I admit that I'm a little late to the discussion regarding the flareup over at the Florida Times-Union regarding a cartoon that addressed the "don't snitch" culture. But I've been reading all the reactions from it and after a short discussion today about covering race with ABC broadcast veterans Arlene Morgan and Alice Pifer, I'd like to throw my two bits into the ring.
First, some background: The cartoon depicted a black man standing over his gunshot victim and wearing a "Don't snitch" T-shirt. After a little girl standing nearby says "I didn't see nuttin'!" the assailant says, "Now that's a good little ho!" Of course, reaction ensued, which you can read in aggregate on Romenesko.
So after reading about this all week, I must ask a few questions of cartoonist Ed Gamble and his editor:
- Regardless of the subject matter, did you really think using the post-Don Imus word "ho" wouldn't get you into hot water? (No.)
- If the cartoon appeared in a publication with a reader base largely African-American, would the cartoon have garnered the same outcry? (Dunno.)
- Do I believe you drew it to shed light on the 'snitch' culture? (Yes.)
- Is a cartoon a good one if it needs further explanation? (I don't think so.)
Here's some reaction from other journalists, pulled from the Times-Union outlay on the issue:
"Has anyone out there run a better cartoon on the Don't Snitch subculture?" asked Dennis Mangan, editorial editor of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, one of several who praised the cartoon.
"My guess: No. The cartoon captured the ugliness of Don't Snitch today and the danger it represents to the next generation," Mangan said. "You can't ask for more."
Joel Pett, the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist at the Lexington (Ky.,) Herald-Leader, lauded it for provoking a discussion of important issues. But others disagreed.
"So many things to find disgusting about the cartoon," said Lynne Varner, a columnist and editorial writer for the Seattle Times. She criticized the "stereotype of African-Americans using poor grammar" and the cartoon's reliance on rappers as thugs and criminals when in reality the vast majority are not.
"A successful cartoon could have challenged the pervasive lawlessness seen in some cities without employing stereotypes, which because they're so widely accepted, didn't raise eyebrows at the cartoonist's paper," said Varner.
Really, the whole situation has left me frustrated -- you've got the problems of equating snitching with African-Americans, equating poor grammar with both of the aforementioned categories, and above all, the core problem of a good idea that was poorly executed. So what have we learned this week, then, as journalists?
Well, for starters, you might want to consult someone who you think may be offended by the cartoon and see what they say and why. That kind of editorial 'stepping into another's shoes' is not a requirement, but it's a good idea. "Even the best-intentioned person may have blind spots," Alice Pifer mentioned today, and I agree with her. Gamble, or his editor, should have consulted someone else -- possibly African-American, but more importantly someone closer to the snitching culture, whatever the color of their skin.
But above all, I think we've learned that race continues to be a provoking subject and that we shouldn't make assumptions: After all, should we assume African-Americans -- uneducated and demeaning, to boot -- are the only ones who 'snitch'? If that's exclusively true, fine -- but Gamble should have known what he was inferring with the cartoon. There are too many variables -- if 'snitching' was the point, African-American, "ho" and "nuttin'" shouldn't have been.
A cartoonist is a master at expressing a view on a subject in one glance. I think in the end, Gamble got close, but stumbled. What do you think?