Cartoon stereotyping Latino didn’t denote ‘Our View’
September 27, 2009
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When we make mistakes, it’s our responsibility to take ownership and to make amends to not only those we’ve harmed directly, but also to those who were unjustly swept into the aftermath.
In 2005, a series of cartoons depicting Islamic Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist appeared in a Danish newspaper, setting off a nearly six-month-long firestorm of violent Muslim protests around the globe. By the time most of the dust had settled, more than 100 people were dead.
The newspaper, Jylands-Posten, attempted to justify the cartoons as an attempt to expand the debate about Islamic fundamentalism, overall ethnocentrism and free speech.
The Danish newspaper eventually wrote an apology, but not until after the backlash from the Muslim global communities had grown to near-catastrophic levels. The toothpaste was out and could not be squeezed back into the tube.
On Thursday, I, the opinions editor for the Daily 49er, made a hasty and poor judgment call to run a cartoon accompanying the editorial titled “Schools ‘insourcing’ foreign teachers.”
The editorial was meant to highlight a trend in recent years of American teachers avoiding inner-city and rural teaching assignments, with teachers on temporary visas from other countries taking the jobs. The intention was to encourage future teachers to take assignments in impoverished areas where U.S.-trained teachers are in short supply, especially in math and the sciences.
The cartoon, however, showed a seemingly disheveled, unshaven Latino day laborer and a white male in a suit — presumably a school principal. The dialogue was from the white male, saying, “Class, we’re broke! So say hello to Paco! He was a day worker standing around Home Depot, but is now your new English & math teacher.” The cartoon was off-topic and off-color.
I detest the concept of censorship, but know as an editor there must always be a modicum of self-censorship so as not to marginalize any group, or individual, by discriminating against people based on race, ethnicity, religion, culture, gender, or any form of illustrative stereotyping a perceived “other.”
Many friends and acquaintances I have in our diverse campus communities have shared their disappointment that I didn’t pull the cartoon. Those who’ve expressed their dismay most are injured because they know me to be a champion of the underdog by challenging racism, bigotry and hatred. They are right in their anguish because I also am disappointed in my lack of prudence.
I could offer readers the series of events that led to my lax choice to let the cartoon appear, but those would amount to no more than inadequate, feeble excuses. Suffice it say that I fell asleep at the wheel. Mostly, I selfishly ignored good time-management practices and made a lazy decision.
Other members of the staff, including our editor in chief, Joanne Tucker, and managing editor, Tracy McDannald, have tried to diffuse my ultimate responsibility by shouldering some of the blame. They possibly own minor culpability for not reacting as gatekeepers, but only to a very minute degree.
They allow me quite a bit of autonomy in my decision-making processes about content and artwork.
Readers grow to trust the integrity and credibility of a newspaper based largely on sound judgment. When one person fails it reflects on the publication as a whole. It’s not always fair but it’s real; it’s the animal we’ve committed our lives to as journalists. We rely on each other to avoid that one gaffe that can tarnish our reputation for being equitable.
I’ve worked extremely hard for nearly three years to fight the same exclusion the cartoon seemed to promote.
For all of the above, I apologize to our readers, my friends, the Daily 49er staff and our numerous communities, whether on-campus or off. I apologize not only to those who were hurt and offended by the cartoon, but to those who should have been, yet somehow weren’t.
Finally, I apologize to myself for letting my humanities guard down. I screwed up and I have to own it, and hope you all can forgive me.
Duke Rescola is a senior journalism major and the opinions editor for the Daily 49er.