The latest campus dust-up over race centers on cartoons with unflattering depictions of black women. One twist, the artist is also black.
The incident took place at Wesley College, a liberal arts school in Dover, Delaware with about 1,600 students. Two cartoons published last week in The Whetstone, Wesley’s student newspaper, stoked backlash on campus and prompted the school’s president to denounce the drawings.
The first shows a black woman wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt and looking at her watch. The woman is saying, “Would you look at the time…I’m late for my abortion.”
(Photo courtesy of Damyra Price)
In the second cartoon a garden hoe says, “Who is you calling a HOE!!!” to a nearby black man dressed in a purple hat and suit. The man responds, “I’m sorry ma’am. You just look like a HOE!”
(Photo courtesy of Damyra Price)
The cartoons are credited to Bryheim Muse, a Wesley senior who is also African-American.
“It’s hurtful to see another black man has this view of black women,” said Damyra Price, a senior at Wesley who is also black. “It hurts. It really does.”
Her classmate, Shaylynn Bivens, a junior said the cartoon was “even more humiliating” because it was drawn by a black man. “As a black man he should understand the role he plays in a black woman’s life,” said Bivens, who is black. “He should understand that it’s hard.”
Wesley convened a forum Monday night for students to discuss the cartoons. Muse and Kristen Griffith, the newspaper’s editor, spoke at the event. Griffith said she was traveling and not yet available to talk. The Whetstone is an independent student newspaper. The school does not oversee the publication and the paper does not have an official faculty advisor.
Muse responded Friday via e-mail to a series of questions from Newsworks/WHYY. He drew the first cartoon, he said, to ” shed light on the hypocrisy behind the black lives matter movement. My message was to ultimately speak on the true solution to the problems we face in our community. The solution to our problems is keeping the commandments found written in the bible.”
He said the cartoons published last week were his first political cartoons, and that he’s proud of his work.
“I say for my first cartoons it turned out pretty well,” he wrote. “Why would anyone want to be a no-named cartoonist. [sic]“
Muse said he stands by the work because it “got a lot of people talking and thinking.”
Clark penned a letter to the school community Tuesday apologizing to “everyone in our family, as well as any one else who viewed and was offended by the depiction.”
“I believe addressing issues immediately, and having an open dialogue is the most constructive way to address such challenging and controversial issues on campus,” Clark wrote. “In doing so, our students learn first-hand both how to exercise their own freedom of speech, the impact they may have on others, and that they mus take responsibility.”
Price found the administration’s response slow and insufficient. She was among a group of students who sent a list of demands to Clark on Tuesday. The list included a call to increase the number of black staff and faculty at Wesley and another to mandate “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion training” for all members of the campus community.
Price believes the campus is fractured along racial lines.
“Wesley College has always had a racial problem on campus and they’ve always swept the problems under the rug,” she said.
Her classmate, Bivens, says debate over the cartoon has forced college administrators to reassess the school climate.
“They are now realizing that there is a problem and it’s bigger than the cartoon,” Bivens said. “And they’re realizing that there is an issue of race.”
Bivens believes the administration is working in good faith to improve race relations on campus.
The cartoon incident isn’t the first race-related flare-up on campus this semester.
A February article in The Whetstone contained allegations that fliers advertising a Black Lives Matter event had been torn down. The alleged perpetrators were not identified in the article.
Wesley is Delaware’s oldest private college. The student body is 41 percent African-American and 36 percent white, according to the school.