Cartoonist Responds to Controversial Sotomayor Cartoon Criticism

Rob Kuznia, Hispanic Business, June 5, 2009

Over the course of his career, his cartoons have raised the ire of all kinds of people, from nuns to Muslims.

So when he finished his cartoon depicting Sonia Sotomayor strung up as a pinata–and a sombrero-donning President Obama handing out baseball bats to members of the GOP–he figured there might be trouble.

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And indeed, the cartoon that ran in The Oklahoman newspaper touched a few buttons.

An Oklahoma women’s group decried the cartoon as sexist, and both the Daily Kos and Huffington Post blasted it as racist.

“Why not have Obama carrying a watermelon under his arm while your at it? Or have the judge eating a taco?” wrote jjstraka, a participant on the Daily Kos.

Hispanic advocacy groups were similarly unamused.

“I think it shows how ignorance and sexism and racism continue to be blatant in journalism and in our society,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), told HispanicBusiness.com. “And to have a woman depicted in a way where she will be beaten–the misogyny of that is just breathtaking.”

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Bok said the cartoon is trying to show how Obama is putting the Republicans in a compromising position by daring them to take a whack at a sacred cow–in this case, a Hispanic judge at a time when the Republican Party is reeling from an exodus of Hispanic voters. In the cartoon, the GOP elephants appear hesitant.

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In any case, the sombrero and the pinata are precisely what NALEO find so insulting. Sotomayor, Vargas said, is Puerto Rican, while sombreros and pinatas stem from the Mexican culture.

“The thinking is that all Latinas and Latinos are the same,” he said.

Though most of the complaints about the cartoon seem to have rolled off Bok’s shoulders, one stirs his dander. This is the criticism, by a poster on the Daily Kos, that depicting “a minority strung up from a tree” caters to “a vigorous racist bloc of voters in Oklahoma.”

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“There’s no godd*** tree anywhere in that picture,” [Bok] said. “She’s just hanging from a beam, I guess.”

Bok added that there is also “no rope around her neck,” as some have said. “There’s a smile on her face. And I drew a harness so you could see the rope could be attached to that. It almost looks like a bra she’s wearing, because it’s a harness, because she’s a pinata.”

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Although The Oklahoman seems to be the only paper that ran the cartoon, Bok’s work is syndicated through Creators Syndicate of Los Angeles. His political cartoons also appear in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, and other publications. But he said he doesn’t know if any other papers ran it.

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In 2006, when a series of Danish editorial cartoons fomented riots by depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Bok drew a cartoon lambasting media outlets’ deference to the Muslim rule that frowns upon such images by showing a CNN correspondent holding up one of the Danish cartoons, but with the pixilated head of Muhammad carrying a bomb in his turban. A viewer in the cartoon observes “Well, no wonder Muslims are upset. Mohamed looks like he’s on acid.”

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