we see him as a human being, we don’t see him as black or white.
Nick Anderson, editorial cartoonist, Houston Chronicle:
I thought it was a pretty clumsy metaphor. Anyone with the slightest awareness of the history of race in this country should have realized that this is an inflammatory image. Cartoonists often make a reference to seemingly unrelated events to draw a parallel.
People have used cartoons throughout history with pernicious reasons; Nazis used inflammatory images of Jews in order to dehumanize them.
It would help if everyone took a deep breath and tried to calm down. You can say it was insensitive or ignorant, but I think a lot of the outrage is manufactured. It would be better if we can get into a deeper conversation about race, and why we are sensitive about it. But as a cartoonist, I don’t want to be sensitive when I draw. Instead, I think you should be aware of how images could be interpreted.
Gary Varvel, editorial cartoonist, The Indianapolis Star:
I knew what the guy was trying to say, and I don’t remember thinking “racist” at all. He was taking a news event and tying the ludicrous stimulus bill to it, and he was making fun of Congress who drafted this bill.
This happens a lot with editorial cartoons. People want to read into it what they want to see. He was trying to poke fun at Congress for making this thing, and he used a news angle to criticize them.
With political correctness, everyone’s hypersensitive. There are some things you can criticize openly, and some things you can’t. Images like a sombrero, sometimes that’s an offensive image, but people can wear cowboy hats.
But, because most editorial cartoonists are white men, it’s a difficult situation.
As a cartoonist, you don’t like to be limited. I try to be sensitive to the point. If I had this said about me, is it fair? Sometimes we can do an unfair cartoon, because we’re pushing the envelope.
There was a generation of people who lived before me who made slurs about African-Americans. Maybe in the next generation we’ll go beyond those things.
Emily Flake, freelance cartoonist:
I thought it was a really bad cartoon on a lot of levels, because there’s not really a joke there. Unless you really over-explain that you didn’t think that stimulus bill was very good, and it just so happened that there was a monkey attacked someone. The statement that the reference to the monkey was not supposed to be racist is really disingenuous. Everybody knows that there’s a racist trope of referring to black people as monkeys, and if you’re saying that you didn’t know that, then you’re so full of shit. It was insulting to their readers and to cartoonists.
This is in a daily newspaper. This isn’t HBO and it’s not Sarah Silverman. Jokes that play with race and lampoon race don’t really have a place in the daily family. My heart goes out to anyone who is getting a drubbing on the Internet, but at the same time, he could have thought about it a little bit better about this.