Retaliating against state Sen. Nina Turner for her support of county reform, the Call & Post has published a front-page cartoon caricaturing her as an Aunt Jemima -- the female equivalent of an Uncle Tom.
The black newspaper's use of the century-old racial stereotype in Wednesday's edition, next to an editorial blasting Turner for supporting Issue 6, has provoked an online protest. A Facebook group calling the cartoon racist and demanding an apology has 147 members as of tonight.
Turner, you may recall, was the most prominent black elected official to support Issue 6. Unnamed older black leaders threatened to destroy her career for doing so, she revealed in the Plain Dealer this August. And an earlier Call & Post editorial accused her of "carrying the water for white folks."
The senator responded by doubling down: She recorded a pro-Issue 6 radio ad that explicitly addressed a black audience: "The only thing our community has to fear is more of the same," she said. Issue 6 supporters rallied around Turner, praising her for her courage. Her new following grew after 6 passed: people started buzzing about her as a possible candidate for county executive. The Plain Dealer profiled Turner on Nov. 22 and asked her the inevitable question. She left the door open to running.
That story, I'm guessing, is what set off the Call & Post editors. They're furious that a black official might gain support among whites for defying other black leaders. They think opposing Issue 6 was the only proper stance for a black person to take. Their first attempt to punish Turner backfired, so they're amplifying it with an all-out attempt to destroy her career.
The paper's front-page editorial and Aunt Jemima caricature, complete with ugly-stereotype language, is the black-press equivalent of a nuclear bomb. (Just in case the insult doesn't translate, don't think pancakes, think minstrel shows and plantation stereotypes.)
The Plain Dealer posted a story on this tonight, with Mark Naymik quoting local NAACP executive director Stanley Miller saying that the cartoon disturbed him and that he plans to ask the group's board to address the matter. But George Forbes, local NAACP president and an influential figure at the Call & Post, defends the cartoon.
Peter Lawson Jones mildly criticized the cartoon, but said it's no worse than what the Plain Dealer has done to opponents of the county charter! He claims Turner is caught in a feud between the two papers. The subtext here is that 6 opponents have accused the PD of pro-6 bias in its news and opinion pages alike. In their eyes, headlines like the one on last week's profile -- "Nina Turner's future bright due to gutsy stand on Issue 6" -- must be one more provocation. They blame the PD for the buzz around Turner, so they are unlikely to come to her aid.
Older black leaders such as Forbes may well make it harder for Turner to win re-election to her state senate seat. But Cleveland's black political old guard already lost on this issue on Election Day, much as the county-wide Democratic old guard lost. The new county charter, which passed by a 2-1 margin overall, did better with black voters than many expected, winning narrow majorities in predominantly black East Cleveland and Warrensville Heights. Plenty of black people supported Issue 6 and rejected the old guard's argument that racial solidarity required a no vote.
That Facebook protest group includes a rainbow of people speaking out against the Call & Post's attack. I recognized plenty of Issue 6 supporters on the member list, but I was tipped off to it by someone who supported Issue 5, not 6. Some people are just incensed that the paper would use an old racial attack to try to enforce political conformity.
Update, 12/1: The PD runs three stories on this today: the Naymik story, an editorial, and a column by Phillip Morris, proposing that George Forbes win an "Aunt Jemima Award," for "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."
Morris reports that United Pastors in Mission, the local black ministers group, will issue a statement today supporting Turner. "Any kind of racist caricature of any African American is completely uncalled for and unnecessary," says the group's leader, C.J. Matthews. "Nina Turner is not a sell-out or a turncoat. She is a strong-willed woman with her own points of view. ... We didn't support Issue 6, but we support her right not to be unfairly attacked."
Update, 12/2: WCPN tackled this issue this morning on The Sound of Ideas. Rev. Marvin McMickle, East Cleveland Mayor-Elect Gary Norton, and Barbara Danforth of the YWCA have denounced the cartoon.
"There are images and treatment we have been trying to resist," McMickle says. "What it's doing is [trying to] cut the legs off the next generation of political leadership."
But Hiram College professor Jason Johnson says the issue is not that serious, just part of black political discourse. "It's an in-house conversation," he says. "It's just shocking for other people to see it."
Danforth strongly opposed Johnson's argument. "I don't believe you have to serve up the table with disrespect to have a debate," she said.