How is a political cartoon racist? Let me count the ways.


A quick note.

In the past week, a cartoon was circulated among the faculty and staff of the University of Cincinnati’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences depicting the dean and a high ranking faculty member as the king and queen of the college. I won’t link to the cartoon here, but savvy readers should have no trouble finding it. This cartoon has turned into a new story, with public statements from the President of UC and the dean of McMicken, and has been reported on by every major media outlet in Cincinnati.

I should say beforehand that I am an employee at UC and have publicly criticized what I believe to be racist policy in the past. Prior to this incident, I have spoken to close personal friends in the college about the status of the now year-old tensions at McMicken.

The talk of the internet, from reddit, to comments on local news networks is that it is not racist. But these comments only show the tone-deaf nature of citizens in our neoliberal society when it comes to racism. One frame in particular outs the comic’s anonymous illustrator as the racist that they are. It depicts the high ranking faculty member as the queen of the college saying that they will “fire anyone that does not look like US.” This cuts to the heart of the matter. While faculty members of color are being hired and promoted, the perception is that non-black faculty are left without a place in the college. This perception is itself a manifestation of the racist claim of “reverse-racism,” neoliberalism’s go-to red-herring. It also tells us something about the illustrator: they are likely a white-person who feels wronged by any suggestion of racial equality (hint: Cincinnati (and the world) has a long way to go yet), because, for them, it means losing their place as the dominant ethnicity, a dynamic that the academy is not immune to (indeed, it has helped perpetuate it). Such feelings have no place in higher education, where critical thinking should be fostered, not shades of fascist demagoguery.

The university should not only call this sketch out for what it is, it should find and fire the faculty member that drew the racist sketch (precisely because they are racist) and implement aggressive programs to educate staff and student on racism and social justice.

I don’t have much faith that the neoliberal academy can implement such policies, but I have hope that one day it will be able to.