LIBEARL CARTOONIST: Obama cartoon called ‘racist’ for reference to watermelon favored toothpaste

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Excerpted from ABC13: The Boston Herald received a wave of criticism Wednesday morning after publishing an editorial cartoon about President Obama that many have deemed as racist.

Written and drawn by Boston Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert, the cartoon in question features President Obama brushing his teeth while wearing pajamas. The President looks befuddled as an unknown man bathes himself with the caption “Have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?” The bottom caption of the cartoon reads “White House invader got farther than originally thought.”

The cartoon references the recent White House intrusion made by 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez on September 19. Gonzalez was able to climb over the White House fence and proceed into the building before being stopped by an off-duty Secret Service official.

Once the comic was published in Wednesday’s Boston Herald, many took to social media and accused the cartoon of being racist.

After receiving criticism over the cartoon, the Boston Herald issued this statement.

“As Jerry Holbert discussed on Boston Herald Radio this morning, his cartoon satirizing the U.S. Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people and to them we apologize. His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful. We stand by Jerry, who is a veteran cartoonist with the utmost integrity.”

What’s interesting to note about the cartoon is that another version is available on Jerry Holbert’s comic archive, with the intruder stating raspberry-flavored toothpaste instead of watermelon.

Holbert spoke with Boston Herald Radio shortly after the social media storm came in, and offered his views on the situation.

“I thought I needed something different than spearmint or peppermint, and I remembered that my son’s girlfriend in the past bought some toothpaste and left in our closet upstairs. . . it was kid’s Colgate watermelon flavor and I thought ‘well that would be good.’ I myself love watermelon and I thought that would be a great one,” Holbert said to Boston Herald Radio. “I was completely naive or innocent towards the racial suggestion, I wasn’t even thinking along those lines at all.”

When Holbert was asked about the raspberry flavored version of the cartoon, he provided the following response.

“I do work for a syndicate, the cartoons get sent over to the syndicate and last night they called, well actually they wrote to me asking if I could change that, the watermelon. I was kind of confused by it, I changed it to raspberry and sent it back to them . . . they said there is a racial element and I disagreed to be honest with you but I did it anyway because that’s what they were asking for. . . I didn’t think of it.”

The radio hosts then questioned why Holbert then didn’t change his cartoon to raspberry for the Herald edition as well.

“I should have done that . . . I wish I had done that. I didn’t think people would think that way. That was very naive on my part, it was stupid on my part.”

One host pressed on how Holbert could not have picked up on the racist connotation of the cartoon.

“I was thinking that I really like watermelon. I love anything that’s watermelon . . . I wasn’t thinking of the racial element because I just don’t think that way . . . I also apologize to anyone I offended, this was not my intention at all,” Holbert said.

What do you think? Was Holbert’s cartoon racist, or was it a misunderstanding?

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