A CENSORED ITEM ABOUT CENSORSHIP. Well, not really censorship; when a newspaper does it, it's called editing. But I do want to direct your attention to yesterday's Globe, in which - unbenownst to readers - the comic strip The Boondocks was edited to remove a reference to the N-word.
Here is the strip as it was apparently supposed to run. The offending phrase: "Yeah, it's like the n***a version of the Cuban missile crisis." I do not know whether artist Aaron McGruder added the asterisks himself, or if instead they were added by his syndicate.
But here's how the same sentence appeared in the Globe: "Yeah, it's the ghetto Cuban missile crisis."
Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund has written about controversies over The Boondocks at least three times during her tenure, according to an exclusive computer search conducted this morning on behalf of Media Log. I would imagine that this coming Monday will make four.
The most recent occasion was last September 27, when the Globe refused to run the strip for almost exactly the same reason that it altered yesterday's. Chinlund wrote:
The Globe did not run the "Boondocks" comic strip that artist Aaron McGruder drew for last week because, as an editor's note explained Monday, the strip "did not meet the Globe's standards." A Boondocks rerun appeared in its place. Some readers who went online to see what they were missing said they disagreed with the Globe's call.
"I don't understand how you can censor a comic strip . . . ," said Gail Rothenberg. Said Steve Knapp, "Intelligent readers can understand and enjoy social satire when presented with it."
The satire in question involves the use an asterisked version of the N-word, and a plot built around job-seekers participating in a reality TV show titled: "Can a 'N***A' get a job?!"
Why did the Globe pull the strip?
"The use of a racial epithet is something we try to avoid," said Michael Larkin, deputy managing editor for news operations. Blanking out just the offending word would have obscured the satiric point, he said. "Beyond that, in dealing with a very complex issue the strips were relying on stereotypes that, in the editors' judgment, were likely to offend some readers."
For the record, I'm conflicted on this. On the one hand, it strikes me that McGruder has a sufficient reputation as a satirist of African-American life that he ought to be able to express himself in the language that many black people actually use.
On the other ... I mean, come on. It's the N-word, for crying out loud. You can't put that in a mainstream daily newspaper.
I do think that if the Globe editors genuinely believed it would be a mistake to run yesterday's strip, they should have killed it rather than changing it around.