What is objectionable about this comic strip?

My local newspaper The Plain Dealer today had this statement in place of the normal Non Sequitur comic strip, one of my favorites.

Editor’s note: Today’s “Non Sequitur” strip was withheld because it was deemed objectionable by Plain Dealer editors. A replacement strip was unavailable at press time.

I naturally went on the web to see what was so shocking and am frankly baffled. Can anyone tell me why this strip should have been withheld?


  1. Spartan says

    I don’t know that it justifies not publishing it, but ‘they all look alike to me’ is a statement often uttered by racists about black people. In this context, I don’t know if there’s also an impression that the animals are being compared to blacks, it’d be a stretch. Maybe just the utterance of a racist trope, especially in the context of humor, was reason enough to withhold it.

  2. chigau (同じ) says

    “They all look alike to me.” used to be (and probably still is) a racist trope.
    In my experience, usually from white people concerning Chinese people.

  3. Physicalist says

    Well, if you’re sincerely asking, I’ll offer an off-the-cuff guess (though I don’t really get either the joke or the editors’ reaction): The phrase “They all look the same to me” is usually associated with someone who is claiming that they can’t tell apart people of some other race (especially whites saying that they can’t differentiate among black people). Thus it has racist connotations. The bunny rabbit is looking at a police line-up of predators; so presumably the predators are supposed to be representing people of some racial groups (probably blacks) at least one of whom is guilty of of a crime — and all of whom are being seen as predatory.

    So my guess is that the worry is somewhere in that general neighborhood. I usually think of Wiley Miller as being fairly liberal, and I wouldn’t have guessed that he was racist. So perhaps there is supposed to be some further irony there that’s lost on me (and perhaps was lost on the editors as well).

  4. Mano Singham says

    I get it that it is playing on a racist trope. But isn’t one way you undermine the power of such tropes is by applying it in situations that show how absurd the trope is?

    I see this cartoon as pointing out the absurdity. Far from being racist, as the editors may have feared, I see it as anti-racist because it is the rabbit that says it that is the butt of the joke because it only sees others as how they relate to it and not as they are. And the joke is quite funny too.

  5. ursamajor says

    I take the comic as satire on the racist line. This is not failing to see trivial differences between members of the same species but failing to identify radically different species. cat. snake. bear. I thought the thing was funny as hell.

  6. F says

    The rabbit is being singled out as the stupid racist.

    This should not be offensive.

    To answer the original question, the PD is a pantload in print, is why. Things really started going downhill after it lost its last serious competition in ’82. I haven’t seen it improve at any point.

  7. billyjoe says

    It’s an anti-racist joke.

    The predators are clearly distinguishable, so the butt of the joke is obviously the rabbit who represents a racist voicing a common racist trope.
    (Also, rabbits are vermin -- at least here in Australia -- so the depiction is apt)

    Also, and to give an example, Chinese people all look to same to someone who does not know any Chinese people personally. Once you do, they no longer all look the same and racism becomes a little less possible.

    The editors are probably concerned that some readers may misunderstand the joke and take offense. However, I don’t agree that it should have been consored on this basis.

  8. eric says

    I think you guys are right about it being an anti-racist comment on the bunny, but I took it much simpler the first time I saw it: to a bunny, all predators are essentially the same, even if they look different.

    One could even take it to be a political joke, with the bunny being the American public and the lineup being the current candidates; yeah sure, they may look different on the outside, but on the inside, they all just want to eat you.

  9. Big Mongo says

    I worked with the comics pages for years. I created the system of scanning and impositioning them on the pages. A company in NY now builds the pages and transmits them to Plain Dealer

    The pd editors, at any level, sit in judgment of a comic ONLY if they (the pd editors) have been tipped off that something in a strip might be offensive. The pd editors don’t have the wherewithall to make that decision on their own. They can only follow what others are saying around the nation. If someone tells the pd the ‘toon is objectionable, they react by subbing another one, even if out of context.

    That tip must come from the syndicate, the author, or another newspaper.
    As far as I know, there is no one person who sits and evaluates each and every daily strip.

  10. cathyw says

    I also got “to the bunny, all that matters about a predator is that he’s a predator” out of it.

    The one meaningful difference I can see with the “Mutts” strip is that in “Non Sequitur”, the line is delivered in the context of a criminal line-up. I can see someone whose job it is to Avoid Angry Phone Calls At All Costs not wanting to run a comic that hints at minorities being criminals.

  11. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    I thought the joke was funny, anti-racist, and unobjectionable. But then I don’t run a newspaper.

  12. Jill Miller Zimon says

    Hi Mano- I posted early this morning about this to my Facebook page and Connie Schultz shared it too . I had about 20 comments and she has had nearly 170! Very interesting too and most people thought it should have run. Ted Diadiun of the PD left a comment in my thread saying that he has gotten a number of responses and it sounds as though they are mostly saying the PD should not have pulled it. Will be interesting to see if Ted’s column this Sunday is about this.

  13. Cynner says

    Congratulations on the move to FTB. I have a off topic question — why are there so many religious ads here and on other atheist sites?

    Thanks -- cynner

  14. Irreverend Bastard says

    It’s political correctness taken to extremes.

    The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be offended in some way.

  15. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    cynner, it’s automatic. The advertisers’ software goes by keywords, afaik, so if it “sees” e.g. “religion is a load of foetid wombat’s dung” it’ll still link to ads for anything related to religion (and probably wombats too, though there may be fewer products out there …)

  16. sumdum says

    The ads must be triggered by keywords, so because we discuss religion a lot, we get religious ads.

  17. Chrisj says

    I’m tempted to wonder whether people who “aren’t racist, but…” might be offended by it; either that or someone didn’t understand it and said “this contains a racist trope, therefore must be racist”.

  18. P Smith says

    So it is the “they all look alike” that caused the kerfuffle?

    I though this was about the Non Sequitur from January 11, the “Global Warming Deniers Winter Games”.

  19. sammie says


    Different setting, so arguably less offensive (if one accepts that the Non Sequitur was offensive). Having said that … same joke. Exactly the same joke, with one white character and one black character.

  20. Marta says

    Many cartoons have levels beyond the surface. People who read political or editorial cartoons are more skilled at reading nuance, I think. A reader who reads the cartoon at the surface level only sees only a racist cliche. To protect its readers, the newspaper makes the decision to do their thinking for them. Reason #1521 why we’re all dumber now than we used to be.

  21. Mano Singham says

    Hi cynner,

    Nice to see you here. I don’t have anything to do with the business end of things here but the answers provided by others are consistent with how I understand these ad arrangements to generally work. It is kind of amusing that religious groups are “supporting” (in the form of funding) our work.

  22. Mano Singham says

    Hi Jill,

    It will be interesting to read Diadun’s column if he should address it. My general problem with his column is that he seems to see his role as mainly defending the paper’s actions rather than shining a critical light on it.

  23. P Smith says

    It’s likely the idiot editor “thought” the comic promoted racism rather than attacked it. It reminds me of a joke from 2008, and dumb people who didn’t get the point:

    Q: What do you call a black guy being chased by twenty white guys?

    A: Formula 1.

    For those who don’t get the joke, and the anti-racist message in it, Lewis Hamilton (who is black) won the F1 world championship that year, meaning he was the fastest and best driver. Everyone else was playing catchup. (Yes, I know there were two Japanese drivers in the field as well as Felipe Massa, a Brazilian of mixed heritage.)


  24. oldebabe says

    Good grief! ISTM that most people are over-thinking re: this comic. It’s jokey and obvious, i.e. to a rabbit, all predators would look alike, no matter how different they may appear to us/psychologists et al, who are not rabbits. Well, certainly the subject rabbit, anyway. Not even a lot of deep thinking to see the `message’.

    Sure, individuals can look for all kinds of inner, or hidden, meanings suggestions, extrapolate, etc. there, and one can be fabricated out of something/anything to suggest anything, but that can be said about almost any pic or statement, right?

  25. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Google Ads uses an algorithm that searches for usage frequency of certain words and keys ads to respond to those words. For instance, a model railroader website would have ads for hobby shops and model train manufacturers automatically directed to the site. This stratagem occasionally backfires, as it does at FtB, where religious ads are directed to a website specializing in atheist blogs.

  26. Steve LaBonne says

    Unless I’m greatly mistaken it costs the god-botherers money if you click on their links, so if you click on them they are subsidizing a bunch of atheists! Seems like a good deal from our end. 😉

  27. billyjoe says


    Please tell me you don’t think the cartoon is just about the psychological evaluation of a rabbit’s view of its predators!!!

  28. Jeffrey G Johnson says

    The strip seems very ambiguous to me. I think all the ways to misconstrue this cartoon are fairly crude and unsophisticated, but then there is plenty reason to worry that a majority of the readers are crude and unsophisticated in a variety of ways.

    One could see the decision to ban this as liberal political correctness run amok: the hypersensitivity to racial offense being triggered by the mere topic of race being referenced, regardless of how race is portrayed.

    One could also see the decision to ban this as conservative denialism, which expends an awful lot of energy trying to insist that there is no more racism, except for anti-white discrimination. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

    A rabbit is often portrayed as “white” in cartoons, magic shows, song and poetry. So this could signify to some that whites are stupid racists.

    The rabbit’s reaction to the predators is one of fear, the root of racism, so one could see this as critical of racism itself, because the rabbit’s inability to make obvious distinctions reveals the irrationality of such fear.

    But here the rabbit’s fear is legitimate. Any of the “types” in the lineup would gladly eat the rabbit. This contradicts the fact that the fear behind racism is misplaced and paranoid. So this could be seen as legitimizing racist fear of the other.

    Then there is the context, a criminal lineup. This could be seen as depicting minorities as criminals. But it could also be seen as a critique of our criminal justice system as discriminatory by being more prone to arrest and convict minorities.

    Given the complexity of racial issues, there are probably other interpretations and ambiguities I haven’t even touched on.

    In spite of, or perhaps because of all this, I would NOT support censorship of this cartoon. Sweeping the issue of race under the carpet might make sense if we lived in a situation where racial resentments were so heated as to run the risk of violent retaliation or riots. But in today’s world it is healthy for us to air and discuss these things. This promotes understanding, and rather than perpetuating racial divides, it should have the effect of eroding them.

    This is a long winded way of saying the Plains Dealer was pretty stupid and cowardly to not print this.

  29. Santu says

    There is a reason why it was kept out of the newspaper (it could have been used to suggest that the GOP candidates were indistinguishable from one another), and there is an excuse that could have been used to explain why it was censored (the racist trope).

    The interesting thing is that, just as it is amusing that certain people find certain minorities difficult to tell from each other, the minorities themselves find it almost as difficult to tell majority folks from one another. (Members of the majority, of course, are thoroughly indignant to be told this!) But newspaper editors hope that their readership will naively assume that the racist trope is what drove the censorship. What thrilling times we live in!

  30. says

    “They all look alike to me.” used to be (and probably still is) a racist trope.
    In my experience, usually from white people concerning Chinese people.

    It may be racist but there may also be a grain of truth to it. IIRC weren’t there studies showing that most people are best at determining faces from the ethnic groups they grew up in? Therefore if someone has traits that are not seen in their usual peer group it over shines other distinguishing traits and they have more trouble distinguishing members of that group?

    I’ve heard white friends for example, not that they all look alike, but honestly be unable to see the difference between say Korean and Japanese where it seems more obvious to me that there are on the whole distinguishing differences.


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