“Liniersgate” – Is This Cartoon Wrong?

The image that you see above was circulated often on social media last week after the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all of the 50 states of that country.

The image is obviously a reference to the iconic picture of African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos receiving, respectively, the gold and the bronze medal for the 200 meters race in the Mexico 1968 Olympics.

Image #: 13530908 American athletes Tommie Smith (middle, gold medal) and John Carlos (right, bronze medal) at the Award Ceremony for the 200m race at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, October 16, 1968. The Olympics Black Power salute was a notable black power protest and one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. DPA/LANDOV
Image #: 13530908 American athletes Tommie Smith (middle, gold medal) and John Carlos (right, bronze medal) at the Award Ceremony for the 200m race at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, October 16, 1968. The Olympics Black Power salute was a notable black power protest and one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. DPA/LANDOV

The image in the photograph was immediately dubbed the “Black Power Salute,” for Smith’s and Carlos’ pose and race, even though Smith would say later in his autobiography that his was a “human rights salute.” Nonetheless, as this picture was taken in 1968 (the year when Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, no less), many in the United States and abroad came to identify it as one of the most powerful symbols of the civil rights struggle.

Because of this symbolism, the cartoon upset more than a few people, as many saw it as a way of appropriating and whitewashing the history of U.S. Black struggle to celebrate an event mostly unrelated to it.

Yet the cartoon was also mostly unrelated to the United States Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. It was drawn by Argentinian artist Ricardo Siri Liniers, known simply as “Liniers,” and it was originally published in early 2014 on his twitter, with the message “Winter Olympics are coming up in the homophobic Russia of Putin #GayPower.”

 

 

This was of course a reference to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics (thus the snow) and the Russian “LGBT Propaganda” law, which came into effect in mid 2013, and was widely discussed in Western media during the sporting event.

Regardless, many people complained that, even if the message of the image was positive, the seemingly white skinned figures in the cartoon erased a long history of African-American oppression.

When the image was originally published, few, if any, seemed to mind it. But Liniers (who for long has been one of the most famous cartoonist in Latin America) has recently become well-known elsewhere, with his drawings, for example, landing on The New Yorker‘s cover three times in the past two years.

So, coming from Argentina – where discussions on race are practically invisible – Liniers (whose work I regularly find interesting and engaging, and usually socially committed) surely wasn’t aware of all the sensibilities of other types of audiences.

He spoke on his twitter last Sunday about this controversy:

He ended the discussion with a new drawing, saying “Let’s hope this one has better luck…”

What do you think?

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Pablo Medina Uribe

Pablo Medina Uribe co-edits Latin America is a Country. He doesn’t have a middle name.

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