Missouri Newspaper Criticized for Racist Martin Luther King Jr. 'I Have a Dream' Caricature Cartoon

Illustration for article titled Missouri Newspaper Criticized for Racist Martin Luther King Jr. 'I Have a Dream' Caricature Cartoon

White people (and non-Black people of color for that matter) would do well to just keep Martin Luther King Jr.’s name out of their mouths. This goes especially for conservatives who only seem to know one excerpt of one speech from one civil rights leader and so they invoke their version of MLK every time they feel a need to wag their fingers at Black people and lecture us about being peaceful—which is ironic since, at the time of his death, most of America disapproved of him and his methods of activism.


A Missouri newspaper is under fire for publishing a cartoon depiction of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that alters King’s words to address recent riots that have broken out in white people’s favorite boogeyman city: Chicago.

From NBC News:

The cartoon ran in the Sunday edition of the Southeast Missourian newspaper published in Cape Girardeau, about 115 miles southeast of St. Louis. It depicted King with exaggerated facial features saying, “I have a dream that my four children will one day loot stores in Chicago and call it reparations.”

The newspaper, owned by Rust Communications, published a note to readers Thursday by its opinion page management, saying that in response to the cartoon, “The Southeast Missourian has been the recipient of a wave of social media messages, emails and threats.”

It’s difficult figuring out where to start in listing all the ways this cartoon is both condescending and racist.

First, it implies that Black people are the only ones rioting and looting, even though there’s no evidence that’s even remotely the case in Chicago or anywhere else. Secondly, caricaturing King and his speech while lecturing Black people on respecting his legacy is just peak Caucasity. Third, while Black people do cherish King and his legacy, he is not our Moses and the “I Have a Dream” speech is not our list of holy commandments chiseled on stone tablets and delivered to us as the infallible words of God. Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Kwame Ture are also renowned civil rights icons who have delivered speeches that Black people hold in high esteem—strange that none of them ever get quoted by the white people who insist on choosing a daddy for Black America.

More from NBC:

Two letters to the editor published Thursday slammed the cartoon, with one saying the paper had dishonored King’s legacy.

“I am disappointed, and frankly, disgusted, that you and your editorial board would choose to publish the Ramirez cartoon depicting MLK Jr. scolding protesters along with ridiculing the idea of reparations,” Christine Warren, who said she is a subscriber to the paper, wrote.

“It totally dishonors the civil rights icon and blatantly sends a racist message, ‘Stay in your place, or you will disappoint MLK.’ What fictional nonsense.”

Warren demanded that the newspaper issue a public apology.

“More than ever, we need racial unity in our communities, not an editorial message that can fan the flames of racism,” she wrote.

Another letter writer, Tom Preston, who said he is a longtime reader of the paper, called the cartoon “disrespectful.”

“The mayor of Chicago has just this morning on ‘Face The Nation’ said that the looting and destruction of the high-end stores in her city were done by a coordinated group of criminals, not peaceful protesters,” he wrote in a letter to the editor. “This cartoon isn’t even overtly racist, it is blatantly racist. We as a society are better than this and you should be too!”


One would think that Missouri media outlets would have learned a lesson from a news anchor from the state who referred to King as “Martin Luther Coon Jr.” during an MLK tribute—but apparently they haven’t.

The newspaper defended the cartoon by pointing out that one Black activist did refer to looting as reparations. (Because if one Black person said it, it must reflect the views of every Black person in Chicago, am I right?)

The response by the paper’s opinion page management said the drawing by political cartoonist Michael Ramirez was based on an actual quote, as it “alluded to pro-looting words spoken by a Black Lives Matter organizer after recent riots in Chicago.”

As reported by National Public Radio, the protest’s organizer, Ariel Atkins, said that she did not see a problem with looting because people in the city are struggling.

“That makes sure that that person has clothes. That makes sure that that person can make some kind of money because this city obviously doesn’t care about them,” Atkins told reporters. “Not only that, that’s reparations.”


The Root’s Michael Harriot has already compiled a list of MLK quotes white people would never cite because they point out how trash they are, but I’ll end with what the man actually said about urban riots and looting in his speech “The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement”:

“Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. But most of all, alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, he is shocking it by abusing property rights. There are thus elements of emotional catharsis in the violent act.”


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Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons


Hyperbolic Idiot Chamber

Whenever white people talk about mlk this quote pops into my head,