A black poet and activist says a cartoon published by Frank magazine was meant to dehumanize her after she called out racism in Halifax.
El Jones, who served as the city's poet laureate from 2013 to 2015, is well known for speaking out against anti-black racism in Halifax. She has also been among the most prominent voices criticizing Sidney Crosby for accepting an invitation to the White House.
"The reason why they're so viciously angry with me is that I identified the presence of racism in Halifax," Jones told BuzzFeed Canada.
(The Halifax publication is not affiliated with the Ottawa-based Frank magazine.)
The cartoon, which ran online and in print, shows Jones among activists calling for the removal of a statue of Edward Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax who issued a "Scalping Proclamation" in 1749 offering rewards for the scalps of Mi'kmaw people.
It depicts Jones with darker skin, an elongated jaw, and a sloped forehead — which she says is reminiscent of 19th-century cartoons "intended to suggest black people are monkeys and look like monkeys."
"It's very clear where this imagery comes from," she said.
The magazine, which often targets activists for ridicule, has repeatedly criticized Jones' comments on Crosby and racism in Halifax. After fierce backlash to the cartoon, managing editor Andrew Douglas published a statement apologizing to readers but insisting that Jones herself doesn't "deserve" an apology.
In the statement, Douglas said Frank magazine is not racist, but the cartoon ran the risk of attracting a racist readership.
"We acknowledge that although it was not intended, there is a potential that some could perceive the depiction of El as coming from a racist place," Douglas said. "And we would rather burn this place to the ground than be seen as offering some sort of dog-whistle welcome mat to the racially intolerant among us."
In fact, Frank has already had to distance itself from an alt-right Twitter account praising the magazine for "not giving an inch" to critics.
The cartoonist is redrawing the image with a more accurate depiction of Jones. Douglas said there will not be any changes to editorial procedure as a result of the controversy.
"The apology to our readers and alteration of the cartoon comprises our response to the controversy," Douglas told BuzzFeed Canada.
Frank Magazine is facing calls for a boycott. Many people, including Trailer Park Boys actor Sarah Dunsworth, are demanding that Frank no longer be carried by Sobeys and other grocery stores. A petition supporting denouncing the magazine as "both racist and misogynist" has also gotten hundreds of signatures.
Jones said she's not surprised by the magazine's truculent response to the criticism. But she says the episode has also forced some people who may not always agree with her to take racism in Halifax more seriously.
"What's very clear in the context of this depiction is when Indigenous women speak out and when black women stand with them, and we all speak in solidarity, that's very threatening," she said.
This post has been updated with comment from Frank magazine.
Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.
Contact Ishmael N. Daro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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