St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit‘s work typically epitomizes “non-controversial” art: She makes comforting cartoon illustrations of apple-cheeked children, often accompanied by cheerful slogans about friendship and family. She has a large and devoted following, both for her art and for Engelbreit-branded products of various types, and she is an official inductee in the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
These are not normal times, however, and when Engelbreit posted an image on her Facebook page on Tuesday in response to the current unrest rocking the St. Louis–area town of Ferguson, a section of her fan base turned on her.
The print in question, called In the USA, depicts an African American mother and child, in Engelbreit’s signature orbicular style, contemplating a newspaper that reads “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot.” Floating text reads, “No One Should Have to Teach Their Children This In The USA.” The print was priced at $49.99, with all proceeds going to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund, which supports the family of Michael Brown, the Missouri teenager who was gunned down by police two weeks ago. “[T]hese events unfolding now in my hometown and across the country, shining a light on the ugly racism that still runs rampant in our country, made me think that maybe this drawing could help in some small way,” wrote Engelbreit in her post.
While much of the ensuing feedback was supportive, the post attracted enough of a barrage of anger that it became the subject of local media coverage. Facebook pundits vented racist conspiracy theories, accused Engelbreit of ignoring the plight of law enforcement, and challenged her to “please draw a card that also shows stealing and intimidating store clerks.” In a follow-up Facebook post (inexplicably removed and deemed “offensive” by the social media platform), Engelbreit responded to critics, standing by the print as a statement on the “ugly, hard truth of racial profiling,” adding:
I also thought about disabling the comments today and just let those that wanted to buy the print do so. But then I thought, Well, I posted it—I should see this through to the bitter end. However, today, if anyone uses words like “thug” or “animal” or any other derogatory words to describe their fellow human beings, their comment will be deleted. That’s not free speech, that’s hate speech, and you can go pedal your hatred and bigotry on someone else’s Facebook page.
We can only hope that all the people who said that they were going to unfollow me have done so, and maybe today we can have a more civilized stream of comments.
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