Is this cartoon about Sotomayor insensitive?


You may have seen this recent editorial cartoon about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and it is generating a lot of heat.

The cartoon is by Chip Bok of The Oklahoman and depicts Sotomayor hanging like a piñata, President Obama wearing a sombrero and a group of elephants holding sticks. Obama says, "Now who wants to be first?" The headline is "Fiesta Time at the Confirmation hearings."

Women's groups are outraged that it looks like the elephants (or the Republicans)  are preparing to beat her up.

"A picture speaks louder than words and that cartoon sends a message to women of all ages: Back off. Know your place. Or we'll take a stick to you and teach you a lesson," wrote Jean Warner, the chair of the Oklahoma Women's Coalition, on her blog.

Latinos are upset that the cartoonist is mixing up cultures. Clearly Sotomayor is Puerto Rican and piñatas and round sombrero hats are Mexican.

Even one conservative Latino is demanding an apology.

"This grotesque insult requires a formal editorial apology from both Creators' Syndicate and The Oklahoman," Jose Niño, a former President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement posted on the Trail Blazers blog.

Niño co-chairs the conservative Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute, and has been a major fundraiser for the campaigns of President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain and other Republican candidates.

The cartoonist is exercising his freedom of speech, and I would never want to censor that.
But I do find the cartoon tasteless and tacky. It fails in the same way
the New Yorker cartoon failed in depicting the Obamas as radicals. 
It's open for criticism.

It's also disturbing to see an image of Sotomayor with a rope around her neck. Although Bok told Hispanic Business it's a harness, not a rope. But it sure looks like a rope. And who ever heard of anybody using a harness to hang a piñata?

We know that blacks were lynched in this country. There's also a
history of lynching Mexicans in the United States. Around 600 Mexicans
were lynched in Texas, California and throughout the Southwest from
1848 through the 1920s, according to a book by William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb.

I'm not sure if the cartoonist knew that but it certainly touched a nerve with me when I saw it. I thought lynching.

I understand the intent to show the Republicans were preparing to attack Sotomayor.  This is certain.

But the botched mixing of cultural metaphors and the men preparing to
beat up a woman who looks like she's hanging from a rope shows a lack of cultural sensitivity. It's just not


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  • I don't think it's funny either. But I also wonder if our expectation that cartoonists should be "sensitive" is a little too much. I mean, it's really their job to push us, to push our buttons and make us mad, to provoke us to think and speak our minds about something.
    But we also have the responsibility to speak out against images we think are disturbing, which is what you're so wonderfully doing here. I just wonder if calls for an apology are necessary. Isn't it enough to express our opinion and let other people express theirs?

  • I agree that he shouldn't apologize. He certainly is provoking us to talk about it. But the image just fell flat with me.

  • If the cartoon was intended to provoke thought, I wonder if the cartoonist considered these images. If it was intended as a joke, this is seriously poor taste.

    As you note in your post, Obama in a harness would have drawn merited criticism and calls for a retraction, apology and the artist's job.

    I love journalism but sometimes I can see what others consider crass media.

    Is it 1948 outside?

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