“Beating a Dead Horse”: Reflections on the Voice Cartoon

This is article is not simply about GUSA politics or a campus-wide controversy, but also about the national dialogue on race issues. On Sunday I went to a town hall meeting discussing a recent editorial cartoon published in the Georgetown Voice. The cartoon provided a commentary on the recent GUSA presidential race. The creator and the editorial board said they intended to make a cartoon defending candidate Christopher Wadibia after he had endured attacks from two of his opponents during a presidential debate. The two candidates, armed with bats inscribed “Heckler” and “Satire,” are depicted beating two people in a horse costume. Wadibia is at the front of the horse and Cheney is at the back, as indicated by an arrow. Wadibia is portrayed as deceased, hence the title “Beating the Dead Horse.” This is in reference to a comment that Tim Rosenberger made during the debate, in which he said that Chris was not qualified or knowledgeable enough to be GUSA president. The Voice submitted an apology saying that it had intended to defend Chris, since Rosenberger and Joe Luther had attacked both his qualifications during the debate and in an article in The Georgetown Heckler.

I am African-American from Southern California. Racism exists even there. I have experienced it. My opinions don’t delegitimize my own experiences at the hands of people who have assumed me to be thieving, irresponsible, or generally up to no good, and then treated me accordingly. My opinions do not delegitimize my solidarity with other members of the Georgetown community or the United States, but only reinforce my commitment. I truly mean it when I say that I look at both sides. Open dialogue at universities is the number one way to solve problems such as these. Dialogue diffuses fear. Once we stop fearing each other’s backgrounds, motives, or beliefs, we can become free and achieve peace.

While I do not believe the cartoonist or editors are bad people or had racist intentions behind the cartoon, the fact of the matter is that people were offended on the basis of race. The problem is that there are so many groups on campus that already feel disconnected and alienated from other groups on campus, that these kind of actions exacerbate this feeling. This is not simply rooted in one cartoon, but in people’s various life experiences. Feelings of hurt and resentment may be justified, but we also need forgiveness. We need a willingness to understand. This goes for all sides of the discussion. I applaud people who were able to come and recount their experiences, such as Christopher Wadibia himself, who said that this is not about any single person, but ideas. He forgave the cartoonist and called him his brother. For him, this is not about individual people doing wrong, but society as a whole being uninformed on race issues.

Even though those involved at the Voice were not trying to express racist sentiments, the cartoon does conjure up images of lynchings, especially when the two attackers are white, and the only visible member of the two-person horse is black. The town hall would not have happened in the first place if no one had understood the implications of that image.

This does not mean that we should keep malice towards our fellow Hoyas. It is understandable that people are offended at the photo, especially when they have experienced or observed so much prejudice in their lives. It is understandable that some were not offended, because they were not exposed to the photo and its implications. However, those who weren’t offended should understand why others are offended. The writers did not have racist intent, but the legacy of the interconnected ideas that many people interpreted in these photos has resulted in the deaths of people today. It is okay if someone does not understand it right now, but they must take the time to understand. Additionally, those who are explaining the situation to them must take care not to make them feel like they are unable to change or unable to learn. If anyone is offended by something, then that is a problem, but that does not mean he or she must demonize others.

I applaud people with a different viewpoint who were brave enough to come and speak objectively, knowing that not everyone was going to like what they had to say. At one point, someone had said that we should also look at the situation impartially and try to see things from the other point-of-view. I had to start a clap for them because no one else would. Going forward, we need to make more people willing to come forward, admit they don’t know enough, and learn. We need to make the media, our schools, and our homes more constructive places for racial dialogue.

Musa Bassey