The following open letter was written by the faculty of Mount Saint Vincent University in response to a racist cartoon of El Jones that appeared in Frank Magazine. It was originally published in Halifax’s The Coast newspaper. It is reprinted here in an effort to expand its impact beyond Halifax.
by MSVU Faculty
As faculty members at Mount Saint Vincent University and concerned members of the Halifax community we write to express our outrage at the racist caricature of El Jones, our colleague at MSVU, that appeared in the pages of Frank Magazine. The cartoon showed Jones, along with Halifax’s Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas and others, at a recent protest of Halifax`s Edward Cornwallis statue.
We object strongly to the racist depiction of Jones, who was singled out for ape-like representation in a manner entirely stylistically consistent with the long, odious tradition of racist caricatures of Black and brown people. Animalistic representations of people of African descent originated in and maintain racist ideas of Black people as subhuman, uncivilized, unintelligent, and dangerous. For hundreds of years they accompanied pseudo-scientific colonial attempts to “prove” the inferiority and inhumanity of entire peoples to facilitate their brutalization, dispossession, and exploitation. They were visual markers of Jim Crow, apartheid, slavery, and genocide. To contextualize this depiction is not to censor satire, it is to identify the way racism works in an everyday way. The explanations about the non-racist intent behind the depiction offered by the Frank editorial team and the cartoonist are disingenuous and duplicitous, attributing ill intent to those who might perceive the cartoon in a racist way rather than taking responsibility for intentionally crafting and circulating that representation. In 2017, at a moment charged with issues of racial injustice, Frank Magazine depicted a celebrated activist, artist, academic, and educator who has been publicly addressing issues of white supremacy and racism, and who is a member of Nova Scotia’s Black community, as a monkey.
The racist depiction of Jones is only a part of a larger cartoon that ridicules community members engaged in protesting issues of racist and colonial injustice. The statue of Edward Cornwallis, genocidal colonial elite and founder of Halifax, has rightly become a flashpoint for discussions about how we remember history and understand its enduring consequences. Canadians are struggling to come to terms with the colonial legacy of this country and the violence, dispossession, and exploitation endured by Indigenous, Black, and other racialized groups in the name of “progress.” In this moment, cartoons like this are not innocent satire, they actively trade in racist caricature in order to diminish and dismiss these attempts at justice and reconciliation. The Cornwallis statue does not help us to remember history, rather, it whitewashes the repressed histories of scalping bounties, enslaved Africans, stolen children, racial segregation, and their vicious legacies that remain at the heart of this province and the Canadian state. It is telling that when El Jones stands alongside so many others at the monument to Cornwallis and insists on remembering, Frank Magazine presents her, rather than colonial and racist violence, as ugly, ignorant, and even subhuman. We urge Haligonians to stand with us against racism and for justice. We can have difficult and honest conversations about important issues and take a necessary step toward justice and reconciliation or we can wrap ourselves in smug, juvenile, racist myth-making masquerading as “satire” and refuse to do so. The choice is ours. What world do we want to live in?
Dr. Adriana Benzaquen, Associate Professor, History
Dr. Susan Brigham, Professor, Education
Dr. Leslie Brown, Professor, Sociology & Anthropology
Dr. Mary Delaney, Associate Professor, Women’s Studies
Dr. Maya Eichler, Assistant Professor, Political & Women’s Studies
Dr. Tammy Findlay, Associate Professor, Canadian & Political Studies
Dr. Roni Getchman, Associate Professor, History
Dr. Marnina Gonick, Professor, Education & Women’s Studies
Dr. Alex Khasnabish, Associate Professor, Sociology & Anthropology
Dr. Jeffrey MacLeod, Associate Professor, Canadian & Political Studies
Dr. Hazel MacRae, Associate Professor, Sociology & Anthropology
Dr. KelleyAnne Malinen, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Anthropology
Dr. Diane Piccitto, Assistant Professor, English
Dr. Sherry Pictou, Assistant Professor, Women’s Studies
Dr. Meredith Ralston, Professor, Canadian & Women’s Studies
Dr. James Sawler, Associate Professor, Economics
Dr. Corey Slumkoski, Associate Professor, History
Dr. Donna Varga, Professor, Child & Youth Study
Dr. Martha Walls, Assistant Professor, History
Dr. Rhoda Zuk, Associate Professor, English