About that cartoon ...

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a recent speech, "in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." The comment came as America's first African-American attorney general addressed Justice Department employees on Feb. 18.

While I might quibble with the attorney general on his choice words (I think coward is a bit too strong), I do agree that some in our nation are very cautious when broaching the subject of race. I happen to be one of them.

The reaction to a recent political cartoon illustrates why many in America are not only overly cautious when it comes to issues of race, but some avoid discussion of the issue altogether.

On the same day Holder shared his observation, a political cartoon appeared in the New York Post that some have labeled as racist.

The Post cartoonist used the tragic situation of a pet chimp that was shot in Stamford, Conn., after attacking and seriously injuring a person to take issue with the stimulus bill that was recently passed by Congress.

Sean Delonas depicted two police officers who had just shot the chimp dead. One officer says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." Some have insisted the chimp was intended to represent President Obama.

The New York Post responded to the cries of racism in a statement: "It [the cartoon] was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill ... Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon -- even as the opportunists seek to make it something else."

I thought the cartoon in question was distasteful. To use the tragedy of a woman mauled and almost killed by a wild animal as a platform to poke fun at what the cartoonist believes is a foolish spending bill bothers me. But I saw nothing racial in The Post cartoon. After all, Congress -- and not Obama -- wrote the bill. Further, the bill was passed by Democrats and three Republican senators. While President Obama stumped for the bill's passage and signed it into law, he did not write it.

I took the chimp to represent an out-of-control Congress that has passed a so-called stimulus package that is insanely large and will do little to stimulate anything but a move toward a more socialized government.

The reaction to the cartoon as racist does underscore Attorney General Holder's observation that in America we don't talk much about race. Whether it's cowardice or caution, too many white people -- myself included -- simply avoid the subject altogether.

Are there racists in America? Yes, and they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. However, so long as some in our country see racism behind every wrong, every comment and in every cartoon, we will never make progress on the issue of race or be able to put the real racists in their place.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council had this to say about Holder's comments, "Many people, including conservatives, have recoiled at Holder's observation, which ironically, only seems to prove his point.... I think the Attorney General is correct, Americans have cowered to political correctness and as a result we avoid topics like race."

Perkins added that the solution to racial reconciliation "is not to be found in a more aggressive Department of Justice" but rather "in a more aggressive church where we unite around ideals rooted not in skin color but in Jesus Christ."

I agree.

If there was ever a time to deal with the race issue, it is now as an African-American occupies the White House.

It cannot be stated strongly enough that just because I do not agree with President Obama's positions does mean that I am racist. I am opposed to almost all of the president's policies, but it has nothing to do with his race.

President George W. Bush was skewered constantly by comedians of every race -- and he actually was depicted as a monkey on more than one occasion. Every president has had to deal with being mocked and ridiculed. It will be no different for our first African-American president. When President Obama is eventually made fun of -- and he will be -- it will not be because the cartoonist or comedian is racist, but because he is president and an easy target.

I do not believe that the Post cartoon contained any racial message. However, the reaction of some in America underscores the reason that many are cautious or, in the words of Attorney General Holder, cowards on the issue of race.

Contrary to the belief of some, racism is not always in the eye of the beholder. Like The Post said, sometimes a cartoon is nothing more than a cartoon.


Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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