Not so funny

Is there anything more beautiful than people of all ethnicities coming together? Working as one, living as one, worshipping as one, denouncing blatant stupidity and racism as one?

News Hits thinks not.

Everyone’s probably heard by now that the Press & Guide in Dearborn stupefied onlookers June 19 by running a wildly offensive anti-immigrant cartoon. The editorial cartoon depicted a “Mexican,” complete with sombrero, who’d apparently just crawled through a hole in a fence marked “U.S. Border.”

No, wait, it gets worse.

The “Mexican” is saying to a white guy in a suit (helpfully labeled “taxpayer”), “No, amigo, I’m not interested in the Immigrations office. Just the Welfare office.”

Oh, but wait — it gets even worse.

The caption reads, “Services for legal and illegal immigrants cost taxpayers over 68 billion per year.”

News Hits isn’t even going to bother addressing the blatant stupidity involved in running such a cartoon. If you don’t get it, you should just stop reading now.

Ignacio Meneses, a member of Latinos United for Labor, says the racism of the cartoon is rivaled by its dishonesty: legal (and sometimes illegal) immigrants are themselves taxpayers.

Latinos United for Labor is one of about 30 community groups that have taken the paper to task for the cartoon. A brief apology that appeared in the next newspaper, say the groups, didn’t really compensate for the offensiveness of the cartoon.

“Simply printing a small apology, that’s what you do when you make a grammatical error,” says Ismael Ahmed, executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). “This is more than a small mistake, and what we suggested was a more institutionalized approach to dealing with it.”

After a demonstration or two and meetings with corporate stiffs of ever-increasing importance on the company flow chart — the Press & Guide is part of Heritage Newspapers, bought last year by the New Jersey-based Journal Register Co. — the groups figured they’d made some progress.

Then, Heritage President Jim Williams walked out of a key meeting hosted by ACCESS. Williams didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

The Hispanic and Arab-American communities, joined by a broad swath of ethnic, civil rights and labor groups, held a press conference July 28 to bring more attention to the Press & Guide cartoon.

That very day The Oakland Press, also owned by the Journal Register Co., ran an equally offensive editorial cartoon.

The Oakland Press’ contribution to peace, love and understanding featured a “Muslim” in a confessional apologizing to an “imam” for “failing to detonate.” A knapsack next to the “Muslim” supplicant reads “failed London bombers.”

Ahmed says that though Journal Register representatives have said they don’t stand behind the cartoons, two Journal Register papers running two such cartoons so close together raises questions. Either the cartoons reflect an editorial policy or there’s a lack of control at the papers.

“That is what concerns us,” Meneses says. “They continue to do the same thing in detriment to the community of people of color.”

Meneses and Ahmed say that this kind of racially offensive cartoon can lead to violence. And that’s not just paranoia talking.

“In 1929, these same cartoons against immigrants and Mexicans in particular were all over the press,” Ahmed says. “It was a time in which Mexican-Americans were literally dragged off and put on trains back to Mexico, whether they were immigrants or citizens. It wasn’t just the cartoons, but obviously these things have an effect.”

Meetings with JRC leadership have gone slightly better than local talks, Ahmed says.

News Hits is a little surprised to hear that. When we called JRC’s Michigan VP Tom Rice for comment, he responded thusly: “We met with New Detroit. We’re working on a joint statement, and other than that, I really don’t have anything to say to you.”

If that’s the kind of attitude the Latino and Arab-American communities have been getting, News Hits isn’t surprised they’re still picketing.

The community groups have asked the JRC for a few things: severing ties with the cartoonists responsible, an explanation of the process that led to the publication of the cartoons, an editorial position on the selection of editorial cartoons and content, a series of articles on immigrants and their contributions to the country and a targeted recruitment effort to get more minorities on staff.

Ahmed says that JRC brass have agreed to the requests, but in the absence of an agreement in writing, the groups went ahead with an already-planned “informational picket” Thursday at the Press & Guide’s Dearborn office — for which about 160 people turned out. Any demonstrations targeting The Oakland Press, Ahmed says, are on hold pending the receipt of a written commitment to the groups’ requests from the JRC. If that doesn’t materialize, he says the next step is to target advertisers and subscribers.

Ahmed is hopeful, though.

“I think that they’ve said the kind of things we want to hear although it took a while to get them to say it,” he says. “In the end, they’re talking about doing some of the things that need to be done, but they’re not done. We’re taking a wait-and-see attitude. We always want to give people the benefit of the doubt.”

And there has been one positive outcome already, Ahmed says.

“I’m happy in a whole other way,” Ahmed says. “The communities working together, the Arab-American, Latino, African-American, European immigrants — it shows people can come together when they think something is wrong. Too many of us have fought these things in our own silos.”

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