On Notice: Black People are Banned from Satire

While spending some time on the evermore ubiquitous Twitter, I ran across a story from The Root's feed. Black students at the humorously-named Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania are complaining about an editorial cartoon depicting a black man hanging from a noose, asking the white crowd below, "You're doing this because I'm black, aren't you?" Those in the white crowd then say the black man is playing the race card.

While I haven't seen the cartoon (can a brotha' get a jpeg?), that description sounds pretty funny. But when you read the story, many seemed to disagree. If you read the story, you'd also find the artist of the cartoon is black. A black man made a comment through satire about how white people can at times persecute blacks and then say blacks are calling the race card, but so many of us see a black guy in a noose and start to call Rev. Sharpton (just wait).

When I heard about this story, I could only immediately think about another firestorm provoked by massive miscommunication: the fracas from that New Yorker cover. You know... this one:

Here we go again

How did we miss the point again? Did black people really think The New Yorker is full of racists? That elitist, liberal rag may be somewhat exclusionary at times, but it wouldn't dare be overtly racist. Once again, black people missed satire. The cartoon was about the republican perception of how the Obamas would "corrupt" the presidency. Considering it's been more than a year and hearing from birthers, deathers, Godwin's Law-breakers, and folks bandying about the word "socialism" without having a solitary clue what that entails, that cartoonist should get a raise for being so astute. I mean... if he's still employed because black people don't get satire.

There are so many of us who get our ire raised in a flash without thinking about meaning. Of course, every artist has to take the risk that his or her work may be misinterpreted, but perhaps black people should just quit trying with satire altogether. I'm not saying we as a people lack the higher order thinking and interpretive skills for it. There's clearly a guy at Slippery Rock who has the idea down. Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder is doing alright at it, although he did once tell me at a panel discussion years ago that it works when you put a cute face on it. But by and large, either black people really don't understand how satire works or we really like complaining about stuff. While I can complain with the best of them, I sort of like the stuff I complain about to have a point.

Maybe we as a people need a refresher course on the form. We should all read Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal and then discuss it. Anyone who believes we really should eat Irish babies should be briefed on why he or she will no longer be allowed to procreate. Eventually, the discussion will move onto why Stephen Colbert and The Onion aren't real news sources. Black people will perpetuate discourse on Bahktinian Carnivalesque in no time. The ones who aren't taken out back and flogged, anyway.

Chances are, I probably won't be able to assemble the resources for my "Satire for Negroes" course. If Fox News has such a close eye on ACORN right now, I don't even have a chance. But in the meantime, I think we can do our part to stop reading editorial cartoons. Otherwise, it's only a matter of time before some image of an AIDS treatment cocktail set on an ivory tower in the midst of a ghetto as a symbolism of how the condition is ravaging the black community and how our lack of healthcare is keeping it out of reach is misinterpreted and then we need to call Jesse Jackson and then he'll make another comment about chopping off someone's genitalia and we frankly don't need that kind of attention.

EDIT: Apparently, I wasn't paying attention to the story deeply enough. The comic in question was from the syndicated strip by Keith Knight, "The K Chronicles." So the artist in question isn't some really smart college kid who now has really pissed off peers but is instead an accomplished cartoonist who probably has readers lost about his work once more. Maybe the students of Slippery Rock should stick to Marmaduke.

Thanks to Sylvia5th for bringing this to my attention.

EDIT 2: I got that jpeg.
Thanks, The Comic Book Hook-Up & Brent.


I have the strip posted on my blog (in full most sites I've seen just show the first panel) if you still haven't seen it.

it's really sad that the students at Slippery Rock didn't pick up on the actual message of the cartoon.

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