A so-called “inappropriate and offensive” comic panel was removed from several newspapers after readers complained about the funny and entirely uncontroversial column. The image depicted two women at a grocery store, one Black wearing a face mask and a shirt that read, “I can’t breathe.” The other, a white woman with blue eyes, told the Black woman, “If you can’t breathe, then that silly mask off!”
Though the investigative team at Jezebel is still working to find the portion of the comic that is inappropriate and offensive, according to NBC News the comic, which was provided by Six Chix, a rotating team of creators that provides comics for over 120 newspapers, was deemed offensive by some newspapers with one newspaper running an apology in place of Six Chix’s comic that week. Instead of explaining to their readership the nuance behind the comic and making a path for dialogue, many papers that syndicate Six Chix are running away from something that might make their white audiences uncomfortable.
The person responsible for the comic is award-winning cartoonist Bianca Xunise who said on Twitter she was not apologizing for the comic. Xunise also explained the impetus behind the strip on Twitter, writing that “white people see issues that [sic] effect black people as trivial” using the cartoon to explore the ridiculous comparison some white protestors have made between mask-wearing and oppression.
The Oregonian, one of the papers that received complaints after running the strip, published a response from a reader in a letter from the editor.
Q: (Today’s comic) was offensive on SEVERAL levels. The scene is a black woman wearing an I can’t breathe T-shirt and wearing a mask. The other person in the scene is a white woman saying if you can’t breathe take off that silly mask. They are pushing carts, so they are obviously in a store of some type. I know there’s controversy about wearing masks, but this is a state requirement not a recommendation! So this is ridiculous. Compound that with the much more egregious attitude of the white woman minimizing the “I can’t breathe” statement and turning this Black Lives Matter statement into something to be seen in a comic strip. (It) is Indefensible!”
Instead of putting in any time or effort to write a thoughtful answer, the editor responded with a comment on “Karens” and a quote from Six Chix, allowing the collective to explain the nuanced humor behind the column without the paper putting its full editorial weight behind the column.
A: Most commenters misread the intent of the cartoonist, Bianca Xunise, and felt the comic was racist and was minimizing the Black Lives Matter movement. Some readers were not familiar with the “Karen” meme. For the uninitiated, a “Karen” is an insufferable, rude, officious and in some cases racist middle-aged white woman (depicted here as the second shopper). I asked the syndicate that provides this strip for a response and here is what I received from editors there:
“Bianca Xunise is a celebrated African-American cartoonist and only the second Black woman to be nationally syndicated in the US— one of three Black women syndicated today.
“Bianca created the July 28, 2020, Six Chix cartoon to be a joke commenting on how Black issues are often disregarded as a personal problem and not a systemic issue. She is shedding light on two pandemics happening in the US right now: one on race and another on COVID-19, and both are not being taken seriously while they are both destroying lives.
“Many Americans are experiencing a lack of compassion for both civil rights and community health, and this cartoon is an important part of any dialogue about both issues.”
This is probably why millennials are trying to kill newspapers.