“Smile and Move On”: Paul Godfrey on Racism


On Sunday, the Toronto Sun ran the above cartoon (by Anthony Donato) on this cartoon of Olivia Chow. Chow denounced the cartoon as “racist” and “sexist” (two characterizations I agree with). I thought it would be productive to find out what Paul Godfrey, who runs the large media outfit that is about to buy the Toronto Sun (and who ran the Sun years ago) thought about this. Our conversation from last night and today, carried out on email, is pasted below.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

My name is Jeet Heer. I’m a freelance writer — I’ve written for many publications including The New Yorker, The Guardian, the Globe and Mail. Many moons ago I used to work for the National Post, where I was a columnist.
I’m writing to you about a controversy over a cartoon that ran in the Toronto Sun, featuring Olivia Chow in a Mao Suit. You can see the cartoon here:
As you will see, the cartoon depicts Ms. Chow rather in the manner of a Kim Il-Jung, as a malevolent dwarf. The imagery calls to mind the depiction of Asians in “Yellow Peril” cartoons of the early 20th century.
Many people, including Chow herself, called this cartoon racist and sexist.
The Toronto Sun, which I understand you are in the process of purchasing, denies this charge. See here: https://twitter.com/GraphicMatt/status/526953920476626944
As the prospective owner of the Toronto Sun, I want to know whether you think this cartoon is, as the paper you are purchasing insists, not racist and not sexist?
Can you please answer this question. I will be happy to quote your answer (or non-answer) the article I am working on.
Best, Jeet Heer
Godfrey’s response:
Jeet, I did not see the cartoon in question so for that reason it is difficult to give you an opinion on it.
Secondly as a person who has been the the subject of jokes/ridicule etc in cartoons in many publications over the years I fully realize that newspaper cartoons poke fun at public figures surrounding serious topics. All you have to do is take a look at today’s newspapers.
I have learned from personal experience to smile and move on. The public usually do the same thing.
My response:
Dear Mr. Godfrey,

Thank you very much for your prompt and extended response. In terms of seeing the cartoon, it is widely available on the internet. I provided a link in my original email. Here is another: http://o.canada.com/news/olivia-chow-andy-donato-toronto-sun-racist-sexist-cartoon-535578
Since Mr. Donato will soon be in your employ and he’s the person most closely associated in the public mind with the Sun Media (having been at the Toronto Sun since its inception in 1971), perhaps you can look at the cartoon and offer an opinion.
[Jeet Heer]
Godfrey’s response:
I have now seen Andy Donato’s cartoon. I have always thought Donato to be one of the finest cartoonist in Canada. In fact, I continually refer to him as the Franchise of the Sun chain..
Having said that I repeat what I stated in my previous email to you. Cartoons in newspapers often poke fun at serious news items and that was what he is doing here. Donato is neither racist or sexist. I know that because I worked with him for almost 16 years,  He has often poked fun at me in cartoons for years making fun of my surgically corrected jaw.
People who enter all forms of public life may from time to time not like what a cartoonist produces. I do not believe he crossed the line of good taste on this cartoon.
[Paul Godfrey]
My response:
Thank you.
[Jeet Heer]

National Review and Ethnic Slurs: A Brief History

National Review makes an appeal to Latinos.

Matt Yglesias and others have raised their collective eyebrows at the fact that Jay Nordlinger of National Review Online was willing to very casually deploy the derogatory term “wetback.” As it turns out, Nordlinger is a repeat user of this word. In 2006, Nordlinger wrote that for many on the right, George W. Bush was “big-spending, wetback-lovin’ squish.” And going back away, I discovered that other National Review writers have used the term “wetback”, notably the magazine’s resident light verse writer William H. von Dreele, who wrote in 1979 that his love of Mexican tomatoes could only meant that “I’m a wetback to the core.”

Words, of course, only have meaning in the context in which they are used. On at least one occasion National Review employed “wetback” in a defensible way, in an article from February 14, 1986 by K.E. Grubbs Jr. deploring anti-immigrant sentiment titled “Just Another Wetback.” But the other uses  of “wetback” have all been as an offhand slur, the type of derogatory term you habitually use when talking about an inferior race.

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James J. Kilpatrick: Death of a Bigot

James J. Kilpatrick

I’ll be curious to see what the obituaries are like for James Jackson Kilpatrick, the newspaper columnist who died last night. Although his name has lost its luster in recent years, Kilpatrick was a very important figure in the 1960s and 1970s, ranking only behind William F. Buckley as the nation’s leading conservative writer. Kilpatrick was also an unabashed racist, who owed much of his fame to his willingness to attack the Civil Rights movement.

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Felix the Cat & Blackface

Felix, a happy-go-lucky trickster. Is he presidential material?
Felix, a happy-go-lucky trickster. Is he presidential material?

Snorting has greeted Niall Ferguson’s new column, which begins like this:

President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky.

But aside from derision, Ferguson’s comments deserve some analysis. There is a reason why Ferguson, when he looks upon a cartoon character from the 1920s, lets his mind free-associate in the direction of black people. As many cultural historians have pointed out, the classic American animated cartoons emerged from the same milieu that produced blackface performances (like the Amos and Andy show) and minstrel music. Many of the great early animated characters — Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, Bosko — had more than a touch of blackface and the minstrel show to them.

Felix the cat is a feckless, happy-go-lucky trickster. Culturally, he’s the missing link between Br’er Rabbit and Bugs Bunny: admirable in some ways but lacking in the “white” qualities of respectability and responsibility. It’s interesting that Ferguson managed to pick out such a potent, meaning-rich cultural symbol of blackness. It was probably subconscious on his part but still very revealing.

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McCain’s New Low

You can say this about the McCain campaign, whenever you think they’ve hit rock bottom they still manage to surprise you by going even lower. Last week there was the email warning that a President Obama could lead to a second Holocaust. Now there is the curious attack on Obama’s friendship with the respected Arab-American historian Rashid Khalidi, likened by John McCain to a “neo-Nazi.”

We should be clear about this: since the death of Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi has been the pre-eminent Arab-American intellectual. He is a small-d democrat. If the United States is serious in its goal of spreading democracy and peace in the Middle East (a big if), then it needs to work with respected figures like Khalidi. And indeed in an earlier life, John McCain was well aware of this fact, since he steered money to a research institute founded by Khalidi.

By smearing Khalidi as a “neo-Nazi” McCain is basically saying, “if you are an Arab, no matter how accomplished or decent you may be, you can never be a good American.”


Spencer Ackerman makes exactly the right point on this issue: to libel a scholar like Khalidi as a big scary terrorist Arab monster is nothing less than racism.

Race, Intelligence and Egalitarianism

Philosopher Peter Singer.

Jeet’s post below about Beatniks with low IQs refers to a debate in the American blogosphere about race and intelligence. Click on Jeet’s link to Matthew Yglesias and from there you eventually come to a series of posts by Slate writer Wiliam Saletan, who started the latest controversy over this all-too-familiar topic. Saletan’s series has already generate several rebuttals, most of which have focused on whether or not the scientific claims he is publicizing are true. That’s a perfectly valid response. However, in addition to all the scientific issues, there is a philosophical problem with Saletan’s series: it runs together two different meanings of equality. Once this ambivalence is pointed out, it illustrates a larger problem with “race science” research and the debate around it.

Ideas about equality take many different forms, but in terms of the race and IQ debate, two that are often run together are equality of ability and equality of consideration. One is a factual claim about people’s abilities, as when we say two athletes are equally matched. The other is a moral principle that is meant to guide our decisions, as when we say that a law should apply equally to everyone, regardless of their race, gender or religion.

Peter Singer, the well-known philosopher, does a good job of separating these two understandings of equality as they appear in the race and intelligence debate:

The appropriate response to those who claim to have found evidence of genetically-based differences in ability between the races or sexes is not to stick to the belief that the genetic explanation must be wrong, whatever evidence to the contrary may turn up: instead we should make it quite clear that the claim to equality does not depend on intelligence, moral capacity, physical strength, or similar matters of fact. Equality is a moral ideal, not a simple assertion of fact. There is no logically compelling reason for assuming that a factual difference in ability between two people justifies any difference in the amount of consideration we give to satisfying their needs and interests. The principle of the equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is a prescription of how we should treat humans.

Once we see that moral egalitarianism is an ethical principle, not an assertion of fact, it becomes clear that no amount of scientific research could ever debunk it. Ask yourself: is your opposition to racial bigotry really conditional on any given minority’s IQ scores? Surely Singer is right: members of all ethnic groups deserve equal consideration and moral respect regardless of how well they do on intelligence tests—or in Olympic events, or line dancing, or any other activity we might think of. That’s because, to be worthy of equal moral consideration, it is sufficient simply to be human. As Singer puts it elsewhere, “Equal status does not depend on intelligence. Racists who maintain the contrary are in peril of being forced to kneel before the next genius they encounter.”

Once we have the distinction between factual and moral equality clearly in mind, it is worth asking whether Saletan-style discussions of race, genes and intelligence challenge one or both kinds of equality. Consider three possibe forms such discussions can take:

1. They give a genetic explanation for racial differences in IQ while stressing that equal moral consideration remains a foundational moral principle, one that is not possibly affected by any scientific findings.

2. They give a genetic explanation for racial differences in IQ while remaining silent on the principle of equal consideration.

3. They give a genetic explanation for racial differences in IQ while simultaneously criticizing or calling into question the principle of equal consideration.

Approach number one makes a controversial scientific claim, one that I doubt for reasons that have been well explained here and here. Nevertheless, however much I might disagree on scientific grounds with someone who adopted approach one, I would not morally criticize them, as they would not be calling moral equality into question.

Approach number two is just as scientifically controversial as the first one, but more ambiguous about moral equality. Nevertheless, there may be times when it is appropriate to discuss a hypothesis about race and intelligence without also mentioning equal consideration. Such might be the case, for example, when writing for a scientific journal.

Approach number three also makes a controversial scientific assertion. In addition to that, however, it makes a gratuitious moral claim, one that derives no support whatsoever from any possible answer to the race, genes and IQ question. Moreover, the moral claim at hand is disturbing. To suggest that racial minorities are not entitled to the minimal entitlement of equal consideration quickly leads into dangerous territory. For these reasons approach number three, in addition to being confused, is also highly objectionable.

Which approach does Saletan take? Consider the following passages in which he mentions equality:

The same values—equality, hope, and brotherhood—are under scientific threat today. But this time, the threat is racial genetics, and the people struggling with it are liberals.

Today, the dilemma is yours. You can try to reconcile evidence of racial differences with a more sophisticated understanding of equality and opportunity. Or you can fight the evidence and hope it doesn’t break your faith.

Saletan is clearly taking approach number three: not only is he inquiring into race and genetic IQ differences, he is linking the scientific “findings” on the issue with the possibility that we might have to give up on moral equality. As he puts it in an addendum to his series, “I wanted to discuss whether egalitarianism could survive if [genetic IQ differences among races] turned out to be true.”

The premise of Saletan’s series is based on a conceptual confusion. Yet it is also representative of how the most extreme race and IQ researchers have framed the significance on their findings. As Saletan notes, one of his primary sources, J. Phillippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario, gives presentations on his research at conferences organized by American Renaissance, a pro-segregation magazine. Another prominent race and IQ researcher, Richard Lynn, has addressed the same group, telling them that the lower average IQ of black people supports restricting Caribbean immigration to England.

It is not fair to put Saletan on the same level as Rushton and Lynn. As anyone who reads his writings knows, Saletan is an egalitarian at heart, one who has taken temporary leave of his senses. Nevertheless, Saletan’s series inadvertently represents a sleight-of-hand that race-science extremists also make. They simultaneously put forward both a scientific and a political argument, and misleadingly suggest that their politics derive support from their “science.”

No doubt it is because the arguments against moral equality are so weak that Rushton, Lynn and others cloak their political arguments in the guise of science. If they put their political claims forward without scientific cover, it would only reveal the casual bigotry on which the rejection of moral equality rests.