An editorial cartoon about the Trayvon Martin case published on Tuesday’s Daily Texan Opinion page sparked controversy both on and off campus.
The cartoon shows a mother reading to her child the following words: “And then ... the big bad white man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent colored boy.” She is also holding a book with the title “Treyvon (sic) Martin and the case of yellow journalism.” The cartoon misspells Martin’s first name.
Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old, African-American teenager from Sanford, Fla., who was killed last month allegedly by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who claims the shooting was in self-defense. The case has sparked a heated, national discussion on the nature of contemporary racism.
Several organizations on campus and local media outlets contacted the Texan via email, phone and social networks to seek an explanation of the intention behind the cartoon. National and local media, including Gawker and Huffington Post, reported about the cartoon.
Ashley Robinson, president of the Black Student Alliance on campus, said she finds the word “colored” problematic.
“It [the word] is associated with the time of segregation, and I was surprised to see it printed in The Daily Texan,” Robinson said.
She said she recognizes that editorial cartoons are meant to start a conversation, but it was bad timing since it aligned with a rally held at the Capitol Tuesday evening, called “Justice for Trayvon.”
Stephanie Eisner, political cartoonist for The Texan and the author of the cartoon, said she drew the cartoon in an attempt to criticize the media’s portrayal of the issue. She said some of the media seems to be sensationalizing the facts and making race the more prominent aspect of the case.
“I feel the news should be unbiased. And in the retelling of this particular event, I felt that that was not the case,” Eisner said. “My story compared this situation to yellow journalism in the past, where aspects of news stories were blown out of proportion with the intention of selling papers and enticing emotions.”
She said she understands people can misinterpret her message, and in the future she will be mindful of trying to get her message across more successfully.
Assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi attended the Justice for Trayvon rally and march in Austin Tuesday and started a petition urging the Texan to censure Eisner’s work. He said the petition also asks for open discussions with The Texan’s staff on racial bias.
Viviana Aldous, editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan, said the editorial board does not agree with the perceived message of the cartoon. The editorial board approves all content on the opinion page.
“As an editorial board, our job is to allow the Opinion page to serve as a forum for people across campus,” Aldous said.
On March 22, the Texan ran a syndicated illustration on the Opinion page, criticizing the “stand your ground” law in Florida, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is a perceived threat. Some have used the law to justify Zimmerman’s actions.
She said publishing responses to Tuesday’s controversial cartoon, which appear in today’s paper, ensures that Opinion page remains an open forum for the Texan’s readers.
Graduate advertising student Amber Chenevert, the vice president of the Black Graduate Students Association, said she understands editorial cartoons have a degree of satire, but something that alludes to racial profiling being a myth is troubling.
“We have to question whether we are perpetuating ignorance or excellence on campus,” Chenevert said.
Editor's note: (03/28/12 at 9:23 a.m.) changed "censor" to "censure."
Printed on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 as: Trayvon Martin editorial cartoon causes backlash