Bill Leak has responded to his critics in an opinion piece in today’s Australian, arguing, in part, that a cartoon can only be racist if its author intends it to be:

I don’t know an associate professor of sociology at Macquarie University called Amanda Wise, but she knows me. She knows me so well, in fact, that she’s not only able to tell me what my cartoons mean, but she’s also able to tell me what I was thinking while I was drawing them.”

This is after the sociology professor told The Guardian that Leak’s now infamous cartoon, published in Monday’s Oz, was “unequivocally racist” and “draws on very base stereotypes of third world, underdeveloped people who don’t know what to do with technology”.

In his response today, Leak says he was merely trying to depict the Indians as hungry, which was the point: those who would seek to impose renewable energy in the Third World did so at the expense of other, more fundamental needs. This is the same argument given by The Australian yesterday in explaining the cartoon. Said Leak:

[T]here’s something obscene about the fact that there are billions of others who’ve had all those things all their coal-power-driven lives and they’re now distributing solar panels to the world’s poor because they think that provides a virtuous, if inadequate, form of electricity for which they should be grateful. I think that’s racist, I think it’s condescending, and I think it’s immoral. But it’s also the truth, and when an impertinent cartoonist dares to tell the truth these days he’d better watch out because telling the truth is a dangerously subversive thing to do.”

If some wanted to use his cartoons as an “excuse to parade their moral vanity,” Leak wrote, so be it. “While I prefer to discover there are people who think my cartoons are funny, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t derive a certain amount of pleasure from discovering they enrage the ones that don’t.”

An editorial in the Oz today further added the paper’s weight to Leak’s defence.

Meanwhile, several Indian cartoonists have been asked by news site The Wire whether they found Leak’s cartoon racist. None of them did. Some did, however, disagree with Leak’s argument about the importance of green energy to India.

Ajit Ninan of the Times of India said the cartoon wasn’t racist, but “contrived”:

Come to think of it, our own Indian cartoonists have shown the poor in far worse light —  I and other cartoonists have portrayed poor people  — half clad, their bones sticking out —  with begging bowls before a neta. This was just to show the contrast between the electorate and the elected. To do this one has to touch the extremes. At least Leak was decent enough to wrap the Indians in his cartoon in clothes.

That said, there is nothing cerebral about the cartoon. If he wants to kick up a controversy, that is quite another thing.”

—  Myriam Robin

Peter Fray

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