This post has been updated to include a reference to a second blackface cartoon by a different artist.
After posting a cartoon Monday that depicts Hillary Clinton in blackface, pastor Mark Burns, a Donald Trump surrogate, quickly deleted the image from his Twitter account and apologized for spreading it. But the cartoonist who drew it, Tony Branco, is standing by his caricature.
“Political cartoons are supposed to rile people up, get people talking, have a discussion about issues,” Branco told me. “It’s supposed to focus people’s attention on the issue, and that’s what the cartoon did. And I’m pretty proud that it did that.”
The issue, as Branco sees it, is that Clinton and her fellow Democrats pander to African Americans. He didn’t think the cartoon was particularly controversial when he drew it, back in April. In fact, when I called him Tuesday morning, he initially could not even remember what prompted it. (Branco later recalled being inspired by an interview, conducted by the black hosts of the “Breakfast Club” radio show, in which Clinton said she carries hot sauce in her purse — hence the “No hot sauce, no peace!” T-shirt sported by the Democratic presidential candidate in the sketch. Clinton has a well-chronicled, decades-long affinity for hot sauce; then again, her remark sure sounded like a reference to a Beyoncé song. Clinton and the “Breakfast Club” hosts joked that pandering charges would surely follow.)
Branco explained his decision to draw Clinton in blackface like this: “Putting her in blackface — well, it wasn’t exactly blackface; it was more of a picture of her trying to fit in with black people and insult their intelligence. … I was just trying to point out in my way that she was pandering to black people, trying to fit in with black people. It’s no more complicated than that.”
Louisville Courier-Journal cartoonist Marc Murphy portrayed Trump in blackface earlier this month, but so far no prominent Clinton surrogates have thought it wise to tweet the image.
Branco, a conservative cartoonist, said he preferred other Republican presidential candidates, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, over Trump. But he will vote for the real estate mogul. He even sounds a bit like Trump.
On African Americans: “Why do you keep voting for Democrats when your life never improves and your situation never improves? Why don’t you try something else? Give it a shot.”
On political correctness: “People are so politically correct now that you can’t even present a cartoon and look at the intent of the cartoon. If you want to know the intent of the cartoon, ask the cartoonist, and I guess that’s what you’re doing now.”
On the media: “The media would rather turn this into a racist issue and try to focus on the fact that ‘it’s blackface, oh, it’s blackface,’ and not even look at the fact that she’s been pandering for years, like many Democrats, to black people, and their situation hasn’t changed whatsoever. That’s my take on it. I fail to see the racism in it. You have to really work hard to draw the conclusion that it’s racist.”
Branco is familiar with the racist history of blackface, “but it’s 2016. Come on. And it’s a political cartoon.”
Is he saying Clinton is racist?
“I’m labeling Hillary Clinton as a panderer, a panderer to the black community. That’s what I’m labeling her as. … Not necessarily a racist. I don’t know about her heart.”
Branco said it is unfair to hold Trump responsible for the cartoon, because the candidate did not draw it or tweet it from his own account. The media, Branco said, is “trying to twist it into ‘Trump is a racist.'” That’s how the mainstream press operates, he believes.
With that in mind, will he be more cautious in his cartooning — just in case Trump is held responsible for another provocative illustration by Branco?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m going to continue to present the truth as I see it.”