Perspectives: Racist Cartoon Art Imitates Life

Last week The Recorder, a non-official student newspaper distributed at Central Connecticut State College, ran an explicitly sexual cartoon about urinating on a 14-year-old Latina being held prisoner that set a new level for campus racism and sexism.

Amazingly, it was published at virtually the same time that six White men and women in West Virginia were arrested for kidnapping and sexually abusing a young Black woman in a very similar scenario.

The  cartoon called “Polydongs” features geometric characters, a triangle and a square, having the following conversation:

Triangle: (on phone to Square) You know… when I eat a bowl of Smacks or Golden Crisps, my urine smells like honey. 

Square: Does it taste like honey too?

Triangle : I dunno. I’d have to ask that 14 year old Latino girl tied up in the closet. 

Square:  Oh. Tell Juanita I say, “Hola.”

 
There is nothing new about campus cartoons that are perceived to be racist or sexist. What makes the Central Connecticut cartoon so extreme is that the paper’s editor, Mark Rowan, is not claiming that it was misinterpreted. That has been the usual response when student newspapers are accused of belittling minorities.

For example, during Black history month in  2004, a Columbia University  
magazine The Fed ran a cartoon called  “Blacky Fun Whitey” which offended many minority students. The editors apologized, saying that the cartoonist intended it as a “critique of racial stereotypes.”  

In 2002, a Syracuse University newspaper, TheDaily Orange, cartoon showed a man in blackface breaking into the house of a man in whiteface. The editors apologized saying it was not meant to portray a Black person but a thief wearing a dark ski mask. Tito Bottitta, the Orange’s editor, explained that, “we violated our own policies,” because the editors didn’t see the actual cartoon because it was substituted at the last minute.

 However, The Recorder’s staff did approve the “Polydongs strip and added this “disclaimer” acknowledging its violent and scatological content: “The Recorder does not support the kidnapping of (and subsequent urinating on) children of any age or ethnicity.”

This “in-your-face” attitude is what separates the “Polydongs” from another sexually controversial cartoon that ran at the University of Virginia that featured Thomas Jefferson and his Black maid, Sally Hemings, in a bedroom with Jefferson brandishing a whip. Defenders argue that it was a legitimate critique of Jefferson’s political and sexual hypocrisy.

Rowan already has one strike against him. In February he published a satire called “Rape only hurts if you fight it.” The author was removed from the paper, but Rowan survived. He said that the reactions to the “Polydongs” drawing reflect an age difference between what older people and younger people think is funny. He and other editors thought it was no more offensive than some of the humor on “South Park” or the “Family Guy.” “The humor gap is huge from generation to generation,” he said, in an Associated Press story.

For an editor, Rowan shows an appalling ignorance of both the contents of the cartoon and the media in which it appeared. Over and over, the Supreme Court has made important distinctions between the public media and paid media. “Family Guy” and “South Park” appear on cable stations that people have to pay for to receive in their homes. The Recorder is distributed free to a wide college audience that includes many White, Latino and female students Rowan’s own age who were deeply offended and are demanding his removal. 

In addition, while even conservatives acknowledge the rights of adults to view sexually explicit materials, the society has drawn a clear line at the sexual exploitation of children. Yet, the “Polydongs” cartoon, which can be downloaded from the Sept. 12 edition at  http://clubs.ccsu.edu/recorder/, seems to deliberately invoke all the most extreme circumstances: White characters imprisoning and sexually abusing an underage minority girl just like the six miscreants in West Virginia. We don’t know if Rowan is a racist, but he’s clearly got such bad editorial judgment he needs to be fired immediately.

 

– Paul Ruffin is a longtime contributor to Diverse: Issues In Higher Education and former editor of NAACP’s Crisis Magazine.

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