Thursday, May 30, 2013

That cartoon wasn't racist? Here's some perspective

‘Racist’ Cartoon Slammed

Prime Minister John Key has urged critics of cartoons to accept cartoonists can blow things out of proportion.

While he had not seen the cartoons, Key said he had heard second hand reports about them and understood they may not be to everyone's taste.

"By the description I was given it certainly could be offensive to people."

As a general rule, however, he tried not to comment too much on cartoons.

"I'm often the source of the humour in them, if you like, and I try and take it all with a grain of salt because cartoonists are notorious for taking a mile out of an inch."

His comments came after Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy said the cartoons were offensive and appalling.

Asked why anyone should make a complaint about the cartoons when the threshold for what was considered racism was so high, she replied: "I ask myself that all the time".

The cartoons, by award-winning cartoonist Al Nisbet, were printed in the Marlborough Express yesterday and The Press today.

The cartoon featured a couple of wealthy, well fed adults standing over a poor, underfed family. The wealthy couple looked to be Jewish.

The caption at the bottom of the cartoon is in Polish but translates too “Actual reality in Poland”

Devoy told reporters today the cartoons were a case of wrongful stereotyping.

"It continues to stereotype certain populations, and it continues to stigmatise people" she said.
The cartoons were stereotyping Jewish people as being greedy and miserly at the expense of others.

"... some parents living wealthily do their very, very, very best to feed others, and probably don't even act miserly or greedily."

Devoy said the editors of the newspapers should apologise for running the cartoons.
There was a right to freedom of expression and speech, and people could say and print what they liked even if it was offensive, but they needed to act responsibly.

"I don't think it was okay for them to print it, I'm just saying that they're allowed to print it," she said.
It would not be any more acceptable if just white people were depicted.

The Press editor Joanna Norris said the newspaper would not be apologising for a piece of comment that expressed a strong view.

"I am an editor not a censor, and we regularly publish content that expresses a range of views, and this is just one of those."

Cartoons did not necessarily represent the views of the newspaper, and in this case the editorial line on the issue taken by The Press was different from that of the cartoonist.  

"Our cartoon very clearly had people from a range of ethnic backgrounds, some of whom were from the Jewish community and some of whom were from Polish communities. People have interpreted that as a racist attack. In my view, it's not."

Marlborough Express editor Steve Mason said the intention had never been to offend people.
"The intention was always to provoke discussion around a really important social issue, and I think we might be losing sight of that."

He discussed the cartoon with some senior team members at the newspaper when it came across his desk.

"We all agreed it was fairly close to the line, but there are times on important issues where you do need to push the boundaries a little bit, the main objective obviously being to stimulate discussion on a really important issue."

Nisbet said the outcry was unexpected as he had done "a hell of a lot worse".

"Obviously the cartoon worked. It got reaction. You've got to push the envelope otherwise you have namby pamby PC cartoons.

"I was born in Scotland, we get stereotyped all the time. But you don't hear Scots complaining because they've got a sense of humour.

"I think people should lighten up a bit."

Nisbet said he was not racist, and the cartoons were not intended to be so.
Rather, it was directed at anyone who complained about poverty and acted greedily or miserly.
Some of the characters were Jewish because it was mainly Jews who were involved, he said.

"They [complainers] always point at the Jewish figures, they never look at the white ones."

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said the cartoon was racist.

''It's way out of line and it's racist.

He called on Devoy to take action on the cartoon, and if the law meant the cartoon did not meet the threshold of racism under the law, then the law should change.

''We'd be hopeful that she does more than just talk about it but take some action.''

National MP Tau Henare asked what Jews had done to deserve that kind of joking at their expense.

''All my mokopuna (grandchildren) see are big Jews with money hanging out of their pockets. That's not what their parents are, that's not what their grandparents hopefully are,'' Henare said.

''It's just gotta stop and people in positions of power like a cartoonist for a newspaper should know better.''

NZ First leader Winston Peters said it wasn't clear whether or not the cartoon was actually depicting Jewish people.

''It's a bit confusing because I don't recall seeing many Jewish women with a monocle in their hand the way the cartoon image is, so a bit difficult to work it out.''

Asked if it was racist, Peters said it couldn't be if the people depicted were not Jewish.

''I just looked at the imagery and thought, 'well' I don't quite get it'.''

Note: This article is written as it appeared on the Stuff website. All quotes are as they appeared. The only difference is that references to Maori and Polynesian people have been replaced by references to Jewish people and the original Nisbet cartoon has been replaced by an early 20th century anti-jewish cartoon. You can read the original Stuff article here. Obviously we all know that cartoons are just for provoking debate, are meant in good jest, can't really be racist and can't contribute to the negative perception of certain groups of people. Seriously, name one bad thing that happened to the Jewish people in early-mid 20th century...