STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 1, 2014…..Reacting to a widely scorned Boston Herald editorial cartoon that the newspaper has said was not intentionally racist, Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday called it “stupid” and said he hoped for greater sensitivity.
“I don’t need to pile on. I found the cartoon offensive. I think most people did. It was stupid,” Patrick said, chuckling. “I think even the Herald sees that.”
Patrick has regularly been roasted in the tabloid’s pages. Asked about Wednesday’s cartoon on his way to a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration he said, “Frankly my expectations are not very high. It was stupid.”
The cartoon plays off recent revelations of Secret Service security lapses that could have placed President Barack Obama and his family in harm’s way. Intruder Omar Gonzalez reportedly made it deeper into the White House than previously acknowledged, entering the East Room before he was tackled and apprehended.
The cartoon featured a caricature of Obama brushing his teeth, while a white man caricature scrubbing himself in the bath tub asks, “Have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?” above a caption that reads, “White House invader got farther than originally thought.”
Watermelons have long been a trope of racist depictions of African Americans.
Boston Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert appeared on the newspaper’s radio station Wednesday morning to apologize, explain why he used watermelon in the cartoon and dispute the suggestion that he intended racist connotations.
“Naive, stupid, those kinds of things I understand, but racist I’m definitely not,” said Holbert.
Holbert said a syndicate that distributes his cartoons convinced him to change the flavor to raspberry, but he did not call the Herald to alert them they should use a less racially charged flavor.
“I thought I needed something different than spearmint or peppermint,” Holbert said, claiming he at first “didn’t even understand” why the syndicate wanted the change. He said, “I didn’t think people thought like this anymore. I didn’t think of it at all when I did the cartoon. I mean I was completely innocent. I’m just thinking about the flavors. Watermelon’s a big flavor right now.”
Obama is the nation’s first black president, and Patrick, a friend of Obama’s, is the state’s first black governor. En route to Wednesday’s event, Patrick spoke to reporters in Nurses Hall, which has several commemorations for sacrifices made during the Civil War, when southern states took up arms to defend their system of enslaving black people.
Racial divisions have hardly faded from front pages. Over the summer, major television networks sent reporters to cover protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, where residents were outraged about a white police officer shooting and killing 18-year-old Mike Brown, who was black.
“I don’t know anything about the cartoonist. And I hope there comes a day when we can expect a different kind of sensitivity than we saw in this cartoon. I want to believe that the cartoonist’s explanation was as innocent, and that the apology from the editors was genuine,” Patrick said. He said, “My wife has a great expression. She calls it the indignity du jour.”
A Herald article about the Holbert’s apology on Wednesday afternoon included the following apology from the newspaper: “As Jerry Holbert discussed on Boston Herald Radio this morning, his cartoon satirizing the U.S. Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people and to them we apologize. His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful. We stand by Jerry, who is a veteran cartoonist with the utmost integrity.”
Copyright 2014 State House News Service