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Sawyer on Reader cover: “The equivalent of putting gasoline on a fire”

Thursday, Feb 15, 2018 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The latest Chicago Reader cover…

* 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer, the chairman of the city council’s Black Caucus, spoke at the City Club today and talked with reporters afterward…

* Transcript

Craig Wall: The Reader cover. Is this helpful in the conversation, does this hurt in the conversation?

Ald. Sawyer: It’s hurtful. I just happened to see the cover right before I started my speech, and that’s the equivalent of putting gasoline on a fire. Someone’s doing that intentionally to stir up race when we should be talking about disinvestment on the South and West Side. We should be talking about… employment opportunity. We should be talking about educational opportunities. Instead, we’re talking about something that happened nine years ago. I get it. It was wrong. The man apologized. Let’s move forward and talk about what’s important for Illinois, what’s important for the City of Chicago and not continue to race bait. That’s all the Reader did and I think they should apologize for doing that. That cover was offensive. That cover was offensive to whoever looks at it, you know whether… It’s offensive to JB I would imagine. I think that they’re race baiting. I think better of them than that.

* Full video

* The (white) illustrator explains

“There was a time in America when certain things were socially acceptable without any thought to how dehumanizing they were to someone else. The image of the lawn jockey symbolizes the wink-and-a-nudge ignorance that puts racism into context historically and in this contemporary situation. As a Democrat, Pritzker indeed needs the black vote, and he puts all his weight on it in a most disrespectful manner.”

Not sure I get what he’s saying there.

* The magazine also published a column by Neil Steinberg about Pritzker

To make it worse, Pritzker responded by apologizing to everyone in sight. Which, to be honest, doesn’t make him seem very gubernatorial. He might have said instead, “Why should an American citizen not accused of any crime, like me, be confronted with his mildly judgmental small talk a decade later?”

Yeah, smugness always works. Right.

* The Reader’s new editor interviewed Pritzker and asked him: “What are you doing to change? Will you seek counseling?”

* The mag also published another piece by Adeshina Emmanuel. The first one, entitled “Pritzker the sneak disser might as well have said the N-word,” is here. And this is the part of the new one

That’s why I called out the African-American elected officials who accepted Pritzker’s apology and still back him in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. To me, a black millennial, their seeming willingness to consider the way Pritzker spoke about race issues as displaying an acceptable level of racism is part of the problem too.

They stood behind Pritzker and offered forgiveness that suggests to a lot of people-white people, that is-that they too should get a pass for sneaky racism so long as they don’t speak in vicious racial slurs. There are a lot of people-African-Americans and people of color across this city-who don’t forgive him. Some fear electing Pritzker is trading one racially insensitive billionaire governor for another. If you haven’t heard from those people, it’s because their opinions don’t matter much to the Democratic machine or the mainstream media.

That said, Pritzker’s political apologists deserve a chance to explain why they think African-Americans should see Pritzker as a friend to their communities. […]

The black politicians supporting Pritzker that did talk to me all shared a common message: We should judge Pritzker’s history and entire person, not words from a decade-old private conversation. They touted him as the Democrats’ best chance to beat Governor Bruce Rauner. They said that Pritzker wouldn’t abandon them once the polls close, and would stay engaged through his tenure with economic development, income inequality, crime, and other issues plaguing many African-American neighborhoods. […]

But Pritzker being sensitive to what words he says doesn’t mean we know what he really thinks about African-Americans. Then again, the same goes for any politician. However, the difference is most politicians don’t have wiretaps released with their problematic language just weeks before a closely contested primary as they make a hard push to court black voters.


…Adding… Statement from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, 6th Ward Alderman and Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus Chairman Roderick Sawyer and Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers…

“The Chicago Reader says its cover art featuring the image of a lawn jockey is a ‘wink and a nudge’ that provides historical context for racism. A ‘wink’ infers subtlety. This cartoon is not subtle and cannot do the work of contextualizing racism because it is in itself racist. At a time when we are having a debate as a state and as a nation about who we are and how insidious racism infects our politics, this image does not advance the thoughtful debate we need and is therefore disappointing.”

…Adding… More from the Reader

Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker was not exactly excited to pick up this week’s Reader and see himself in exaggerated caricature form sitting on top of a lawn jockey. Nope. He characterized the cover illustration by artist Greg Houston as “not the right approach.”

“Well, I guess I knew they intended to be provocative at the Reader, but I think this is not the right approach,” he said while addressing a seniors’ luncheon hosted by Captain’s Hard Time Dining & Josephine’s Cooking soul food restaurant on 79th Street. […]

Reader executive editor Mark Konkol responded in a statement: “Today’s Reader included a variety of opinions about J.B. Pritzker’s wiretapped interaction with former governor Rod Blagojevich, including the candidate’s own statements in his defense. Alderman Sawyer is entitled to his opinion. We stand by our decision to engage readers on important issues of the day by producing journalism and social commentary that gets people talking.”

Ah, the Jeanne Ives approach.

…Adding… He has a point…


  1. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:40 pm:

    How a ten-year-old conversation about the politics of replacing a U.S. Senator is now twisted into J.B. Pritzker-is-racist is amazing and way off base.

    I get it, his enemies are accusing him of everything possible, and that recorded call allows them to bring race into the attack. It’s Chicago politics, in its purest form.

    Nothing on that tape comes remotely close to what the Reader cover is calling J.B. This is cheap sensationalism, but hey, it comes with the territory.

  2. - JB13 - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:41 pm:

    It is proving much more difficult than many of the would-be political consultants on this board predicted it would be for Madigan’s guy to shake that “African American thing,” isn’t it?

  3. - 360 Degree TurnAround - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:46 pm:

    Neither the comic or the explanation make sense. Seek counseling too?

  4. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:47 pm:

    ===“African American thing,”===

    Oh for Pete’s sake. The “thing” was the expectation that Rod should appoint an African-American to replace Barack Obama. Of all of the quotes on those tapes, that is, by far, the most innocuous. What else do you have, what proof can you cite, that J.B. was plotting some nefarious, race-based plot to pull one over on someone?

  5. - Honeybear - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:49 pm:

    Way way out of bounds. Who paid for this? Biss? Rauner? Kennedy. This artist is in Baltimore I think. This is just wrong wrong wring

  6. - Yikes - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:52 pm:

    Not that it would make it okay if the illustrator was black, but the fact that the illustrator is white makes this painting just as (if not more) as what JB said on those tapes.

    The point is that white people should not be deciding what is “socially acceptable” or “least offensive” for African-Americans at all. Is it that hard to understand? Shame on Pritzker for the tapes, and shame on the Reader for this cover.

  7. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:53 pm:

    Emil spent years joined at the hip to Blagojevich. Remember triangulation? That call wasn’t about Pritzker being racist, it was about discouraging Rod from repaying Emil’s loyalty by appointing him to a seat he’d struggle to hold.

    Now Konkol’s fanning the flames.

  8. - Almost the Weekend - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:55 pm:

    The way I see this is Pritzker’s campaign is leading primarily because of the African American vote. Polling shows this. However, they aren’t working together the lawn jockey is pulling all the weight. Yet the Chicago Reader had a completely different explanation that doesn’t make much sense so I don’t understand what they are trying to prove.

    People enjoyed the national review calling out Rauner, this is in similar taste you can say.

  9. - Actual Red - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 3:56 pm:

    Certainly a risky cover. I think I see what the illustrator is trying to say — the lawn jockey, like Pritzker’s comments, is (or was) normal in white society without any attention paid to the racist undertones. It’s a visual symbol for casual, subtle racism. Whether it lands without that explanation, I’m not sure.

    I think the Steinberg quote is goofy. JB’s only choice was to apologize.

    The Emmanuel column is definitely interesting, especially in contrast to Ald. Sawyer. On the one hand, Sawyer is right, it was one conversation 9 years ago. Pritzker very well might stand by the black community and invest in the things Sawyer talks about, if he wins.

    But I also see where Emmanuel is coming from — given how frequently politicians fail to deliver on promises to black voters, the rational move might be to be maximally skeptical about their intentions, and take any indicator of callousness or indifference seriously.

  10. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:04 pm:

    The cover itself, with an “admitted” (too clever by half in this admitting ) “wink”, it’s decidedly one sided, while inferring it’s a discussion cover to an overall.

    I guess my take is the cover has done far more to exacerbate a more divisive discussion to what was said and it seems to be more of a divisive discussion on a conversation on tapes one side wavts to be damaging and campaign-ending, while others are listening to both the tapes and the apologies, and looking at bigger context that wouldn’t include a cartoon like this.

    The Pritzker surrogates will need to not only vouch for Pritzker, but deliver Pritzker to be heard, and deliver to Prizker votes to win in March.

    This cartoon could make these challenges tougher, but this cartoon exacerbates but doesn’t close the door to meet these challenges.

  11. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:10 pm:

    This cartoon will backfire. Sawyer responded viscerally. So will others.

  12. - Shytown - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:10 pm:

    This is tasteless and tone deaf. If this is where the new editor Mark Konkol is taking the Reader then I don’t think I’ll be reading it any more. If he wanted to generate new buzz about the publication he did so in the worst way possible. And Steinberg? With his history who is he to judge anyone. Geesh.

  13. - Soapbox Derby - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:12 pm:

    I guess JB’s ad buy in the Reader wasn’t enough “G-love”.

    Anybody want to explain why when most were running from Blago, JB called him almost daily.

  14. - Rutro - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:14 pm:

    The cover is offensive, calling O’Bama-mediocre, Jessie White-least offensive, and Emil-crass are all also offensive.
    Over the top, maybe, but he is running for governor and spending X million,… get a helmet.

  15. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:14 pm:

    Pritzker wants to be governor. Black leaders want Pritzker owing them. So this decade old wiretape of a felonious governor in conversation with the billionaire is being blown out of proportion in order to demand from Pritzmer some kind of financial restitution.

    Either Pritzker cuts a deal using his money, or cuts a deal where, as governor, he uses our money, is yet to be seen.

    Pritzker is a billionaire with a political debt which won’t get paid until everyone is broke.

  16. - City Zen - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:18 pm:

    ==Who paid for this?==

    The Chicago Federation of Labor.

  17. - Ginhouse Tommy - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:20 pm:

    The cover is definitely tasteless and not what JB needed. I’ll bet he wishes the primary was tomorrow. Neither Rauner or Pritzker is a shoe-in so it could be interesting.

  18. - low level - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:29 pm:

    Pritzker gave big bucks to Sen Jones leadership fund, no? And to individual Dem challengers that eventually enabled Emil Jones to become Senate President.

    As for the Reader, its smaller than ever. The boxes holding the paper are rarely stocked like they used to be even on Thursday when it comes out. They are desperately trying to sell advertising and become relevant again.

  19. - Responsa - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:31 pm:

    Political cartoons are cartoons about politicians and primarily about specific volatile political situations in the news. Have been so forever. They are not meant to evoke sweetness or to be complimentary or soothing. They are not meant to make people comfortable. They are meant to dig, to prompt people to think critically about society, to shine a spotlight on hypocrisy, and yes, sometimes they use crude stereotypes to ignite that thought process. Political cartoons for over 200 years in this country have been created to say things in ways mere words often cannot. There have been some terrific books written about political cartoons through history.
    The Blago- JB tapes are perfect fodder for a good ol’ political cartoonist to go after. The Reader did a nice job and performed a public service with this cover, IMO.

  20. - DuPage Bard - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:48 pm:

    Bet the Reader never thought it could be lumped in with IPI for most racist cartoon?

  21. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 5:06 pm:

    There is nothing about that cover that engages the audience.

    Other than call Emil Jones a lout, what exactly did Pritzker say that has everyone up in arms?

  22. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 5:11 pm:

    –“There was a time in America when certain things were socially acceptable without any thought to how dehumanizing they were to someone else.–

    Like today, on the cover of The Reader? The grotesque rich Jew plopping his fat tukkus on the tiny little black man caricature?

    If I understand the artist’s deep-deep-deep explanation of the symbolism in play, African-Americans who “support” (get it, the subtlety?) Pritzker are worthy of being subjected to that racist dehumanization he hates so much.

    But it’s okay for him to do it, because he’s not racist.

    That cartoonist at IPI must be howling at the moon right about now.

  23. - Anon - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 5:36 pm:

    VM is spot on. JJ Sr. is licking his chops.

  24. - Molly Maguire - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 5:56 pm:

    Well, this will be interesting. The CFL endorsed JB, and as one commenter noted, it is part of the Sun-Times/Reader ownership group.

  25. - Sands - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 5:56 pm:

    - Responsa - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 4:31 pm:

    While it seems your comment is underappreciated here, I thought it was thoughtful and an excellent contribution. Thank you.

  26. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 6:08 pm:

    –They are meant to dig, to prompt people to think critically about society, to shine a spotlight on hypocrisy, and yes, sometimes they use crude stereotypes to ignite that thought process.–

    Oh please. You’re pretending that the history of political cartoons is and has always been noble at all times. They were the original negative ads, for crying out loud.

    I’m sure in all those books you read on the subject you came across a few that were meant simply as outright partisan attacks.

    In fact, I’d suggest for most of American history that has been the objective. See the Adams/Jefferson race of 1800 for starters.

  27. - Just Visiting - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 6:16 pm:

    Mitchell decries racism. Until he doesn’t.
    Mitchell decries money in politics. Until he doesn’t.

  28. - Sands - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 6:17 pm:

    I didn’t get “Nobel” from his comments at all. I think he was saying as someone else said “put on you helmet.” I liked it ;)

  29. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 6:29 pm:

    –I didn’t get “Nobel” from his comments at all.–

    Those Norskes and Swedes don’t hand out prizes for historical negationism.

  30. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 7:12 pm:

    -That cartoonist at IPI must be howling at the moon right now-

    Definitely. Furious that someone else drew up something so clearly in his wheelhouse.

  31. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 7:35 pm:

    Nothing offensive with this picture in my eyes. Ok to make fun of Pritzker’s insensitive comments.

  32. - anono - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 10:41 pm:

    I understand that in modern parlance the image of a lawn jockey statue has become symbolic of quiet racism.

    The reality is that during Underground Railroad days lawn jockey statues were used to point the way to safe houses - and the different attire on the statues meant different things (food available, medical care, bed for the night, etc).

    They were even used to warn of safe houses known to be under surveillance…

    Folks should learn some history before they draw political cartoons.

  33. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 15, 18 @ 11:01 pm:

    Learn some history, indeed.

  34. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Feb 20, 18 @ 6:21 pm:

    I had no idea lawn jockey statues were racist. I thought they just came in different races, like Barbie dolls.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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