The Arizona Desert Lamp

Cartoon Controversy II: The Farce

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 5 November 2008

First, sorry for the absence of posting yesterday; Election Day was a bit busy for me, as you can read about here.

Secondly, the Senate report is forthcoming as soon as possible, but only to make sure that every meeting is on record. Nothing of any importance happened, and the meeting was cut short to make sure that the Senate could make it to a 5:30 meeting being held at the MLK Center over a recent “controversial printing in today’s Wildcat.”

So, what is this controversy? The cartoon page has recently started contracting its cartoons from outside sources, and in the WildLife section today the paper printed the following cartoon:

"Racist" Cartoon

Because of the near use of the word “n—-r”, there was instant controversy. According to Sen. Andre Rubio, the printing of the cartoon was a “deliberate action,” because it was printed several days after the cartoon first came out.  “It’s an act of racism,” he said, “that’s trying to destroy the progress that this country has made.”

The meeting oozed with anger, and right off the get-go the person hosting the meeting noticed the Wildcat photographer in the back of the room. “Perhaps the representative from the Wildcat would like to offer a response.” Being the photographer, he doesn’t exactly get to make editorial calls, so he quickly replied that, “I can’t take any questions.”
“Well, I don’t think that you should take any pictures here.”

Some called for the firing of the editor-in-chief, and for creating, “a paper trial that will follow this person everywhere they go.” Others demanded a front-page public apology, along with a statement from President Shelton.

Now, for the facts:

The cartoon is based on an actual news event. As reported by FiveThirtyEight, on October 17:

So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: “We’re voting for the n***er.”

This served as the inspiration for the K Chronicles comic, which was released four days later. The story was remarkable not for the fact that the word “n—-r” was used, but for the fact that people, in spite of a racism that has been festering in Appalachia and other areas for generations. Is it more racist to vote for a n—-r than to refuse to vote for any African-American? This was a triumph, not a tragedy.

The accusations of racism are made to look utterly ridiculous once we read the biography of the cartoonist behind the controversy:

Cartoonist Keith Knight…

. . .is the “other” black cartoonist. . .

Knight is part of a new generation of talented young African-American artists who infuse their work with urgency, edge, humor, satire, politics and race. His art has appeared in various publications worldwide, including, ESPN the Magazine, L.A. Weekly, MAD Magazine, the  Funny Times and World War 3 Illustrated. Knight also won the 2007 Harvey Award and the 2006 & 2007 Glyph Awards for Best Comic Strip.

. . .

His semi-conscious hip-hop band, the Marginal Prophets, will kick your ass. Their latest disc, Bohemian Rap CD, won the 2004 California Music Award for Outstanding Rap Album, beating out rap heavyweights Paris, Aceyalone, E-40, Too-Short, and Ice Cube’s Westside Connection. Hip-hop music with a punk-rock aesthetic.

Still not convinced? Then check out his cartoon printed today:

Yes We Did Cartoon

Which came with the following message:

Wow. We finally get to experience a positive piece of American history again. It’s about time.
I just wish some of the elders in my fam lived long enough to see a black man elected president.

I figured it would happen in my lifetime, but not this soon.

I asked older family members, and they thought they’d never live to see it.

The strips I did this week were assuming Obama would get in, just like what Garry Trudeau did with Doonesbury. I had only one editor ask,”What if he doesn’t win?”.

And what a joy it was seeing the likes of Jesse Jackson with tears in his eyes.

I coulda watched images of black folks crying all night long ( I also enjoy watching Extreme Home Makeover much more when they have black folks on it, cuz we faint and cry and scream like nobody else).

Bravo, America. We took a big step forward in restoring our reputation in the world.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the face of your new black-hating racist: an African American cartoonist who is ecstatic in the wake on an Obama victory, a progressive columnist strongly critical of the Bush administration.

By making this absurd assertion, all of these organizations risking losing their credibility for when something that is actually offensive occurs. Like the boy who cries, “Wolf!” this reactionary response from the P.C. police can only be effective for so long. At least there was an argument (if an erroneous one) to be made against the “Mitzvah” cartoon from last year; here, there’s no case to be made at all.

I urge the Wildcat to stand strong against this pressures. It’s easy to cave in to such demands, and it’s hard to defend liberty against tyranny of an angry mob — I seriously hope that the powers that be in the Wildcat offices make the right call on this one.


Some other notes:

-As far Sen. Rubio’s conspiracy theory notions go, his basic attack is that the Wildcat is being racist by printing the cartoon the day after Obama’s victory. I would argue that the cartoon in fact serves to illustrate how unlikely, and damn near miraculous (Note: I did not vote for Barack Obama, nor did I vote for John McCain), Obama’s victory was. You tell me which makes more sense, especially given the Wildcat’s historical tendency towards both being behind the news cycle and leaning leftwards. Hmm.

-I haven’t even gotten the broader issue of freedom of the press, which is just as important. However, I will make one point in this vein. Several times during the course of the discussion, I heard many variations of the point that, “There’s free speech, and then there’s hate speech.” Perhaps that would be true if we lived in Canada (a country with notoriously stringent hate speech prohibitions), but sadly we have this thing called the First Amendment, which protects all sorts of noxious speech. In fact, many of the Supreme Court cases upholding the freedom of speech in the First Amendment came in defending what many would consider “hate speech,” whether it be the flag-burning in U.S. v. Johnson, the KKK in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the anti-homosexuality in Boy Scouts v. Dale, or the anti-Semitism in Near v. Minnesota. You do not — I repeat, do NOT — have a right to a politically correct society.

Glenn Greenwald is also worth reading on this issue; but to reiterate, none of these issues really matter, since the comic in question is in no way hate speech.

-Freedom of the press aside, though, I still have trouble believing that the Wildcat still bothers with a full page cartoon section. No one I know still reads it, the cartoon quality has gone drastically downhill (something I would’ve never thought possible back in 2006), and it’s done nothing but given the paper gray hair. The net gain of the section is probably negative.

-Apparently, this will be the second controversy of its sort over this cartoon. Montclair State. Printed, in their entirety, are the letters from the Montclairion (the school’s newspaper), and Keith Knight’s response:

In the October 23, 2008 issue of The Montclarion, a syndicated cartoon entitled “The K Chronicles” was printed. The cartoon featured a satirical reference to a controversial racial slur, obstructing the full word with the edges of the panel.

“The K Chronicles” is provided to The Montclarion by MCT Campus, a service that provides syndicated comics, graphics, crossword puzzles and pictures, among other things, to campus newspapers nationwide.

In this event, The Montclarion relied on others to judge content appropriateness, rather than making this choice as a staff decision.

Many of you have voiced your displeasure with this cartoon, as is your right.

It is never The Montclarion’s intention to offend its readership, and we sincerely apologize to all who were upset with this comic.

The Montclarion recognizes and appreciates the campus community’s diversity and strives to provide a newspaper that respects and honors all viewpoints.

Action has been taken to ensure that all content from this point forward will be sensitive to the diversity of The Montclarion’s readership.

–Bobby Melok
Editor-in-Chief, The Montclarion


Here is my “official statement” that I gave to the Montclarion school paper, and some newscast that contacted me.

To Whom it May Concern,

First off, it’s nice to know people are still reading the paper.

In all seriousness, the strip is based on some true incidents that happened to canvassers in some battleground states.

Is it offensive? Yes. Is it sad? Sure. But that’s the reality of the United States and this very unique election.

We have the first African-American candidate for president who could actually win. And folks of all colors are coming face-to-face with bias and race issues they didn’t know about, have ignored or pretended didn’t exist. Neighbors, co-workers, and family members are learning a little more about the society we live in.

The comic is pointing out one aspect of it. Straight-up racists are prepared to pull the lever for a black man. While some folks out there, who never thought they were prejudiced, aren’t going to vote for him because of his skin color.

Should we ignore stuff like this? I don’t think so.

Should it be in a comic strip? Yes!!

Comic strips aren’t always “ha-ha” funny. They can be peculiar or strange or dark or embarrassing. Some of the most effective cartooning addresses serious issues. I suppose there are still a lot of folks who think comics should all be like “Garfield”.

I think it’s good that people are discussing the strip, whether it be negative or positive. It shows that they care and are willing to confront issues that are often swept under the rug.

This election is the most significant event to happen concerning race in this country since the civil rights movement. It has shown us what makes this country great, and what we still need to work on. I like to think my work shines a light on both the negative and the positive.

If given the opportunity, I would love to do a slide-show on campus about cartooning, politics, race and the media. It would be nice to talk to the readers in person.



6 Responses

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  1. spectreversusrector said, on 5 November 2008 at 9:15 pm

    thank you. it’s nice to hear a voice of reason on this. when people get mad about this cartoon, all it says is that they don’t pay very close attention to the news.

  2. […] 2008 As mentioned before, nothing really happened here. Due to some some sort of issue with a cartoon, the meeting was forced to adjourn in time for a 5:30 […]

  3. […] ASUA’s Potemkin Village Hall Write-Up Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on November 13th, 2008 Going into the “First Ever!” ASUA Senate town hall meeting, things were not looking good for the student government. A Daily Wildcat poll found that only 11 percent of readers fully approved of ASUA, while 50 percent were not satisfied at all. Certainly, the poll is unscientific, but it is just as unscientific as the polls that ASUA has used to justify an expensive security apparatus, a Student Nutrition Council, and other such programs. Meanwhile, the Senate and President were busy back-pedaling from their broadsides against the paper over some cartoon. […]

  4. […] hard not to see the karma police lurking behind the curtains. Given ASUA’s tendency against basic Constitutional freedoms, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar move made here in […]

  5. […] basic election principles, or preserving the rights of the accused, or executive compensation, or fighting for freedom of speech. Meanwhile, $1.3 million have vanished into the […]

  6. […] those of you who don’t remember or who weren’t around – think Keef-gate, but for the Jewish community. An offensive cartoon leads to cries of racism, which leads to calls […]

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