Well, it took me so long to complete this drawing that I missed the news by over a week, but I thought my caricature of Cliven Bundy was so hilarious, I just couldn’t leave it undone.
As all the talk shows and comedy news programs relentlessly joked last week, the main irony both stories addressed by this cartoon have in common is that of a wealthy, old property owner clumsily back-pedaling after having expressed some shockingly racist point of view, attempting to publicly deny his racism despite how obviously racist the views expressed were.
The main difference is that Donald Sterling’s initial comments were made in a conversation that was clearly intended to remain private–not that that makes up for them–while Bundy was dumb enough to blab his directly to reporters.
Of course, it’s not like Sterling’s racism wasn’t already public knowledge–he’s been taken to court for refusing to rent apartments to blacks and Latinos on at least two separate occasions in the past, apparently having argued that they “smell,” and do nothing but “drink, smoke, and hang around the house all day,” respectively.
I’m a little surprised it took this long for his minority employees and the public to turn against him–I guess it just goes to show that, when it comes to sound bites straight from the mouth of a villain, sometimes words actually can speak louder than actions.
Anyway, I think you might say the two separate cases of Bundy and Sterling fall on opposite ends of a continuum beginning with Hanlon’s razor: I feel like Bundy’s racism is more of the brain-dead ignorant variety–he might conceivably not realize how racist his opinions are, because he certainly seems that goddamn stupid–whereas Sterling’s appears to be more… malicious, since he’s been more careful to speak about it more (relatively) privately, and has used his wealth to conceal it when he could, over the years–not to mention, you’d think his own heritage would give him some perspective on the subject of discrimination, which he must therefore be willfully choosing to ignore.
There is a silver lining to all this, in my opinion, and that’s how the public reaction illustrates a clear shift in the ability of Americans in general to recognize racism, and a greater willingness by Americans to actively condemn it, as a society. Fifteen or twenty years ago, I doubt the proverbial ton of bricks would’ve come down quite as hard on Bundy and Sterling, or even at all.
It’s also cast a new light on the Supreme Court’s recent, idiotic arguments that racism in America is so effectively weakened, today, that we no longer need things like the Voting Rights Act, or Affirmative Action. They’re still way wrong about that, of course, but I can now sort of see where they were coming from, even if I don’t agree with them. We may not be there yet, but perhaps someday the Court’s current opinion will be an accurate reflection of social conditions on the ground, and that’s an encouraging thought, indeed.
I wanted to comment on one other thing, here, and that’s the imagery in the cartoon itself, which has a well-known history as an offensive racial slur, and could have its usage misconstrued as some sort of unintentionally ironic or meta-commentary on my part.
One of the difficulties with commenting on the subject of racism, or other forms of institutionalized discrimination, is that sometimes the historical context makes it tough to avoid offensive language or symbols without awkwardly beating around the bush in a manner that can come off just as offensive in its indirectness as the very thing one is trying to address, not to mention as an attempt to whitewash (heh) the harsher or more uncomfortable realities of the past.
For example, I did a cartoon last year quoting Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, a painting which required the use of an offensive word to get its point across, a point which was counter to the venomous views that word represented in its most common parlance.
In this case, I wanted to attack some racist morons whose racism has been so obvious, that any denials of it are ludicrously absurd, as noted at the top of this article, so I needed a symbol with a history of racist usage connected to it, that could simultaneously represent that racism’s fallout, and the indelible marks it places on the reputations of the people who have expressed it, here.
The first idea I had would have portrayed a couple of Klansmen attempting to ignite a cross, only to have their robes catch fire instead. It was more slapstick, and potentially funnier, but it didn’t quite fit the circumstances–partly because of the thing I said above about how I’m not sure Bundy is that self-aware; partly because the whole purpose of the Klan robes and hoods is to conceal the identities of the racists in question, which would be at cross-purposes (heh heh) with the idea of identifying specific people; and finally, because I was concerned it might look like an argument that the power of Christ/religion turns the weapons of racism against those who wield them, which wouldn’t be relevant, appropriate, or accurate, really.
After thinking about it for a long time, the tar baby was the only thing I could come up with that summarized the whole situation perfectly. I was still a little uncomfortable about it, so I thought I could make up for that by showing it in an incomplete state, with the targets of the cartoon caught in the middle of constructing it, like two children getting in trouble for playing with the contents of a toilet, or building a lewd snowman.
One could still say, “Um, you didn’t have to draw anything, you know.” That’s true, because it’s not like I have an editor other than myself, or anyone who’s routinely paying me. However, I think the symbol’s usage here is clearly enough in service to an anti-racist message that it should make it okay. Your mileage may vary, and I’m interested to hear readers’ thoughts, both for and against the choice of imagery.
After all that, my own, personal problem with it is that it wasn’t finished much sooner. I’ll try to have something new and more timely up by the middle of next week!