Thursday, July 23, 2015

In defense of caricature, via
The Sacramento News & Review won't apologize.

Nor should it.

But the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Sacramento demands an apology, for the weekly newspaper's cover caricature earlier this month of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

The NAACP last week accused the paper of echoing the denigrating, hateful (and frankly, all too easy to find) parodies of African Americans in the Jim Crow South to depict Johnson.

“The NAACP is outraged at the racist SN&R cartoon lampooning Mayor Johnson,” the organization announced in a news release. “Caricaturing images of the Mayor with a crazed and violent look reinforces what many believe is the persona of many African American males."

Absent an apology, the NAACP said it will boycott the newspaper.

The cover art, and six vignettes by illustrator Hayley Doshay of Kevin Johnson's face — each bearing the same shocked expression and large beads of sweat, but each looking in a different direction — accompany a story on the latest in newspaper's efforts to get access to emails the mayor exchanged with an attorney over his shakeup of the National Conference of Black Mayors in 2013, when he presided over that group.

The newspaper is following accusations that Kevin Johnson has used taxpayer money and city staff to conduct business outside of city duties, including crippling the national mayors' group, and that he has skirted public records law by conducting city business by private email. Similar accusations have been made of Hillary Clinton, using private email to conduct business as U.S. secretary of state.

Johnson has sued the News & Review and the city of Sacramento to block access to some of the emails.

A Sacramento native, Johnson is charismatic and energetic, a community organizer who parlayed a career as a point guard in the National Basketball Association to transform a lagging city high school into a private charter school.

He sprung from that accomplishment to become mayor, and is now in his second term.

A high-profile, polarizing figure, he will largely be remembered as The Man Who Delivered the Sacramento Kings a Shiny New Downtown Arena Paid with Tax Dollars and Skyrocketing Parking Fees. But he may face the fallout of the cost city taxpayers face when the arena is built — and is already dogged with accusations that he overstepped his role to engineer approval of the arena, among other questionable practices in his time as mayor.

As a public figure, he is as ripe for caricature as he is vulnerable for a free press to question his actions on behalf of — or despite — his constituents.

The caricatures are not of Kevin Johnson, a black man, as the NAACP accuses. They are of Kevin Johnson, a mayor whose official actions and use of his office have come under intense scrutiny; a mayor who happens to be black.

The News & Review furnished photos that it said the illustrator had used as reference. Except for the facial expressions, the image is very similar.

Responding to the NAACP's accusations, the News & Review announced:
The illustrations of Mayor Kevin Johnson in SN&R’s July 9 issue depict him as sweaty and nervous while reading about his lawsuit against this paper and allegations of email misuse.
"These illustrations are based on an actual photo of the mayor.
"We refute the NAACP’s assertion that the illustrations are in any way racist, violent, or perpetuating negative stereotypes, or that our coverage of the mayor is racially biased. Such accusations are unfounded and without merit.
"SN&R has a 26-year history of supporting the NAACP’s mission. We look forward to continuing and strengthening that support in the future."
That's the nature of caricature, exaggeration for effect. Kevin Johnson doesn't get a pass because he's black. If caricaturists bowed to every group and individual offended by the portrayal of public figures — President Obama's ears, Donald Trump's hair, Gov. Jerry Brown's beetled eyebrows, Sen. Mitch McConnell's turtle-y head — the noise would be constant and the editorial pages would be empty. And we'd have nothing to laugh at.

The joke ultimately may be on the News & Review, I'm afraid, and the newspaper probably knows it: Kevin Johnson is built with a bit of President Reagan's Teflon®™, and this plague might pass him by. The shocked look and beads of sweat may be wishful thinking, while the mayor calmly plots his path to the governor's office.


In other news:

Searchers found the body of the young man who drowned last week in Lake Natoma — found his body a couple of hundred yards from where he was last seen. The current flowing out of Folsom Lake into Natoma must have moved his body, where it was found downstream from the boat launch where I take off most mornings to swim.

Rest in peace, Paul Liu.


Someone came into the museum where I work yesterday and asked politely why the gigantic flag that flies in front wasn't struck to half staff.

"'Why?'" I repeated, because I didn't think I heard him correctly.

"Yes, because of the Marines killed in Chattanooga," the man said. A man shot and killed four Marines and one sailor at military centers last week.

I heard him correctly, then.

City crews had planned to, I explained, but high winds prevented them.

The man was satisfied with the answer. The winds, he said, are indeed blowing hard.

As are we all.

I agree that the flags should be lowered in the memory of those killed. I'm not sure why nearly a week passed before official word came to lower flags. But neither am I sure why such an outcry arose over flags remaining high and flying, except for the constant scoring of political points that qualifies as news anymore.

I no longer understand the protocol for lowering flags nationwide, but if it's now for fallen members of the armed forces, the flag should be lowered most days of the week in honor of our soldiers and sailors and marines killed in ongoing conflicts.

Maybe if the flag was held at half staff more days than not, we'd remember that we are more often than not a nation at war, and do something to change it.

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