Chicago radio hosts argue caricature of racism is not itself racism
Maze Jackson and journalist Charles Thomas took to the air to defend a controversial cartoon on the Illinois Policy Institute's website during a recent edition of Chicago's WVON "Morning Show."
The cartoon, which depicts a cigar-chomping white man in a suit and a black child sitting on a street corner holding a hat that reads “Need money 4 school,” has been pulled from the site, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, following charges that it was racist. The white man in the cartoon is holding out one empty pocket while his other pocket bulges with money labeled “TIF $” to represent revenue some school districts receive via tax increment financing.
Jackson said the drawing of the boy's lips and nose fueled some of the allegations of racism.
“To me, it’s not racist,” Thomas, who recently retired after more than 25 years at Chicago’s ABC7 television station, said. “There’s nothing in that cartoon that’s racist except the situation that they are caricaturing: the fact that rich, white men are getting TIF money and taking it away from poor black kids. That’s real-life racism, but they’re worrying about the cartoon and the child, which wasn’t racist."
Legislators denounced the cartoon on the House floor after its publication, according to the Sun-Times. The Illinois Policy Institute, a right-wing think tank, removed the cartoon but did not apologize for it. Several lawmakers and journalists called on Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has hired several new staff members from the institute, to respond to the controversy.
The response, drafted by his communications staff, brought more controversy, saying that "as a white male," Rauner had nothing to add to the debate. A subsequent report from the Sun-Times noted that the communications staffers who had previously worked at the institute resigned. Rauner was said to be furious with the response.
During their "Morning Show" discussion, Jackson and Thomas called the controversy a distraction from larger issues, including the one the cartoon was drafted to highlight.
“Didn’t we just hear a story about $55 million in TIF funds being diverted from the poor part of the 3rd Ward to go build Navy Pier and the DuPaul and the Marriott Center, all of which are private institutions that do not need public funding?” Jackson said.
Jackson also took issue with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s response to the controversy. According to the Sun-Times, he called the cartoon unambiguously racist and said racism must never be tolerated. Jackson found this hypocritical in light of Emanuel’s actions on police misconduct in the city.
“Is this the same person that allegedly hid the Laquan McDonald tape?” Jackson said, referring to evidence in a police shooting case that has led to the indictment of three officers, according to The New York Times. “Is this the same person that allegedly ... is fighting police reform right now? He’s got a lawsuit to stop federal oversight. When is he calling out racism?”
Jackson and Thomas also noted that their position on the cartoon and the institute in general – representatives of which they have been on the show – has led to questions of their credibility. Thomas declared that they would allow groups with a range of opinions to make their case to the black community.
“We know that Republicans got their issues; they got racism issues,” Jackson said. “But I think that what’s the problem is that we’re pointing a mirror to the racism that exists with the people in our own base.”