And by few I mean a handful. Michael Cavna reports on this in a powerful piece called Why are there no staff black cartoonists at a time when we need them most? He spotlights a few of the black cartoonist who have a voice, including Keith Knight, Darrin Bell, and, Congressman John Lewism who thought not actually a cartoonist has certainly become a voice in comics. But the numbers are still awful:
Even here, though, rests a pesky professional truth that sits offstage, waiting in the wings. On one hand, cartoonists who can articulate firsthand racism are a valuable voice in the national conversation; indeed, Knight rightly received an NAACP History Maker award this year for his police-prejudice comics. Yet on the other hand, in this era of raised voices for Tamir and Trayvon and Freddie Gray, one journalistic stat stands out to me: Not a single full-time staff political cartoonist on a major American daily newspaper is black, according to the industry’s national professional organization.
Not to repeat a trope but if you’re a black man you’re exponentially more likely to get shot by the police than get a job as a staff cartoonist. True, the very role of the “Staff cartoonist” is diminishing daily as newspapers shrink, as well, but at a time when systemic racism doesn’t even bother to hide, we need a lot more voices to represent ALL Americans. That’s why editors and curators like Matt Bors and Jennifer Sorenson and tireless workers like Knight are so important.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.