by Frank Lewis
Last week, a front-page editorial cartoon in the Call & Post depicted Ohio state Senator Nina Turner as an Aunt Jemima caricature — saying “I be’s da new leader” — in response to her backing Issue 6, the controversial ballot measure that restructures Cuyahoga County government. The image accompanied an editorial — headlined “Frank Sinatra said it best, ‘Nina’ just didn’t know” — which ran in the November 25 edition of the newspaper and at Cleveland.com, the online partner of the self-described “Cleveland African American Newspaper.”
“As an African-American woman, [seeing the cartoon] was like being sucker punched,” says Robyn Minter Smyers, an Issue 6 supporter who created a Facebook page named “We Demand an Apology Now for Call and Post’s Aunt Jemima Editorial.” Tuesday afternoon, two days after Smyers posted it, the Facebook group had more than 360 members. (UPDATE: As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, membership was at 563.)
“There is no place in our community for use of that image, which has a deep tradition in the role of racist and sexist imagery,” says Smyers. “It degraded us all. The Call & Post owes an apology to the entire community, and I’d like to see a front-page retraction.”
The editorial had no name attached and was attributed only to the Call & Post’s Metro Desk. The image was signed by Walt Carr, a syndicated cartoonist whose work appears in several black papers. Call & Post executive vice president and editor Constance “Connie” Harper did not return calls or e-mails from Scene.
I propose that in 2010 the NAACP consider creation of an Aunt Jemima image award and bestow it upon a public figure who has consistently gone out of his or her way to mine old racist stereotypes, inject race into racially benign matters and work to ruthlessly kill off the careers of promising young African-American politicians.
The inaugural award would have to go to a real hater. The Aunt Jemima standard barrier would have to be someone whose credentials are beyond challenge. That’s why I would nominate Forbes, general counsel and overseer of the Call & Post, Ohio's largest black newspaper. He’s earned it.
Whoever wrote the editorial clearly would disagree that Forbes or anyone was “inject[ing] race into racially benign matters.” The editorial states: “Obviously, State Sen. Nina Turner didn’t know the damage she did to her career when she became the only Black elected official to jump headstrong and support Issue 6 — county government reform.” It goes on to note that “Republican businessmen … bought and paid for Issue 6” and ends with this: “We can’t and won’t allow White people to select the leadership for Blacks.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Smyers says the paper hadn’t responded to her written request for an apology, which was a paraphrase of the Facebook page’s paragraph-long mission statement.
“What’s important is that we communicate what we require — and that is respect,” says Smyers. “We will have succeeded if we articulate our community norms. It is important that we stand up and say ‘Not in our town.’” — D.X. Ferris