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Political cartoons have a place and purpose

Racism is an ugly thing. Many of us would like to think that it is gone in America, but it unfortunately is still very real.

The presidential election brought this issue to the forefront for the first time in many years with the prospect of the first black president. The candidates continued to call for an election in which race was not a factor, but in reality, it could not be escaped.

This issue was blown to seemingly catastrophic proportions on many college campuses over the last few months. A political cartoon printed in several college newspapers, depicting a white racist family telling a political canvasser that they were voting for Obama, spurned explosive controversy.

The most recent printing was in the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the daily independent newspaper at the University of Arizona. The comic — which ran the day after the election of President-elect Obama and portrayed the family using the “N” word to describe him as their candidate — caused uproar from students and community members alike.

Students claimed that as an institution of higher learning, UA and its newspaper should not be endorsing racism or propagating racist commentary. The editor in chief, Lauren LePage, tried to explain it away as a “mistake.”

It seems to me that everyone is missing the point: It is a political cartoon.

A political cartoonist’s job is to satirically depict events. The event in the cartoon was an event that actually happened to an Obama canvasser. The illustrator, Keith Knight, explains that he was trying to demonstrate that racism still exists in America in all of its ugly forms, and that even white racists were voting for Barack Obama.

But why should he even need to explain it in the first place?

The primary offense of the cartoon was the use of the derogatory word to refer to black people – specifically, President-elect Obama. In this context, it was deemed racist.

However, I am confused why it is then acceptable for black comedians such as Dave Chappelle, as well as countless music artists, to use the term. In fact, several people decided the cartoon was permissible only after learning that Mr. Knight is black.

It seems that the word is only racist coming from white people. But how is that logical? Either the word is offensive or it isn’t.

Racism is a sad part of our country’s past — and, as we can see, it is still a very real part of our present. The election of Barack Obama made definite strides in the right direction, but it does not erase the views of a lot of people.

After the incident in the Daily Wildcat, the Associated Students of UA (the university’s student government body) condemned the printing of the cartoon as a barrier to diversity.

Apparently, ASUA believes that the only opinions that promote diversity are those that conform to political correctness.

Diversity, by definition, means variety. While racism may be hurtful and unfounded, it is still an opinion. The beauty of America is that we can have opinions that may be unpopular, but we still have the right to voice those opinions. That is true diversity.

If newspapers wrote only uncontroversial, benign stories, no one would read them. A newspaper has a responsibility to both report truth and promote discussion amongst its readers. Sometimes the truth hurts, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

In reality, the cartoon ended up doing exactly what it was supposed to do: Bring our attention to the racism still present in our own minds as well as in the social fabric of America. It just happened in a way the cartoonist seemingly never would have imagined.

Janne is a criminology and criminal justice graduate student and can be reached at

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