quirksmith_ethiopian_food_fight

This cartoon drawn by Grant Woolard was published in The Cavalier Daily, an independent UVA newspaper in Sept. 2007. Why discuss this now? Because recently a friend told me how she found the cartoon funny, and without seeing it I found the concept really distasteful. Today I decided to actually look the cartoon up… lo and behold it’s even more disgusting than I thought. Why write about it in a Desi blog, you ask? Because the South Asian countries also have a majority poor population, many of them without food, and I think this cartoon, while using Ethiopians, is an insult to all people of colour.

Firstly, it’s extremely distasteful for a privileged person to make fun of exploited people’s oppression. The very idea of a food fight is privileged because one has to have enough food to waste to fight with it. If you have food to waste, why make fun of people who don’t? Secondly, the cartoon just repeats a stereotype of Ethiopians not having food. While some, even many, Ethiopians might not have food, many Ethiopians do have food, and I’m tired of the third world not having food images. And lastly, what the hell is up with the loincloths? Has the cartoonists ever seen real Ethiopians? There might be some specific tribes in specific countries (not limited to the African continent) who wear loincloths, but I don’t think the cartoonist is knowledgeable enough to know their identities. To portray Ethiopians as not wearing clothes is factually incorrect and perpetuates colonial stereotypes.

While web surfing, I came across Woolard’s defense of his cartoon. You can read it here. He laments the fact that nobody inquired about what he wanted to convey by the distasteful cartoon. From his explanation, it seems that he’s very concerned about the food inequalities of the world. So it’s possible that he’s a good person but a bad cartoonist. Either that or he’s a good cartoonist but a racist person. If he really wanted to draw attention to food inequalities, why not draw the food wastage in America as the cause of Ethiopia’s food shortage? Why not draw McDonald’s, or make caricatures of Americans as gluttons (which I don’t agree with but I’m trying to make a point)? As he pointed out in his own defense, Ireland also experienced a potato famine. Why not draw that? Why colored people? And all the excuses in the world cannot defend to me drawing Ethiopians wearing loincloth. This is more than just a small issue to me. I’m from Bangladesh and a girl in high school here asked me if people run around naked in my country like she heard. What the hell!! Bangladesh is so conservative that modesty often includes covering hair!!

And while the author’s views are important in structuralist analysis, reader’s views are also important in post-structuralist analysis. The author shouldn’t have been oblivious to what reactions his work might provoke in readers. I don’t think it’s always wrong to make satiric cartoons, especially if they’re against despotic rulers or groups. But who is Woolard offending here? He’s offending the very people who’ve historically been exploited and still face racism. Many privileged people seem to find this cartoon funny. It’s minorities and sensible allies who objected to it. What’s the humor in offending victims?

Finally, there was additional controversy over this cartoon when Woolard was fired from the newspaper, even though the board had agreed to publish the cartoon. I agree that Woolard was unfairly fired. I think Woolard and the whole board of Cav Daily should’ve resigned. – vidyarthi

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