Is This Cartoon Racist?

by James A. Bacon

Is the cartoon above, drawn by Virginia Military Institute alumnus Matt Daniel, racist?

Former Governor L. Douglas Wilder thinks so. “It’s clearly racist,” he told Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira after Shapira showed it to him.

Shapira evidently thinks so, too. “Some say” the depiction of Martin Brown, Virginia’s African-American director of Diversity, Opportunity & Inclusion, “resembles a monkey,” he wrote.

Wilder is one person. The word “some” implies that there are others. None are named or alluded to. In a long-standing Washington Post reportorial tradition of the scribe attributing his own opinions to nameless others, Shapira appears to be referencing himself.

Shapira was decent enough to quote Daniel, who happens to be chairman of the Spirit of VMI PAC and a defender of VMI traditions that Shapira has relentlessly assailed as racist and sexist. “It is not a monkey. That doesn’t even make sense,” Daniel texted. “It is a voodoo doll in a business suit being harassed by a hostile writer.”

So… whom do we believe? Let’s undertake a critical examination of the cartoon to see whose interpretation — Shapira’s or Daniels’ — makes the most sense.

First, permit me to draw your attention to the figures in VMI uniforms stacked to the side of the picture. They have stitched mouths and are punctured with needles. They bear remarkable resemblance to voodoo dolls, such as the figure seen at left, which is purchasable on

Daniels 1, Shapira 0.

Now let’s focus on the main figure in the cartoon, which is a rendering of none other than the bespectacled Shapira himself. He is holding what appears to be a giant pin — an essential accoutrement for the vengeful piercing of voodoo dolls. Those familiar with Daniels’ adversarial relationship with Shapira will readily understand the symbolic representation of the reporter’s long-standing persecution of VMI traditionalists.

Daniels 2, Shapira 0.

Now, let’s turn to the doll itself. It is indisputably similar to the dolls in the stack: the same size, similar attire, similar facial and anatomical features. Like a psychoanalytic patent who views a Rorschach test and always sees something sexual, Shapira always sees racism. Everyone else viewing this cartoon will see a voodoo doll.

Daniels 3, Shapira 0.

Then there’s the fact that it makes no sense whatsoever for Daniels to portray Brown — an ally in resisting the implementation of DEI at the military institute — in a derogatory racist manner.

Daniels 4, Shapira 0.

On the other hand, Shapira did get the nonagenarian Wilder, who has been quick to throw around accusations of racism himself, to agree with him.

Daniels 4, Shapira 1/2.

It should be vividly clear to any sober person whose vision is not skewed by alcohol, pharmaceuticals, or obsession with race, that Daniel is skewering Shapira for his relentless vilification of the upholders of VMI traditions.

The pot shot at the cartoon is trademark Shapira —  insinuating racism even when there is an obvious alternative explanation. This incident makes vividly clear how Shapira views the world through the lens of race, and highlights his standards of proof for insinuating racism in print. Frankly, his blatant bias calls into question his entire body of work maligning the old VMI as guilty of “relentless racism,” and everything he has written since.