Cartoon: Say I’m Not A Racist!


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This cartoon was inspired by a public argument in Congress back in February:

Cohen accused Trump of being “a racist” as a way to establish that Trump was a bad person. Meadows countered it by pointing out an individual black person close to Trump: former Trump Organization employee and current Housing and Urban Development official Lynne Patton.

This is not is a helpful way to talk about racism. But when Tlaib and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) pointed this out during their questioning, they were accused of violating congressional decorum.

Tlaib said Meadows’s use of Patton as a “prop” was a “racist act” — an accusation Meadows took as an allegation that he himself was a racist. Meadows’s ensuing effort to defend himself against the accusation Tlaib wasn’t making culminated with an awkward profession that he counts Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, who is black, as a friend.

So what should have been a discussion of racism turned into a discussion of how Representative Meadows is Definitely Not Black and he has Black friends and Black neices and it went on and on.

What was unusual about this exchange wasn’t that it turned into a white person demanding that people of color affirm that he’s not racist. That happens all the time. What’s unusual is that this time it happened on C-Span.

Around the time I was writing this cartoon, I also saw some White people getting defensive about the (often harsh) criticisms of the movie Green Book‘s racial politics (it was in the news because Green Book had just won the Oscar for best movie). I used that controversy, rather than the fight in D.C., as the “setting” for this cartoon, because this cartoon really is about everyday White defensiveness and fragility, not just about one argument in Congress.

(Plus, of course, I usually try to do my cartoons as “evergreens”; that is, to make the cartoons about lasting issues, even when they’re inspired by current events. I think this makes the cartoons less commercial, but I also think doing cartoons about these evergreen topics is worthwhile.)

I found this cartoon tough to draw; I always find it hard to draw people sitting at tables (and please don’t look too closely at how the chairs are constructed!). And there’s so much going on in this cartoon in the foreground, visually, that I felt I’d better leave the background blank, even though a scene-setting panel would have been nice.

The fun part to draw was the body language, especially in panel 3. People yelling and overreacting and flinching is always fun to draw.


Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same three people – a Black man, a Black woman, and a white man – sitting around a round cafe table. They have coffee cups and a muffin on small plates in front of them.

On the left, the Black man is wearing glasses, and a green tee shirt with an exclamation point design. He has a van dyke beard and mustache, so we’ll call him “Beard.” In the middle, the Black woman is wearing black tights, a black tank top, and an orange hair band. We’ll call her “Hair Band.” On the right, the white man has blonde hair pulled back in a pony tail, and is wearing jeans and an orange striped tee shirt. We’ll call him “Pony Tail.”

PANEL 1

Beard is talking intently, leaning forward a bit to make a point. Hair Band is about to bite into a muffin. Pony Tail is raising a hand to interrupt Beard, looking wide-eyed and a bit panicked.

BEARD: Awards aside, that movie was racist. Look at how the Black character was-

PONY TAIL: I liked that movie. Are you saying I’m racist?

PANEL 2

Beard raises a hand, palm outward, in a “no, no, that’s not what I meant” gesture. Pony Tail is even more panicked, and is yanking his own hair a bit.

BEARD: Nah, not what I meant. Anyway-

PONY TAIL: I have Black friends. I have a Black niece. I can’t be racist!

PONY TAIL: You agree I’m not a racist, right? RIGHT?

PANEL 3

Beard and Hair Band are both leaning way away from Pony Tail, who has stood up and grabbed the front of Beard’s tee shirt. Pony Tail is now screaming loudly, still looking panicked. The table is tipping over, coffee cups and muffin spilling.

PONY TAIL: SAY I’M NOT A RACIST! SAYITSAYIT SAAAAAY IIIT!

HAIR BAND: He’s gonna blow!

PANEL 4

The table has been knocked over. Beard, looking annoyed, gestures at Pony Tail. Hair Band looks shocked, one hand held to her chest. Pony Tail’s corpse is now slumped back in his chair; he is missing all of his head above his chin. Little puffs of smoke are rising out of the hole where his head used to be.

BEARD: See, this is why I don’t usually hang out with white people.

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7 Responses to Cartoon: Say I’m Not A Racist!

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    This movie was one of the three movies that I have seen so far this year (the other two being Bohemian Rhapsody, which I saw in a theater, and one of the Harry Potter movies that I watched on TV). I heard a rumor that it was controversial, but I didn’t pay much attention because to some people everything’s controversial.

    I followed the link that you posted to the critic that didn’t like it. I didn’t much agree with him. His main point seems to be that the movie should have presented particular viewpoints about racism and homosexuality in a certain fashion. It seems to me that the people making the movie wanted to depict (in a dramatized fashion) what actually happened to these two people.

    For example, he says “It’s telling that what should be Shirley’s most emotionally lacerating scene — he’s busted for having sex with another man in a YMCA shower — instead becomes the movie’s most reprehensible. If you want to know what a profound lack of empathy looks like, take another look at that shot of Vallelonga sweet-talking the cops while, in the background, a naked black man sits handcuffed in the shower, terrified and humiliated.”

    What empathy? It seems to me the whole point of that scene was to drive home how humiliating that was and how little empathy the cops had. I would think the best way to do that is to make it actually look humiliating and have the characters present demonstrate a lack of empathy. Empathy was shown later on when Mortensen’s character, originally depicted as a bigot, told Ali’s character that he was unconcerned about his sexuality, saying (I’m probably paraphrasing) “I’ve been a bouncer in Manhattan nightclubs for years, I’ve seen everything.” in a sympathetic fashion. Note that he didn’t treat Ali’s character any differently, even sleeping in adjacent beds in the same room afterwards.

    It seems to me that a lot of artists and art critics seem to think that the purpose of art is to serve particular social ends. I think that’s absurd.

  2. 2
    Lakitha Tolbert says:

    Hear let me link to what our actual problems with the movie actually were. This one is a pretty good summation of why Black people had a problem with the movie:
    https://www.metro.us/entertainment/movies/green-book-controversial-viggo-mortensen-mahershala-ali

    And from The Root:

    https://thegrapevine.theroot.com/green-book-has-great-acting-a-misleading-title-and-pa-1830572839

    It was a movie about race, written by White men, who know nothing about the subject, putting words into the mouths of people who do, to make other people who also know nothing about what its like to be the oppressed, feel good about themselves.

  3. 3
    desipis says:

    The comments from the writers make it clear the movie is about two specific people and their specific experiences with racism. The writer is the son of one of the characters, and worked with the other character in writing the film. The idea that he lacked any specific knowledge or perspective to write it is absurd.

    … the perspective of a white man. … “help a white man overcome his problems” … “palatable racism for White People” … white savior film … written by White men

    The criticism of the film seems to be entirely based on the race of those involved and portrayed. That’s racist.

    And now I guess I’ll just sit back and wait for people’s heads to explode while they desperately argue that the criticism isn’t racist…

  4. 4
    Mandolin says:

    There are plenty of other films this criticism applies to. Is there any reason to read it as green book exclusively? I realize amp introduced this, but it feels like a red herring in regard to an evergreen reading of the cartoon.

  5. 5
    Saurs says:

    Saying something is racist is racist is not remotely novel enough a non-responsive handwave to generate any explode-y reaction in me, and I expect my head and I are not alone. It’s the anti-anti-racist kneejerk de rigueur. All that’s missing is a “checkmate, libs” or a “QED.”

    Analyzing how race is portrayed in a movie is how film analysis works. If the implication is that somebody here is supposed to pop a monocle because somebody else on the interwebs has accused them of racism, well, consider that theory borked. Sure, people who self-describe as anti-racist don’t appreciate being called racist, but generally one considers the source and the substance of the accusation before their noggins go boom.

    Sort of betraying your own fears there, desipis, if you thinking shouting racism in a crowded blog stifles all further discussion or functions, gulp, as a dreaded trump card. That’s just a series of right-wing tropes, beginning to end.

  6. 6
    Eytan Zweig says:

    desipis – much of the criticism I’ve read was started by the fact that the family of Dr Shirley (one of the two main characters) has claimed that the story misrepresents the relationship between him and Tony Vallelonga, and their claims that the story was deliberately twisted by Vallelonga’s son to make his father’s role more important (source example: https://www.indiewire.com/2018/12/green-book-controversy-shirley-family-lies-mahershala-ali-apology-1202028687/)

    I have no additional knowledge to say who is lying and who is telling the truth here. But the criticism isn’t just “white people’s relationship to black people shouldn’t be portrayed in this way”; it’s “the specific relationship between these two men has been twisted to fit a false narrative”, and then further interpretation that argues that these changes were racially motivated.

  7. 7
    Mandolin says:

    I disagree strongly with the argument, occasionally presented, that people of dominant groups should not write about people in less dominant ones, no matter how well they do it. This is a very rare argument, though it happens.

    Criticisms should be more specific. They usually are, the well-made ones at least.

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