Is it just a cartoon?

As I clicked onto the Jamaica Observer cartoon today, I was completely surprised to see the portrayal of Robert Mugabe as an ape. I immediately had a wide range of opinions on the issue, and so wanted to ask you if I’m overreacting?

It’s one thing when white supremacists on YouTube post racist comments under videos of news from Zimbabwe implying that black people are unfit to run our own countries. It is another thing entirely when a black cartoonist, in a country where over 90% of the population is black, chooses to portray an African leader as an ape – and to put the words “Black man time” on the ape as if to imply that the problems taking place in Zimbabwe are due to the color of the leader. And yes, I understand that it is also a way to tweak PJ Patterson. But PJ Patterson was democratically elected (repeatedly) and left power voluntarily, and is alive today as an ‘elder statesman.’

So my first thought is: This is racist! And if it had graced the pages of the New York Times, or the New York Post for that matter, there would be calls for the resignation of the cartoonist by the end of the day.

Recently, there was quite a bit of discussion in America about a relatively tame by comparison portrayal in Vogue Magazine of a basketball player Lebron James as King Kong.

There have always been racial undertones to the depiction of King Kong, especially his relationship with the various white actresses portraying his ‘love interest’ over the years.

So I want to hear your opinion.

Am I overreacting, is it just a harmless cartoon?

Am I mistakenly bringing an American sensibility to a Jamaican issue?

Given the bleaching and pigment-complexes rampant in Jamaica, is it responsible to depict Afrocentric features as belonging to apes, monkeys, and baboons?

Is Clovis advocating a return to colonial rule for Zimbabwe (and Jamaica by extension)?

Would the Jamaica Observer publish a cartoon with similar racist overtones about Indians in Jamaica? Would the Butch-Stewart-owned Jamaica Observer depict white autocrats as animals and if so what type of animal?

As the Brits say comment is free.

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14 thoughts on “Is it just a cartoon?

  1. I genuinely think that you are bringing a Black-American perspective to this – wrongly.

    There is no mistaking the King Kong similarities but Mugabe has been extremely stubborn and would rather scale a building than be subdued.

    It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with intent and attitude. He is behaving like a brute and has become the exact kind of person he fought so hard against in the 70’s.

    Because he is Black, enough Black leaders in Africa have not publicly chastised him but it is time that we look past skin colour and look deeper to values.

    Skin colour does not make us friends – our values do, and Mugabe shares few values with those who believe in freedom and democracy.

  2. I agree with you that Mugabe’s behavior is brutish, and that black leaders in Africa haven’t done enough to criticize him. Especially Thabo Mbeki.

    But I fail to understand how Clovis can see Mugabe’s behavior and then make what appears to be a sweeping statement about black leadership in general. Mugabe’s behavior is not a product of his race so why are his racial features being lampooned?

    It is “black man time” in Barbados and Botswana, stable growing democracies. Mugabe’s tyranny and brutality is not a product of his race.

    Despite the demographics, I don’t need to remind Jamaicans that it wasn’t too long ago a Jamaican woman with African features like those being derided above would be precluded from an office job or bank job, and would never be considered for an air hostess position. It wasn’t too long ago our only conception of beauty was Cindy Breakspeare. How far removed from that racism is Jamaica today?

    I challenge anyone to show me a similarly derogatory depiction of “white” racial features in a Jamaican cartoon.

  3. Clovis’ depiction IS racist. It is racist because it reproduces ideas borne of and integral to white supremacy; ie. the definition and denigration of the Other. Depicting Africans as animals (men as menacing and women as sexually available and insatiable) and making fun of the struggles for independence is a time honoured activity among Europeans and their African lackeys who sought to undermine and cast doubt on the whole enterprise.
    I don’t need to make this up, nor claim opinion. These are historical truths documented over and over again. We as Jamaicans don’t take knowledge too seriously though, preferring to think that all research is just a matter of opinion.

    Mugabe might be a royal asshole, a truly demented, and destructive person who is abusing his historical role as “freedom fighter” and using it against Zimbabweans and spitting in our faces while he’s at it, but he is not an animal.

    But I am not sure why you are so surprised at this? Many other cartoons by Clovis are racial caricatures and informed by racist ideas; the sexist layers help convey the message as well. Sometimes, Clovis’ cartoons literally make my head hurt, and I have to just move on, turn the page, and swallow my tongue. The meaning is even more complex in a society that, as you say, is majority Black. But that society is also stricken with Afrophobia – a profound fear and hatred of Blackness and Africa – which runs really deep. I went to Ghana earlier this year with a bunch of Jamaicans, and that was an experience, let me tell you. When in 2008, you still encounter frequent questions about WHETHER it would have been better to remain a colony than to be independent (even among my generation born in the early Manley years) that tells you a lot about our political consciousness. Sometimes I feel really embarassed to have to explain to my non-Jamaican friends why we are so self-hating, but then once I establish how the history of colonialism has unfolded in Ja., I feel really sad that I cannot say that we have moved further along in our consciousness.

    Why more of us don’t complain when we see these depictions? I know I just too tired sometimes. Because Eurocentric anti-black ideas are so entrenched in Jamaica, the most obnoxious 18th century-ish statements and ideas seem entirely normal to us [Can someone explain to me how, in June 2008, a 16 year old dark-skinned girl being educated at Wolmer’s who is also at the top of her class can look me straight in the face and tell me that she is a Negro?] To flag these as serious problems is to be accused of 1) bringing “foreign” ie. American ideas to bear on our situation [you see the irony, yes?], and 2) to being overly sensitive, looking for things that aren’t there. Both of those responses are so popular and ubiquitous that if/when someone responds that way, you KNOW that you were right to think twice to begin with.

  4. You are correct, but you know what? The extent of ignorance and self-hatred that prevails concerning much of what is uniquely Jamaican is formidable. So in order to prevent ourselves being overwhelmed by it all, we just learn to move on and not to care.

    As for Mugabe, he has held the reins of power for close to three decades; it was almost certain that the dark side of his nature as it relates to absolute power would take over. Tragically he has become as vilified as was Ian Smith, PM of then Rhodesia.

    As Jamaicans we should look on and learn, if we have not yet learned from leaving our own government in power for close to two decades, and now having to face the culture of corruption that has ensued. The feeling of entitlement that results from protracted rule is a malady not restricted to color or race.

    Clovis’ use of the images traditionally used by a Eurocentric culture to depict the nature of the African reveals an acceptance of the values that culture attributes to us. We see ourselves as they see us. Is self-hatred a form of racism, in this context?

  5. “Is self-hatred a form of racism in this context?”

    I’d say yes. After the murder of Sean Bell in NYC at the hands of the state I no longer make the distinction between whether the agents of white supremacy are deliberate or inadvertent. As well, I no longer care very much if the agent is black, white, or purple. Some of the cops that shot Sean Bell are black, so some people claim that his murder could not have been the result of racism.

    But racism is institutionalized, so it has finally dawned on me to be more concerned with the effects of white supremacy, than with the race of its agent.

  6. For a considrable number of Jamaicans, both men and women, the conception of beauty is still that of a European/caucasian/mulatto type,despite the demographic composition of the society.Witness, the winners of the various Miss Jamaica beauty pageants over the years that we (the society) have churned out of the mulatto factory.Also, in recent years the high incidence of skin bleaching or dermatological metamorphosis taking place within certain quarters and elements of the society, strongly suggests and indicates that the racial issue, or question in its various forms is still paramount in the society.The incidence of self loathing,internal racism and general racism still abounds, although many people prioritize class as the dominant issue. Clovis’ caricature of Mr. Robert Mugabe as an ape is definitely racist, because he Clovis, is basically looking at Mr. Mugabe through European lens.Hence Mr. Mugabe is lampooned as an ape.

  7. who does what and why is far less important than the effects – what ideas are being legitimized, what/who is made invisible, what systems are left untouched to continue the work of oppression.

  8. personally i thought it was a john crow (Mugabe looks like he’s flapping his wings doesn’t he?) Clovis was referring to not an ape but either way its excessive…

    some of Clovis’s cartoons are so brilliant that i had overlooked the problematic nature of some of them, so very grateful to Up So for pointing this out.

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