News / Halifax

Satirical magazine to alter 'racist' cartoon amid call for boycott

Andrew Douglas, managing editor of Frank Magazine, arrives at provincial court in Halifax on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.

Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press

Andrew Douglas, managing editor of Frank Magazine, arrives at provincial court in Halifax on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.

HALIFAX — A cartoon in a satirical magazine that depicts a black poet and activist with a jutting chin and sloping forehead is being modified after critics who call it racist launched campaigns to remove the magazine from stores.

Andrew Douglas, the managing editor of the Atlantic region version of Frank magazine, apologized to readers on Tuesday, saying he's fearful that the depiction of El Jones among a group of protesters in the cartoon could attract racists to the publication.

Sarah Dunsworth, an actor on the "Trailer Park Boys" series, said on Twitter the "racist harassment ... is disgusting and shameful," and is among those calling for a boycott.

Jones said in an interview that she views the cartoon as a throwback to racist images in magazines in the 1800s that depicted African men and women as having features closer to primates than Caucasians.

"It's an animalistic way of representing Africans as monkeys ... Anyone familiar with the history of racism and the history of racist depictions can see this immediately," said Jones, who holds a women's studies chair at Mount Saint Vincent University and is a former Halifax poet laureate.

She said such depictions were part of a wider racist movement once prominent in mainstream magazines that aimed to depict Africans as having lower intelligence.

Dunsworth has called for stores, including the Sobeys chain, to pull the latest issue off their shelves.

A spokeswoman for Sobeys was not immediately available for comment, but the chain said on Twitter it denounces discriminatory commentary and has shared concerns with the magazine.

"This is a discussion we're having with the magazine and our internal team, and it's all the information we have to share," it tweeted Wednesday.

Douglas said his apology wasn't to Jones but to readers.

"It's not an apology to El Jones. In our mind we didn't use (a) racist character, but having said that we also understand that can be totally subjective," he said in an interview.

"We'd hate to think we're going to attract the wrong elements by them believing we are racist."

He said he has asked cartoonist Don Pinsent to draw the cartoon again with a depiction of Jones altered.

Pinsent said Wednesday he originally intended to exaggerate the poet's features, but this is his practice with most subjects he draws.

"I exaggerate features on people, that's what I do, and everybody else depicted in the cartoon was exaggerated to the same extent she was," he said.

"What I've been asked to do is draw as accurate a depiction of her face as I can."

Douglas said the cartoon has been published multiple times and is a regular feature that has been running since August and is called "the safe space cadets." 

He said it is aimed at mocking the protesters on issues such as the push to remove a statue of city founder Edward Cornwallis from a Halifax park.

Cornwallis, as governor of Nova Scotia, founded Halifax in 1749 and soon after issued a bounty on Mi'kmaq scalps in response to an attack on colonists. Some members of the Mi'kmaq community have called for the removal of tributes to Cornwallis, calling his actions a form of genocide.

Jones said that she doesn't accept that changing her features eliminates the racist nature of the cartoon.

She said that the context of Aboriginal and black women speaking out against the Cornwallis statue, and having an unattended black child crawling on hands and knees near the protesters, are among the elements that make the drawing racist. She said having the child unattended suggest the black parents are inattentive.

"To suggest that the racist depiction in this context is just some kind of error in drawing I think is ignoring the racist context of this drawing," she said.

Douglas wrote in a letter to readers that the intention wasn't to publish a racist drawing. He also said he is aware that drawings that liken black people to primates — such as cartoons that depict former U.S. president Barack Obama as a gorilla — can be viewed in this way.

More on Metronews.ca