I am writing in response to the editorial cartoon, “Chapel Singing,” published in the Sept. 14 edition of the Optimist. That the cartoon confuses and offends (with its depiction of Dr. Steven Moore removing his white mask), often at the same time, is evidence that it should never have been printed. Yet it was. And since ACU is a leader in mobile learning platforms, “Chapel Singing” was hosted online and made available through the Optimist’s iPad app as well (almost 400 people have viewed the cartoon on the Web). The cartoon even confused and offended Summit participants visiting campus. One visitor, a presenter at Summit, turned the cartoon into a transparency and used it in their class to make a point about contemporary racial divides in America (and the church).
As problematic as it is to communicate insensitivity and poor taste to people outside of the ACU community, I am particularly concerned for our students, staff and faculty, especially for Dr. Moore himself. In conversations with Dr. Moore, and with at least 30 students (from diverse racial backgrounds) that reached out to our office, a few common themes emerged: a) people believed the cartoon to be attacking or poking fun of Dr. Moore; b) people took the cartoon as a judgment on his “blackness,” with the white mask signaling an attempt to be, look, or act “white”; c) people noted the cartoon’s all white/light cast of characters- the only black or brown character is the unmasked Dr. Moore; d) people saw in the cartoon an evocation of minstrelsy-still-persistent-stereotypes of blacks as happy/performers; and e) people found the full meaning of the cartoon elusive. It is important to understand these responses were immediate, consistent, and widespread; many were deeply offended and distressed. The absence of other letters to the editor is at least partially due to our office’s desire to first meet personally with Ben Miller (the student responsible for the editorial cartoon), our hope being that we would come to better understand the creative intent behind “Chapel Singing.”
Recently, we (Byron Martin and I) had the chance to sit with Ben, Jozie Sands (opinion page editor), Hannah Barnes (editor in chief) and Dr. Kenneth Pybus (faculty adviser). I am grateful for the spirit of that meeting, and I now understand the cartoon’s aims were not racial, inflammatory, or personal. I am also optimistic about ways that the OME and the Optimist can work together to serve our increasingly diverse campus. It is important, however, for our students, staff, and faculty, and for Dr. Moore himself, to hear a clear explanation of this cartoon, an apology for the way it offended, and your commitment to preventing things like this moving forward. All the more because we are a Christian campus, we can and should do better.
Russ Kirby, Director
Office of Multicultural Enrichment