For the first time in a very long time, Cleveland’s oldest Black newspaper, The Call & Post has stirred up some controversy and has some level of significance thanks to its portrayal of Ohio State Senator Nina Turner as Aunt Jemima in an editorial cartoon. The cartoon and editorial chastise Turner for having the gall to stand against the masses and back last November’s ballot Issue 6, which will reform Cuyahoga County government.
The cartoon struck a nerve with a number of Clevelanders including United Pastors in Mission, a group representing a large number of Cleveland’s Black ministers. The ministers who were opponents of Issue 6 have called for an apology from The Call & Post.
Before I continue with my views on this subject I must state that I spent the formative years of my career at The Call and Post. I have a fondness for the newspaper, but I have felt since long before I left the paper that the leaders of the publication were not intune with the community they serve. This disconnect with the community has caused the newspaper to suffer with subscriptions, advertising and most importantly readership. The Call & Post, is struggling to survive, as are many print publications and this could be the opportunity they were looking for to reignite interest in what they have to say.
Unfortunately, this resurgence comes in the middle of an issue that pits one group of the Black community against another, a sad commentary on this community.
As a journalist I was not appalled as many in the community have stated they are because first and foremost you have to put the caricature into context – it is an editorial cartoon. It is not meant to be supportive, it is meant to be an exaggeration and to do just what it has done – ignite dialouge and discussion. I also believe that we in the Black community at times become overly sensitive about these issues. I read a comment connecting this depiction to the Don Imus controversy with the women’s basketball team from Rutgers and in my opinion that is like apples and oranges – two different families.
Political commentator Bill Patmon put the controversy into context during an appearance on WKYC-TV 3’s evening news Tuesday as he cited editorial cartoons that had appeared in the daily Plain Dealer that offered negative portrayals of former Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and former Councilwoman Fannie Lewis. Both of these women are now deceased, but I’m sure both would be proud of Turner’s ability to take a stand against the establishment – although they too would probably have been on the opposite side of this issue.
At the crux of this issue however is the generational divide that exists in Cleveland politics and leadership. This cartoon has brought to the forefront the fact that there is a wide gulf between the young and the old guard in Cleveland, and someone needs to work to bridge that gap.
While The Call & Post has indicated it will not offer an apology, it should join forces with The United Pastors In Mission and attempt to begin building the bridge that will heal wounds and prepare the Black community for the future.
This could be a win-win situation for both the newspaper and the community. If young people feel they have a seat at the table and their opinions matter they will be more engaged in the community and that is something this community desperately needs.