This cartoon is drawn by my most frequent collaborator, Becky Hawkins. Becky writes:
Coming up with 8 different character designs is one of the treats and challenges of drawing a cartoon like this. It’s either a fun exercise, or it feels overwhelming and you open and close the file several times over multiple days without making progress because you’re not sure what anyone should look like and facial expressions are hard and all your sketches look bad. (It’s been a tiring month. I may not have been in a great headspace.) Fortunately, deadlines can be very inspirational, and I’m really happy with how the finished cartoon looks!
I try to vary the hairstyles, body shapes, and clothing of each character. When I feel stuck, I scroll Facebook to look for looks that pique my interest. All resemblance between these cartoon characters and persons in my Facebook feed are entirely coincidental and based on me not remembering what contemporary humans look like.
For the chalkboard in panel 2, I looked up stock photos of “complicated math equation” and stitched together the parts that looked the coolest. I also added a big R for “racist.”
I was originally planning to save time by limiting the color palette to two colors, like in another cartoon I drew, “Things To Stop Saying To Autistic People.” But I didn’t think the panel with blackface would read clearly without a more realistic coloring style. So I used another trick for a slightly less limited palette: color in a few things, then look for where to reuse those colors. I started with the orange jumpsuit, banana, and makeup. Those colors could show up in other people’s hair, the professor’s elbow patches, and the halo. I’d imagined the jewelry in panel 1 as turquoise, so I used that color for the jewelry and some of the backgrounds. When I used the exact same blue, orange, and yellow in every panel, it looked a little flat. So I desaturated the color on the backgrounds and added a different blue to the palette. If you’ve read this far, thanks for getting into the weeds with me!
Of course, it’s totally possible to deny that a statement is racist in a meaningful way. For example, “when I said I don’t trust people like them, I was referring to bowlers. That some of them are Latinx isn’t relevant.”
But it’s all too common to refute criticisms of what someone did or said with defenses based on who the person is. “What I said can’t be racist, because [I have a Black friend.] The part in brackets is irrelevant to whether or not what was said was racist.
People with Black friends can say racist things. Even Black people can say racist things. In general, the way to figure out if a statement is racist is to examine the statement, not to examine the speaker.
Not every panel in this cartoon is an example of this sort of logical fallacy, but most of them are. And all of them are examples of people switching the subject from what was said, to talking about themselves. And although the cartoon exaggerates, this sort of thing is really really common in real life. (And even more common on Twitter).
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has eight panels, each of which shows a single white person speaking directly to the reader. An additional ninth panel – the center panel of the grid – has nothing in it but a large caption, written in a distorted font. The caption says:
WHAT I SAID CAN’T BE RACIST BECAUSE
A fashionable looking woman, with an undercut hairstyle, cats eye glasses and a septum piercing, waves a hand dismissively.
WOMAN: Liberals can’t be racist. Everyone knows that.
A man dressed like an academic, including a bow tie and a jacket with elbow patches, is standing in front of a blackboard, pointing to the blackboard with a, er, pointer. The blackboard is covered with complicated looking math equations, and at the bottom there’s a simple drawing of the academic’s face, and a drawing of a devil face, with a not equal sign (“≠”) between the two faces.
MAN: Because racists are bad bad people, and I’m a good person. Q.E.D.!
A red-haired man, wearing a collared shirt with a nametag, points to himself. He has a pleased and proud expression. There’s a footnote at the bottom of the panel.
MAN: I’ve got a Black friend!*
FOOTNOTE: *work acquaintance
A good-looking man in his twenties, wearing an open plaid shirt over a white t shirt, is speaking to us.
MAN: I’m not white! Family legend says that great great great Grandma was an Indian!
This is the central panel. It has nothing in it but the words “WHAT I SAID CAN’T BE RACIST BECAUSE” in large distressed letters.
A man talks to us, wearing blackface makeup and holding a banana. He’s shrugging.
MAN: I was only joking! That makes it okay!
A blonde woman holding a drink makes the “come here” gesture towards people who are out of panel.
WOMAN: I adopted three children of color! THREE!
WOMAN: Prop, Shield and Excuse, come here so I can show these folks.
A woman speaks to us. She looks as if she’s about to cry, and is holding a handkerchief in one hand.
WOMAN: If you say something I said is racist I might start crying and no one wants that.
A person (could be either female or male) closes their eyes and holds their hands in front of them, as if praying. They are wearing blue robes. There is a halo shining out from behind their head, drawn as if in stained glass.
PERSON: My intentions were pure.