I created an image deliberately designed to appear automatically in the case of broken webpages on this website. Basically, I wanted to suggest that the page was taking a break from doing the work and chilling, so I focussed on ‘chilling’ and came up with a Jamaican bird relaxing in a hammock. Later I drew in Rastafarian colours (with my new birthday present Posca painting pens) and then added a bottle of rum at the very end. I looked up popular Jamaican expressions and chose ‘Mi soon come,’ as appropriate for the context.
It was only afterwards that it hit me that this might be offensive. I had got lost in the process of devising the drawing and building the schema to suggest Jamaica and had not consider this! The next day, I was at a garden party and discussed this image with some lovely friends. The friends were British and Spanish and the British friends felt very strongly that the image should be removed. I also asked my BF Stephen to ask his good friend from Jamaica her thoughts, he said she wouldn’t be bothered.
I have also done some Internet research to discover that a Malibu advertisement had previously been withdrawn for racial stereotyping and causing offense in 2001. It notes a voiceover for the Malibu commercial as saying,
“If we Caribbeans took life as seriously as the rest of the world then we’d never have invented Malibu” because it’s “seriously easy going”. (The Independent 18.06.2001)
Yet, there were ‘complaints from minority ethnic groups’ (it does not mention how many complaints or which groups however), but this suggests that some Caribbeans take racial stereotyping seriously. Of course, race is a particularly sensitive issue, and the TV commission noted that ‘many other alleged stereotypes left viewers unconcerned. Bald men and those with beards were “relaxed about stereotypes”; women thought images of “the perfect body” reflected a wider bias in society rather than on television; pensioners were “generally unconcerned” by images of themselves in advertising’ (ibid).
Stereotyping appears problematic for everyone, because cognitively we begin with a base schema of limited knowledge before layering complexity on top of this. This follows educational schema theory (after psychologist Frederick Bartlett) where teachers are trained to ‘activate schema’ in their students before teaching new material. It is essential to begin with this basic and limited understanding before developing complexity, as it is the foundation of knowledge. This is a natural cognitive process, so I am not convinced that this first cognitive step can be avoided.
Of course, people self-censor in regard to racial stereotypes, but this does not mean that they do not begin with this. I began with this first cognitive step with this cartoon, even though I love reggae and have spent time in Jamaica. My complete schema is much more complicated than the stereotype and it would never occur to me that this stereotype is a complete picture or complete schema. This would be ridiculous – like saying that the British all wear bowler hats or are all football hooligans. I used to work at the Centre for Global Engagement at Coventry University and the director Dr Jean-Bernard Adrey advocated the use of racial stereotypes for developing intercultural competences – he felt that this was a logical place to start to encourage students to question and to develop complexity. It is also perhaps the only place to start…
Stereotyping is problematic for cartooning because cartooning draws on basic stereotyping in the funnies genre. Funnies are designed to be understood quickly for amusement, as a result imagery draws on visual stereotypes and conventions. Equally jokes are often devised with an incongruous clash of schemas or a collision of worlds. This needs much more thought for future practice and the teaching of cartooning…
For now, I feel rather mortified that I ever thought the above image was okay with its stereotype of lethargic and inebriated Jamaicans that perhaps suggests that all Jamaicans are lazy. At the time, it felt fun to imagine and draw this lovely relaxed place into a cartoon – after all the Caribbean is a dream of many stressed out Brits (including this one).
Note to self: avoid racial stereotypes altogether (and also consider and question other stereotypes in cartooning practice).
In the meantime, here is the final image for the ‘broken web-pages’ – I cannot imagine how this could cause offense…? But I am sure sensitivity readers would find something….?…