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Thursday, May 15, 2008

“Is This Painting Racist?”

posted by on May 15 at 11:22 AM

This just in from Slog tipper Doug:

I’m cleaning out my closet this morning and came across this painting I made five years ago. It used to hang on a wall in my house until a friend of mine (a white male like myself) said, “Wow, that’s really racist.” Embarrassed, I took it down and stuck it in the back of a closet. But coming across it now, I’m still not sure: Is it really racist? I’m hoping the open-minded Slog community could help me out on this. Thanks.

Here are American Heritage Dictionary’s definitions of racism:

1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. 2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

And here is the painting. (Safe for work.)

(My two cents: No, the painting isn’t racist, though the exaggerated cartoon features give off a vaguely racist stink.)

RSS icon Comments


I think Doug needs to relax.

Posted by Gloria | May 15, 2008 11:27 AM

You made the painting? Did you intend it to be racist? Are you a racist? If your answers are yes, no, and no, then no it's not racist.

Posted by arduous | May 15, 2008 11:27 AM

Racism is in the eye of the beholder.

Is it cheesey? Yes.

A teeny bit sterotypical? Sort of.

Racist? No.

Posted by Jeff | May 15, 2008 11:28 AM

Do you hate black people with green eyes? Or are those white people with dark skin? Is "grocers" a race?

Posted by pox | May 15, 2008 11:29 AM

The link gives me the cookbook review bribe letter photo, with money included.

Depictions of bribes are racist?

Posted by Madashell | May 15, 2008 11:30 AM

It's a frickin' love letter to 9-11!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | May 15, 2008 11:31 AM

5: weird link fixed.

Posted by David Schmader | May 15, 2008 11:32 AM

I would call it insensitive, and pointlessly inflammatory. It dares you to be offended, as if it wants to start an augment. Which can be just fine. But why? It isn't clear to me what this painting accomplishes by making everyone cringe and starting arguments.

Posted by elenchos | May 15, 2008 11:34 AM

Reading and posting to this pointless post by David cost me 45 seconds of my life I will never get back.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | May 15, 2008 11:35 AM

That fruit stand is selling apples, not watermelon. You're ok.

Also, questionnaire #2.

That man's perspective reminds me of Keep on Truckin'

Put it back on your wall, or the wall of your office.

Posted by StC | May 15, 2008 11:35 AM

Ok, for one I think that's a terrible definition of racist. Yes, that's the dictionary definition, but it doesn't mean something can't be racially offensive just because it doesn't meet that definition.

And yes, I think the painting is sort of racially offensive/overly stereotypical. If it was really done without that intent, then maybe it isn't "intentionally racist", but obviously some of the most problematic racism is subconscious. Think: if this were a painting of a Jew with features that stereotyped, would we even be having this conversation?

Posted by sara | May 15, 2008 11:36 AM

It's a caricature, and so it's not racist, but it exists somewhere on the slippery slope toward racism. Like if you made a thought bubble coming out of the guy's head that said "Yum, watermelon!", then it would racist, but it's not there yet on its own.

Posted by quilsone | May 15, 2008 11:36 AM

I wouldn't necessarily think it's racist, but I suspect enough people would that I wouldn't hang it on my wall.

Posted by tsm | May 15, 2008 11:37 AM

I'm not sure if it's racist or not, but it IS a really bad painting. Keep it in the closet.

Posted by Giovanna | May 15, 2008 11:37 AM

Speaking as a non-white, I think it's a little racist. But I'm more concerned with that plane up there. It looks like it's flying suspiciously low. And is it on an approved flight path?

Posted by Andy | May 15, 2008 11:38 AM

Freaking hilarious is what it is.

Posted by wow | May 15, 2008 11:39 AM

racism isn't binary, it can work on a gradient. but if i'm being honest if this painting were a person in a crowd i would probably steer away from them, not hating just....avoiding. also when i see twin towers, planes, and brown people it makes me wonder what the intent is....just the way our society has conditioned me.

Posted by Jiberish | May 15, 2008 11:41 AM

Racist or not, the painting is very ugly and boring. I wouldn't want it in my house.

Posted by miss_m | May 15, 2008 11:42 AM

I see this as a stylized/cartoon-style depiction of people who are not white. That is not racist.

If the artist had put a stylized white person in the picture, too, then there'd be no question it wasn't racist. But a stylized, i.e. artistic, portrayal of people who are not white is not racist per se.

If we can't have stylized faces in art without their being racist, or without the artist or owner of the art being racist, then we can't have art and we can't have portrayals of human beings.

Posted by Simac | May 15, 2008 11:42 AM

It is reminiscent of certain depictions of thick-lipped African-Americans, many of which have racist connotations. So while the painting itself may not be racist, it readily triggers associations of such racist depictions. That would be enough for me to take it down.

(Oh, and, I'm not sure I would want a picture of a plane approaching the twin towers hanging on my wall either. WTF?? Does it hang next to its sister painting of "happy slant-eyed Japanese-Americans blithely enjoying the sight of zeroes circling over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941"?)

Posted by artist | May 15, 2008 11:43 AM
Posted by Simac | May 15, 2008 11:44 AM

no, it's just banal.

Posted by michael strangeways | May 15, 2008 11:46 AM

I can easily see how this could be interpreted as racist. I wouldn't personally be offended, but I wouldn't defend the portrait as not being racist if someone else was. It's certainly very Jim Crow...

Posted by Julie | May 15, 2008 11:48 AM

Doug said: Iím hoping the open-minded Slog community could help me out on this. Thanks.

I said: Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!

Posted by mm, right | May 15, 2008 11:49 AM

I am in agreement with the others. It is not racist but it has the racist connotations from characterizations in the past. It is a stereotype because of the oversized lips of the character.

The buildings are also stereotypical caricatures, but buildings don't have feelings.

Posted by CommonKnowledge | May 15, 2008 11:51 AM

Does anyone who thinks it is racist black? Was the painter's friend?

Posted by Matt from Denver | May 15, 2008 11:54 AM

@20's first paragraph is spot on for me. It is so evocative of racist portrayals and stereotypes (big lips, etc.), and it doesn't seem to take that evocation and do anything with it. Which is why it feels quasi-racist.

Posted by Julie | May 15, 2008 11:56 AM

I totally missed the WTC part at first glance (OK, so I'm not very observant) but it reminded me of those murals that they used to paint in depressed areas of town back in the 70's and 80's to brighten up closed storefronts.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | May 15, 2008 11:57 AM

what kind of bitchmade lets their friends perception of racism dictate their sense aesthetic?

"that painting is racist"
"says you milquetoast!"

BTW, racist connotations are completely subjective.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 15, 2008 12:02 PM

who you callin' big lipped, mo fo? damn, sucka.

Posted by tyrone | May 15, 2008 12:04 PM

I find it offensive to refer to that thing as a "painting".

Posted by Fnarf | May 15, 2008 12:04 PM

@21 That Family Guy pic isn't racist, i'd say more of a true representation of reality: loser loudmouth fat guy -stupid satanic kid -pet worship -ditsy females.

In other words, justified stereotypes. Reminds me of

Posted by rich | May 15, 2008 12:08 PM

It shows that you only think of black people as big-lipped, apple-eating, pre-911 NYC pedestrians.

This is surely the same reason why West Virginians don't vote for Obama.

Posted by K | May 15, 2008 12:18 PM

In American WWII propaganda, the Japanese were depicted as monkeys.
In Japanese WWII propaganda, the Japanese were depicted as... monkeys.

Posted by Sirkowski | May 15, 2008 12:22 PM

racist is an odd term for hatred or intolerance of other races.

I think the word(s) we need are:


When we use the term "racist" we really do mean "blackist" and nothing else. Hmmm, but I imagine saying "blackist" in lieu of saying "racist" would make us - "racist".

Carry on - as you were - Sloggists...

Posted by RHETT ORACLE | May 15, 2008 12:24 PM

@35, That's not true at all. Unless, by "black," you mean "colored." You don't think Latinos or Asians are discriminated against?

Posted by Andy | May 15, 2008 12:49 PM

What's racist is that this post came right after a post about Jay-Z.

I mean, just look at those lips

Posted by Non | May 15, 2008 1:09 PM

It's fuckin' ugly, that's what it is.

Considering the Northwest has as much experience with diversity as the South does with progress, it's no wonder that you should be so fascinated and enamored with a caricature that allows you to reminisce about the 'hood.

The whole thing is weird. Buy one of those shitty fabric wall hangings. Problem solved.

Posted by nolaseatac | May 15, 2008 1:17 PM

whenever race is brought up in a public discussion i feel that people of color tend to get the short end of the stick. it gets reinforced that its a white world that we just happen to be living in it. we have to re-examine our position in society and a lot of the negatives that go along with it. it creates a chronic stress environment.

a simple honest question gets responses like #4, which reminds me of the times i have been in a situation that didn't feel right only to have it dismissed as overly sensitive by white friends, situations they have never faced but "hey the same thing happened to a friend's brother's girlfriend, i think, so it happens to white people too"

its not about the painting anymore...even jokey/sarcastic comments just kinda reify our position.

Posted by Jiberish | May 15, 2008 1:36 PM

reminds me of the bill cosby cartoon, fat albert.

Posted by irl | May 15, 2008 2:04 PM

Oh man, come on, it's a fucking cartoon. Is Pokemon racist because a bunch of the characters have slanty eyes? Was Fat Albert racist?

I wouldn't hang it on my wall, not because it's offensive, but because it's pretty bland.

Posted by Hernandez | May 15, 2008 2:26 PM

Thanks for all the comments, folks. I think I've learned two things:

1) My friend's a dillhole.
2) The painting's lame.
Maybe I'll hang it in the basement.

Posted by DOUG. | May 15, 2008 2:50 PM

3) Fuck the haters. Hang your picture if you like it and the hell with everyone.

Posted by Sirkowski | May 15, 2008 4:25 PM

@22 and @41 tie for the win.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 16, 2008 12:17 AM

i have to say, i live in brooklyn, where i see paintings with similar exaggerated facial proportions on the walls in the streets all the time. Some of them show better technical skills, some worse. None of them are considered racist because presumably they are painted by black people. For right or for wrong, people can always accuse you of racism if you painted that and you are white.

I don't personally think the painting is racist because the depictions are not showing the characters in a negative light. Of course "negative light" is always subjective, as is the meaning or quality of Art. The fact that you say you did not intend it to be racist means that it is definitely not racist. I'd just change the signature and tell people your black friend in Brooklyn painted it for you. Then no one will say anything to you about it anymore.

ps. this painting doesn't look or feel anything like the wtc before or after its redecoration. i also have to agree that the painting is certainly not particularly noteworthy.

Posted by nicole | May 16, 2008 8:55 AM

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