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Apr 9, 2014

Fairfax sorry for the ‘throw away’ racist cartoon that made it to print

A Fairfax newspaper has run a cartoon poking fun at African people for having fat lips, rejected elsewhere for being "too offensive". The Bendigo Advertiser has offered a full apology.

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

The Bendigo Advertiser, a Fairfax daily newspaper, took a stand against racism yesterday with this piece:

The column stated:

“I have read about racism in the newspapers. I know about the White Australia Policy and the 2005 Cronulla riots. But for most of my life I have escaped being exposed to racism first-hand, that is, until Sunday afternoon at the football.”

But perhaps Advertiser reporter Maddie Wines should have written “for most of my life I have escaped being exposed to racism first-hand, that is, until I read page 19 of my own paper today”. That’s where readers found this:

Tucked away between The Phantom and Garfield is the African-themed cartoon by Sydney’s Tony Lopes, who doodles the “Insanity Streak” series (it’s syndicated across quite a few Australian newspapers). Presumably its humour — and we’re making the bold assumption that there is any — derives from the assertion that African people have fat lips. The typo doesn’t help.

According to his Facebook page, Lopes had trouble convincing newspaper editors to run this “throw away” cartoon, which has been around for at least two months, because most “thought it would be too offensive”:

Lopes, who has also drawn cartoons riffing on ethnic stereotypes of Native American Indians and Italian gondoliers, defended the cartoon to Crikey today:

“A cartoonist has a very short time to engage a reader, so we rely on visual shorthand, a traditional native individual with a bone through the hair conveyed the image I was after. How can a cartoonist do his or her job without these well-worn stereotypes? My job with Insanity Streak is to make people laugh. The sources of laughter are extremely diverse and the effects of a particular joke, notoriously subjective … there is always going to be someone who doesn’t share my sense of humour.”

Lopes notes the cartoon had run elsewhere without incident, but says it was never his intention to be racist, so “I naturally offer my utmost apologies”.

The use of racial and ethnic stereotypes in cartoons is a hot topic. A cartoon showing former Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo as a sleepy-eyed Mexican in a sombrero riding a donkey earned criticism (Trujillo accused Australia of being racist for various Mexican-related references made during his tenure, although he wasn’t necessarily referring to cartoons). The New York Post ran a cartoon depicting President Barack Obama as a dead chimpanzee. On the other hand, while besieged Qantas chairman Alan Joyce is Irish, cartoonist don’t seem to have focussed on that (with one exception we found).

Crikey asked Fairfax for comment and received this response just before deadline:

“We apologise unreservedly and are investigating how this lapse happened. We can totally understand the concerns raised and acknowledge that the cartoon should never have been printed in any of our publications.”

Perhaps the last word should go to Advertiser columnist Maddie Wines:

“I am struggling to understand how some people believe it is still acceptable to be racist … As long as we keep standing up to these people, there is hope that one day, we will live in a society where no one discriminates on the basis of race.”

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6 thoughts on “Fairfax sorry for the ‘throw away’ racist cartoon that made it to print

  1. zut alors

    Editors deemed it “too offensive”?

    I’m bemused by “too”. How about purely and simply “offensive”.

  2. Cathy Alexander

    Interesting point Zut – that it’s ok to be offensive, but only to a certain degree? But then that comment is from the artist, who doesn’t think it is offensive at all

  3. Mel Campbell

    Very unfortunate for Maddie Wines that her editor let her down like this. Her column comes from a well-meaning place and really doesn’t deserve to lead a story on racism as if Wines herself was being hypocritical.

    I would be mortified if my name showed up in a Crikey story in a similarly negative context only because my editor was asleep on the job.

    Perhaps another pertinent issue is the HR drain that leads to syndicated content being slapped in, production being outsourced on a piecemeal basis, and hence nobody seeing the broader picture until it’s too late.

  4. Roberto Tedesco

    Another cartooning problem, this time from Germany:

    This hasn’t made a lot of news, being outside the Anglosphere and all that. What’s particularly offensive is the imagery is a virtually direct copy of what passed for “comment” in Germany between 1933 and 1945

  5. Cathy Alexander

    Thanks for that link Robert – I hadn’t seen that. The cartoonist said he ‘meant to show “a cartoon depiction of the company Facebook beyond a specific person,” and explained that the image shows Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp and “is a combination of an octopus from the film the Pirates of Caribbean.”
    Do you find that convincing?!

  6. Michael McEnaney

    The whole anti “stereotype” rant is a waste of time. Whether it’s racism, sexism or any other “-ism” you are talking about, it has to be discussed bearing in mind that using “stereotyping” is how the human brain stores vast amounts of data. When you meet a new person, for instance, your brain sorts information about that person in various categories or classifications (just other words that mean stereotyping without the value-added connotation). These categories would include skin colour, gender, age, body shape, height, accent, clothing worn etc. etc. This is how we make sense of the world around us. How you get people to classify other human beings without adding their own value judgement to each “category” I don’t know – but I tend to believe it’s just not possible.
    Should we get a laugh out of “stereotype” jokes or cartoons? Well some will and some won’t. We have all laughed at stereotype jokes of some sort – Irish jokes, Scottish jokes, mother-in-law jokes, blonde jokes, bogan jokes. Why? Because we identify the stereotype to begin with. Do you really want to put comedians out of work?