Here's Looking Back at When an Australian Cartoon on Biden-Harris Sparked Racism Debates
In August 2020, a cartoon published in Rupert Murdoch's newspaper, The Australian, about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sparked a heated debate about racism and the representation of people of color in the media. The cartoon, created by Johannes Leak, was a satire on Joe Biden's choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate, and it rapidly became a focus point for racial insensitivity discussions, per Reuters. The cartoon depicts Biden beaming and referring to Harris, the first Black woman on a major-party national ticket, as 'this little brown girl' and shows him saying she would 'heal a nation divided by racism' while he went 'for a lie-down.'
The reaction to this cartoon was quick and harsh, with many people accusing it of bigotry and racial insensitivity. Andrew Giles, an Australian Labor politician and shadow cabinet minister, expressed his displeasure on Twitter, calling it 'offensive and racist.' Former Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus went even further, requesting that The Australian immediately apologize and promise not to publish such drawings in the future.
The Australian's editor-in-chief, Christopher Dore, defended the cartoon, claiming that Leak's objective was to criticize Biden's own statements. In response to questions from The Guardian, he noted that the phrase 'little black and brown girls' was coined by Biden, who used it when introducing Harris as his running mate and repeated it in a tweet shortly afterward.
In the tweet, Biden said, "This morning, little girls woke up across this nation—especially Black and Brown girls who so often may feel overlooked and undervalued in our society—potentially seeing themselves in a new way: As the stuff of Presidents and Vice Presidents."
This morning, little girls woke up across this nation — especially Black and Brown girls who so often may feel overlooked and undervalued in our society — potentially seeing themselves in a new way: As the stuff of Presidents and Vice Presidents.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 12, 2020
When pointed out that Biden was referring to children who could be inspired by Harris’s candidacy, not Harris herself, Dore said, "The words ‘little black and brown girls’ belong to US presidential candidate Joe Biden, not Johannes Leak. When Johannes used those words, expressed in a tweet by Biden yesterday, he was highlighting Biden’s language and apparent attitudes, not his own."
Dore added, "The intention of the commentary in the cartoon was to ridicule racism, not perpetuate it. In the context of Biden’s words, this is evident. Clearly some, including those without that context, have wrongly attributed Biden’s words to Johannes, and, in doing so, have attributed abhorrent and inaccurate motives to him... The Australian, and Johannes, oppose[s] racism in all of its guises.”
The debate over the comic was not an unusual occurrence. It is similar to past incidents of racial insensitivity and scandal in the media perpetuated by Murdoch-owned publications. One such example is a 2018 cartoon in another Murdoch-owned Australian tabloid, The Herald Sun, depicting tennis star Serena Williams having a rage tantrum at the U.S. Open. While fans, celebrities, and civil rights organizations condemned the caricature as racist, Australia's media authority eventually concluded that it was not, as per NPR.
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