Debate over E. Michigan U. Klan Cartoon

Inside Higher Education has an account of intense debatesover a Klan cartoon run by the Eastern Michigan University student paper.
(Source: Jason Promo [currently #14])
The newspaper editors gave the usual lame non-apology apology, which many also found hypocritical or offensive:

We understand the “You Are Here” cartoon may have offended some readers. We apologize for the lack of sensitivity some felt we showed for publishing the piece. The cartoon points out the hypocrisy of hate-filled people. Its intent was to ask how can someone show affection for one person while at the same time hating someone else enough to commit such a heinous act as hanging. We wish to remind readers that they are free to express their opinion on our discussion boards and we hope to continue to foster free thought and open discussion on campus and in the community. – The Eastern Echo

One sharp comment after the editorial was this:

The cartoon comes nowhere NEAR “pointing out hypocrisy.” The decision to publish that cartoon is a travesty, no matter how you measure it. In a civilized society, we have to recognize that some things are never funny. If you don’t know what these are, then you need to go back to school.

So, the editors apologize because “some felt” they showed a lack of sensitivity, not because they really did show a lack of sensitivity. One wonders if they would similarly allow a cartoonist mocking of some people in Nazi uniforms making silly superficial comments near a major German Nazi death camp like Auschwitz. I doubt it.

It appears that these students, including the cartoonist, need a good set of lessons about the scale and brutality of the thousands of lynchings that whites have conducted over the last century to the present day. For many African Americans and others that tree and noose imagery in the cartoon conjure up painful memories of brutal killings of black Americans (and some other Americans of color) by mobs of white Americans. About 3,513 lynchings of black men and 76 of black women were recorded for the years 1882 to 1927, but many more did not get recorded.

Between the Civil War and the present, perhaps as many as 6,000 lynchings of black men and women have been perpetrated in the southern states and in certain areas of the northern and border states. Many thousands of other violent white attacks on African Americans have also gone unrecorded. Lynchings were savage events often with a strongly ritualized character. One lynching account from the 1940s involved a black man accused of trying to rape a white woman. A white participant told the story of a Klan-type white mob’s actions. Here is just part of the story:

I ain’t tellin’ nobody just what we done to that [black man] but we used a broken bottle just where it’d do the most damage, and any time you want to see a nigger ear all you gotta do is go to see old man Smith and ast him for a peep at one…. Yes, ma’am, we done things I never knowed could be done and things I certainly ain’t mentionin’ to no lady.” After being cut, the black victim was doused in kerosene and burned, with the ending being that “the groanin’ got lower and lower and finely it was just little gasps and then it wasn’t nothin’ a tall.” After pulling him out of the fire, the white mob tied him to a tree, leaving him for his relatives to take down.

I see no humor in cartoons about such lynchings, whatsoever. Only pain. Indeed, where is the public discussion about these thousands of lynchings and their perpetrators and survivors (and relatives) who are still alive in the present day? That would be an important focus of student newspaper discussions of our long history of such lynchings.


  1. No1KState

    Many lynchings did play out as entertain as well as terror. Family outings, picnics, etc. Some were advertised in out-of-state papers. I think the first food carts or something like it started during this time. So it’s perfectly reasonable to think that perhaps some couples did meet at a lynching.

    As strict commentary, it’s poignant. I wouldn’t describe the dichotomy as hypocricy, but racism does present a duality where some people are worthy of, say, political asylum whereas others as not.

    The problem with the cartoon is that it’s supposed to be funny. It’s not funny. Imagery aside, it’s obvious that someone died – that’s what a lynching is. When is murder funny? Taking them at their word that they wanted to start a serious converation, they should’ve used one of the pictures from the WITHOUT SANTUARY project on the front page above the fold. I think the best way to deal with this is for someone to teach them how their on duality, the professed desire to illustrate the workings of racism contrasted by their own demonstrated lack of . . . I’m not sure of the right word. Do you really have to be sensitive to understand that murder isn’t funny? Are they not aware that lynching imagery is representative of murder and terror, and if so, what does that say about American society, education, and collective memory?

    I don’t know. I my mind, I can only imagine these young, probably Obama-supporters, retreating to “intent” in response to all the negative action and becoming conservatives. I can hear them arguing that they’re not racist because they voted for Obama/have black friends/have dated black classmates. But that’s how racism works. An individual can hold simultaneously incongrous thoughts. It’s called cognitive dissonance. They need to understand that the ability to demonstrate affection for other whites didn’t mean lynchers couldn’t also hate those deemed “inferior,” nor does their affection for each other excuse their psychopathy in celebrating murder, torture, and terror. No one, I hope, would argue, “Yeah, they throw a fair for the lynching. But they’re really good people.” In that same way, people’s intent doesn’t excuse their impact, as it were. Whatever their intent, they should’ve known even intuitively that such imagery would not be well-received. You don’t have to be a black person or a person of color to be offended. You just have to be a person. I get their point. It’s just not funny.

  2. ThirtyNine4Ever

    I have a feeling the published meaning of the cartoon was not the cartoonists original intent. I would guess that it is a celebration of the apathy of the cartoonist. To me it says “I’m so apathetic that a lynching is just another background setting to me, look how funny that is” It’s cool in some circles I guess. I would bet money the published intent of the cartoon was just an attempt at back-peddling and covering their own butts.


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