Since the Charlie Hebdo murders:
France’s xenophobic right wing is happy to hear this. The more France turns against its minorities, the better the National Front party does at the polls.
Islamist militants are happy to hear this. The worse things get for European Muslims, the more fertile their recruiting ground.
Charlie ruthlessly mocks the racist, authoritarian National Front. Charlie has been sued more than a dozen times by Catholic groups who don’t like the way it criticizes the Church’s dogma, crimes, and hypocrisies. Charlie took Israel to task for its disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians. Charlie ran a column by a serious leftist economist right up until some jihadists assassinated him. Charlieuses racist imagery, giving huge hooked noses to Jews and Arabs. Charlie stands up for immigrants. Charlie publishes cartoons that offend many immigrants. Charliepunches up. Charlie punches down. Charlie is funny. Charlie is revolting. Charliecontains multitudes.
Jean “Cabu” Cabut
The images swirl through Twitter like leaves snapped from their branches.
Take this Charlie Hebdo cover: A white couple is on a walk. One of them holds a leash. At the end of the leash is a crawling black woman. The racism looks self-evident.
Translate the text: “Surrogate motherhood is two parents and a slave.”
Research the background: Some wealthy European couples are paying women in poor countries to carry their babies to term.
Consider the intended message: Commercial surrogacy is a form of racist exploitation.
This information is important, indispensable in forming an opinion about the cartoon. It makes the image look quite different. It’s context.
But it’s not the only context to consider.
Maybe the use of such imagery, even for anti-racist ends, does more to reinforce racism than to subvert it. Maybe this kind of art lets a white audience enjoy a racist stereotype without feeling racist. Maybe in a country like France–a country where the deck is stacked in favor of people with one skin color and against those with another–being an equal opportunity offender doesn’t prevent the damage you do from being unequally distributed. Maybe the cartoon is just not funny.
Let’s take a breath. Let’s learn all the context we can. Let’s talk. Let’s not let the conversation die.
Read the rest of this excellent piece at Blunderbuss Magazine. Some of the best parts were left out of this excerpt. >>
Travis Mushett is the editor-in-chief of Blunderbuss Magazine, a writer of fiction and non-fiction, and a PhD candidate in communications at the Columbia University School of Journalism. He currently feels the wind in his hair as he hurtles toward 30, and has decided that he’s pretty all right with the breeze. Check out his tweets at @CurriculumVeto.