Whenever anyone commits an act that can be categorized with descriptors such as “malicious,” “disrespectful,” or “dumb as hell,” there is a tried and true chosen line of defense: “I wanted to open a dialogue.”
This week, conservative cartoonist Glenn McCoy committed an act through his art that is best surmised as malicious, disrespectful, and absolutely, positively, dumb as all hell. On Monday, the Belleville News-Democrat published a political cartoon in which McCoy sought to draw parallels between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and civil rights activist Ruby Bridges. Bridges has long been exalted for being brave enough at the age of six to become the first Black child to integrate a segregated, all-White elementary school. Last week, protesters blocked DeVos, a White woman of immense wealth who recently celebrated her 59th birthday, from entering a public school in Washington, D.C.
Bridges’ story was documented in the Norman Rockwell painting, “The Problem We All Live With.” In McCoy’s cartoon, which recreates that infamous painting only in his deluded mind, DeVos is equal to Ruby Bridges. To the surprise of no one with sincere respect of the plight of Black people in America, McCoy was instantly criticized for this analogous portrait.
In a statement to Talking Points Memo, McCoy refuted criticism by acting as if he was making some grandiose statement about our current political climate––one that as mentioned, will “start a dialogue.”
McCoy writes: "My cartoon was about how, in this day and age, decades beyond the civil rights protests, it's sad that people are still being denied the right to speak freely or do their jobs or enter public buildings because others disagree with who they are or how they think. I'm surprised that some readers see 'hate' in this cartoon when I thought I was speaking out against hate."
Perhaps one doesn’t see hate in McCoy’s metaphor, but the sight of stupid in it is far too glaring to miss.
When I think about Ruby Bridges, I think about so many Black students, including my mother, who at some point in their lives, had to help integrate schools and deal with the vileness and unsubstantiated hatred from dimwitted White folks. To compare that plight to a billionaire closer in age to Blanche Devereaux than a damn child because she had to take a separate entrance to avoid protesters is wildly frustrating. McCoy doesn’t even see that to compare a Black child’s burden to an adult, well-off White woman’s issue is to deny not only her full humanity, but the fact that she is a child. McCoy has spent too long living in his bubble to see how asinine it is to infantilize DeVos and trivialize the civil rights movement.
Still, McCoy continued to explain himself: "The drawing depicts a woman passively walking while being protected from angry protesters. Isn't that what went down the other day when Devos visited a school to do her job? You may disagree with her on issues but I didn't see any hate coming from her. I did, however see hate going in the other direction which is what made me think of the Rockwell image."
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McCoy’s misreading of hatred and prejudice speaks to his ignorance and White fragility.
Hatred is a Black child facing the bigotry of full-fledged adults for no other reason than the color of her skin and the audacity to want to be treated equally as defined by the law. Hatred is not political opposition, and based on McCoy’s description of what actually happened to DeVos on this visit, his disdain for impoliteness. Hatred certainly is the DeVos family’s record of monetarily supporting various anti-LGBTQ groups, including conversation therapy.
McCoy did apologize if “anyone was offended,” though went on to note: "The level of toxicity in today's political climate has reached ridiculous levels. I regret if anyone was offended by my choice of metaphors but my intention was to focus on the protesters being hateful and to open up a dialogue on this point."
Sometimes it’s better to just shut up, or in the case of Glenn McCoy, sometimes it’s best to trash your art before you make an absolute ass out of yourself.