Wednesday, October 1, 2014

By Their Fruit Shall Ye Know Them

I first saw Jerry Holbert's Boston Herald cartoon about intruders in the White House on the site, so I didn't see anything wrong with it. The cartoon shows President Obama brushing his teeth in the White House living quarters bathroom, surprised by a stranger bathing in the tub behind him who says, "Have you tried the new raspberry flavored toothpaste?"

Only that's not how it appeared in the Boston Herald. In their original version, the toothpaste flavor was watermelon, which a lot of people thought echoed the racist image of Little Black Sambos grinning from ear to ear enjoyin' demsefs a big ol' watermelon.
“I feel awful about the perception that it was racist, but it was nothing of the sort,” Holbert tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “I wanted another flavor of toothpaste for the cartoon, and we had a bottle of Colgate kids’ toothpaste that was watermelon-flavored … watermelon seems to be a big flavor these days, so…I went with it.”
Apparently, the editors at Holbert's syndicate thought it was something of the sort, enough to have him change the toothpaste flavor; anything of the sort certainly slipped by his editors at the Boston Herald.

There has been a lot of things of the sort going on lately. Some feminists were upset by a Jeopardy category this week called "What Women Want" (for example, "Some help around the house; would it kill you to get out the Bissell bagless canister one of these every once in a while?" "What is a vacuum cleaner?") Christianists have complained about people mocking Tim Tebow's praying on the football field, but no team he played on was ever penalized 15 yards for it as the Kansas City Chiefs' Husain Abdullah was Monday night.

Do racism, sexism, or religious bigotry have to be intentional? In effect, no. The name of the Washington Redskins and the tomahawk chop of the Atlanta Braves (and surely of the Chiefs) offend Native Americans whether or not someone sat down and decided, "You know what? I think we should all get together and offend some Indians."

It isn't Political Correctness to try to avoid giving offense to people, intentionally or unintentionally. Yes, there may be some hypersensitive people out there, and I myself certainly can't promise that I'll never offend some group of people. Heck, I'd say that I offend people for a living except that I don't quite make a living from it.

But we take this episode as another warning to be mindful of stereotypes and cultural insensitivity. I'm not sure how anybody could fail to catch the racist association there is between African-Americans and watermelons. Image-googling "Obama watermelon" will show you that there are plenty of racist assholes out there who know it very well.

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