Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

Using Comics to Create a Discussion About Race- Part 2

    In his drawing, “Cleveland Says it was 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s Fault they Shot Him on Sight”, Bell shows a Cleveland police officer pointing his weapon at a new born saying “Don’t grow up to be tall for your age if you know what’s good for you”. The cartoon was made as a response to no officer’s being indicted after Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy, was shot because he was holding a toy gun. In “Why are there no staff black cartoonists at a time when we need them the most?”, Michael Cavana explains that “As a young boy, [Darrin Bell] was once stopped by authorities while refilling a water gun; he heard a chilling “PUT IT DOWN” and saw an officer’s hand go to his unholstered weapon. Just days earlier, Bell’s terrified mother had replaced the boy’s borrowed toy — which looked like a real gun — with a bright, transparent water gun that clearly looked like a toy” (Cavana). Bell was able to depict that from a very young age, young black boys grow up with fear that they will be targeted by police.


Like Bell, African American Cartoonist Keith Knight doesn’t stray away from controversial racial issues. Knight “Knight has been drawing comics about police brutality and bias for nearly a quarter-century, since the 1992 Rodney King riots”(Cavana). His comics take a more comical tone than Bell’s, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t resonate with readers as strong social commentary. Kinght’s comics stand out because “in a world of smartphone cameras and social media, many readers laugh at [his] cartoons because they are finally fully cognizant of the context — and because they realize that his satiric bull’s-eyes are painted uncomfortably close to the truth” (Cavana).


Knight’s comic, “Police Application” shows a group of Black men being seen as “target practice” by a police applicant. Though his comic are usually less serious than Bell’s, the message behind the comics is just as chilling: African Americans are marginalized by the criminal justice system.


In an interview about the comic above with the Washington Post, Knight says “this strip is one of my favorites, because it provides much needed humor and levity to a tragic topic”. Knight’s humorous tones in his comics have been known to upset white readers who believe his comics are “racist”. I think that this highlights what Cornel West said about white anxiety. When issues of race come up that a white person is unable to identify with, it makes them uncomfortable and they get anxious rather than attempting to understand a different reality from their own. When asked about people calling in and complaining that his comics were racist, Knight said he would “always ask editors if they could tell what race the callers were. As far as they could tell, they were white people. Black people are too busy experiencing this s**t to complain about a cartoon. The cartoon isn’t racist — the act that it is portraying is racist. I told my editors that if white people complained as much about profiling and brutality as this cartoon, there might be something done about it”. Darrin Bell and Keith Knight use cartoons as their medium, but there is nothing two dimensional about their social commentary. They take their own realities and the realities of other African American’s and confront the reader with a truth that they might not always understand, but need to face.

There is a responsibility that white people have as a privileged group.  I agree with West that in order to create a more empathetic society, “All of us must be willing to die to exemplify the depth of the love, the commitment to the service and the authenticity of the cause & vocation of engaging in critical reflection of truth telling of witness bearing" (West). When talking about the BLM movement, we will have to talk about difficult things, confront harsh realities, and hold ourselves accountable if we want change. Thank you for your time in viewing this and I hope you enjoyed 

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