Pennsylvania Newspaper Apologizes for Running Slave Ship Cartoon

Cartoon compares air travel to slave ships

Cartoon by Robert Ariail

A Pennsylvania newspaper took to Twitter to apologize Thursday for running a cartoon that many of its readers found offensive as the cartoon compared modern-day air travel to the horrid conditions of slave ships.

The cartoon ran in the Lancaster New Era last Saturday and while the cartoon was not drawn by any members of the paper, readers felt the paper still held some responsibility for running the controversial comic.

In the cartoon, an elderly white couple is gazing upon a large image that portrays the way men, women and children were packed in slave ships on the Middle Passage.

The Middle Passage is the trans-Atlantic leg of the slave trade that packed as many Africans as possible on the ship so they could be sold in the Americas.

“Must be where the airlines got their idea for passenger seating,” the elderly gentleman in the cartoon says to the woman.

Slave ships had deplorable conditions, which caused many of those on board to die before even reaching the Americas.

Airplanes, on the other hand, have slightly uncomfortable chairs with the ability to lean back far enough to infuriate the person sitting behind you.

Airplanes also force passengers to share an armrest with the person sitting next to them and can put the people on board through spurts of turbulence.

For many of the paper’s readers, the comparison just wasn’t right even for the sake of a joke.

The president of Lancaster Newspapers, John A. Kirkpatrick, and Barb Roda, the company’s executive director, issued a statement Thursday apologizing for the comic.

“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,” Kirkpatrick and Roda wrote in the joint statement.

Another apology was published on the paper’s Twitter page.

Editorial cartoon compares air travel to slave ships “…While the editorial cartoon was not drawn by someone on our staff, the decision to run it on our pages was made here,” one tweet read before following up with, “…We are deeply sorry about printing this offensive cartoon. We cannot erase the error we made last week.”

An unnamed Black pastor in Lancaster County responded to the comic saying, “The African Slave trade was our holocaust and to a majority of sane African Americans it is painful for us to even entertain.”

After the backlash poured in, the man behind the cartoon, Robert Ariail, tried to explain the controversial comparison.

“Folks, I didn’t intend for this cartoon to create this kind of reaction,” he wrote on the comment section underneath the image on his website. “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.”

His apology to Sara refers to his initial response when a user by the name Sara commented that she wasn’t amused by the comic.

Sara sarcastically explained why she didn’t think the joke was funny.

Ariail then responded to Sara’s comment by saying, “Sara, get a sense of humor, then come back and look at the cartoons.”


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