By Chris Hoenig
A Pennsylvania newspaper has issued an apology after publishing an editorial cartoon that compared air travel to the slave trade.
In its Saturday edition, the Lancaster New Era ran a cartoon that depicts a couple standing before a diagram of the seating chart for a slave ship. “Must be where the airlines got their idea for passenger seating,” the old man tells his white-haired partner.
“To somehow link the inconveniences of air travel with slavery in general and the slave ships in particular was not only just plain wrong, it was deeply hurtful to our African-American community and all those who understand the horrors inflicted on the men and women forced into the slave trade,” John A. Kirkpatrick, President of Lancaster Newspapers, and Barb Roda, its Executive Editor, said in a statement. “As a Lancaster County pastor said of the editorial cartoon: ‘The African slave trade was our Holocaust, and to a majority of sane African-Americans it is painful for us to even entertain.’
“While the editorial cartoon was not drawn by someone on our staff, the decision to run it on our pages was made here. We are deeply sorry about printing this offensive cartoon.”
The cartoon was drawn by editorial cartoonist Robert Ariail. Someone posting under his name challenged commenters who questioned his drawing.
“Oh yes, when I fly on an airplane, I have absolutely been forced onboard against my will, shackled by my hands and feet, stacked next to my fellow passengers with no breathing room, no water and food for a period of weeks, with the certain knowledge that if the captain considers himself or herself in danger, he or she can throw me overboard, still shackled to my fellow passengers,” a commenter named Sara posted on Ariail’s site. “Also, when I arrive at my final destination, I expect to be stripped, then sold to the highest bidder. Seriously, what is this nonsense”
Ariail’s response “Sara, get a sense of humor, then come back and look at the cartoons.”
Ariail did eventually issue an apology of his own.
“Folks, I didn’t intend for this cartoon to create this kind of reaction,” he wrote. “I am sorry to those who are upset by it and I’m sorry to Sara for my flippant remark. My intent was to compare airline seating with the most extreme example I could think of—the famous slave-ship illustration. I didn’t mean to trivialize slavery, just make a hyperbolic point about our modern-day condition.”
By the mid-1700s—decades before the United States became an independent nation—tens of thousands of Africans were being forced from their homes, shackled and crammed aboard ships to the colonies and the Caribbean every year. Of the millions who started across the slave trade’s Middle Passage, hundreds of thousands died in the putrid, inhumane conditions and were dumped overboard. Those who survived the journey were sold to the highest bidder, destined for a life of forced servitude.