Cartoonist faces backlash for ‘racist’ sketch describing Kamala Harris as a ‘little brown girl’

James Besanvalle
Saturday 15 August 2020 15:45
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Image:(Getty)

An Australian cartoonist has faced fierce backlash after his latest depiction of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Johannes Leak, cartoonist for The Australian, drew Joe Biden introducing Kamala Harris as his VP candidate, but the speech bubble said:

It’s time to heal a nation divided by racism… so I’ll hand you over to this little brown girl while I go for a lie-down.

The cartoon immediately drew criticism, with many calling it ‘offensive’ and ‘racist’:

A former PM of the country even got involved, saying the cartoon is not only racist but sexist too:

The backlash caused The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Dore, to send an email to staff defending the cartoon.

He said it was an attempt to ridicule Biden’s “identity politics”, according to the email obtained by the Guardian:

As many commentators in the US have noted, Biden is accused of using racial identity as a political weapon, and that is exactly the point Johannes was making in the cartoon, using Biden’s language.

The intention of Johannes’s commentary was to ridicule identity politics and demean racism, not perpetuate it.

The words ‘little black and brown girls’ have been said to Joe Biden. They were uttered by the presidential candidate when he named Kamala Harris as his running mate yesterday; he repeated them in a tweet soon after.

While it’s true Biden has referenced “little Black and brown girls” in speeches, this was in the context of Harris inspiring young women. Not referencing Harris, who is 55-year-old, herself.

Dore defended the cartoonist and claimed the “fury” around it was “deliberately driven by rivals in the media”:

We certainly have to be aware of our content being misconstrued, sometimes unintentionally, often wilfully, based on readers not having the full context readily before them. It’s worth remembering cartoons are meant to be provocative and confronting.

We are not immune from criticism, nor should we be, that is our business, but it is important to note that much of the momentum creating fury around these issues, as we saw in January over the bushfires, is deliberately driven by rivals in the media.

This is not the first time an Australian outlet has caused international outcry for a cartoon that has been perceived by many as racist. In 2018, the Herald Sun published a cartoon of Serena Williams “having a tantrum” at her US Open final match against Naomi Osaka.

People were quick to point out the race and gender issues in the depiction, with many calling out the image for presenting her as “ape-like”. But last year, the Australian Press Council found the image to be a “non-racist caricature”.

indy100 reached out to The Australian for comment.

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