Obama ‘Watermelon’ Cartoon in ‘Boston Herald’ Deemed Racist

Jerry Holbert's latest cartoon for the Boston Herald has been accused of racism. Courtesy of Jerry Holbert.

The Boston Herald and cartoonist Jerry Holbert are apologizing for a cartoon dubbed racist by many, reports CNN. The cartoon, which ran in yesterday’s newspaper, features President Obama and the recent White House intruder.

The cartoon, captioned “White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought,” is set in a White House bathroom, where the president, brushing his teeth, is alarmed to see a white man behind him in the bathtub asking “have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?” An archaic stereotype of African Americans is that they are especially fond of that fruit.

“That’s kind of code language that really becomes offensive,” Darnell Williams, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, told CBS Boston.

A statement of apology from the paper noted that the cartoon “has offended some people and to them we apologize,” claiming that the “choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful.”

Holbert also apologized on the radio show NightSide with Dan Rea, but denied racism allegations, saying the watermelon flavor was inspired by his kids’ toothpaste.

“I’m apologizing for my actions,” Holbert said. “I’m apologizing for the fact that I didn’t think this all the way through. I am not going to apologize for actually creating a racist cartoon, because that is not the way I felt, I did not think that.”

“I thought this was a very lighthearted cartoon, just suggesting that the guy got as far as the bathtub and he’s recommending a different toothpaste for the president,” Holbert told Boston Herald Radio. “I didn’t think people would think that way. Obviously that was very naive on my part; that was stupid on my part.”

With Holbert’s permission, the toothpaste flavor was changed to raspberry in the nationally syndicated version of the cartoon. This was to address concerns that the watermelon flavor “could inject a racial subtext that would distract from the point of the cartoon.”

The cartoonist told Herald Radio he regretted not informing the Herald of the syndicate’s objections.

Despite the controversy, “we stand by Jerry, who is a veteran cartoonist with the utmost integrity,” assured the Herald.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics