By Cynthia Tucker [email protected]
Without malice? Hardly.
There was malice aplenty emanating from some of those placards riding atop the Comic Cowboys’ float on Fat Tuesday. Racism aplenty, too.
As locals know, the Comic Cowboys, a Mobile Mardi Gras krewe whose history dates back to 1884, claim that they are just lampooning the foibles of public figures, satirizing the shortcomings of the political process and adding a dose of edgy humor to the proceedings. They have long hidden behind a prosaic slogan, “Without Malice,” to try to fend off criticism of that so-called humor, which offers up sophomoric sexual innuendo, crude bathroom jokes and patently offensive racial stereotypes.
Since I’m still a relatively new resident of Mobile — I moved here in June 2014 — I hadn’t seen a Comic Cowboys float until this year’s Fat Tuesday festivities. My husband and I ventured downtown with the 8-year-old, looking for cheap family fun.
I figured we could protect her from the riskier elements of the celebration, including inebriated party-goers and lunging throngs excited by flung ramen noodles. I hadn’t figured on the noxious stereotypes beaming down at us courtesy of the Cowboys.
There was, for example, a placard featuring a drawing of President Donald Trump throwing what appeared to be dollar bills. The script read: “Trump’s African-American outreach. Make America mo’ great again.” How original.
For generations now, bigots have mocked black Americans as unfamiliar with standard English. But that placard was unintentionally infused with irony, since I’ve noticed that many of the locals, whether black, white or purple, have a distant relationship with the English language. White Mobilians, however, are not mocked for it.
Then there was the drawing of a young African-American male running with a flat-screen TV on his shoulder, with the following script: “BLACK LIVES MATTER DEMANDS JUSTICE. But apparently it will settle for BIG SCREEN TVs.”
Let me see if I understand the message: The black citizens who have carried out overwhelmingly peaceful protests against police violence are looters? The outrage over unarmed black men and women gunned down by overzealous police officers is akin to criminal activity?
Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who announced his resignation from the Cowboys after this year’s floats met fierce criticism, said some of the placards were “divisive.” Others called them “offensive.”
Ahem. In 2015, a placard showed a man urinating rainbow-colored pee, with the legend “COWBOYS FULLY SUPPORT THE LGBT COMMUNITY. LEGS GUNS BEER TITS.” That’s offensive. Casting Black Lives Matter protestors as looters is, quite frankly, racist.
And that’s apparently a long-running tradition for the Cowboys. Yes, they do occasionally offer up a well-deserved satirical shot at a white politician. Perhaps that was best displayed this year with a placard lampooning Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was shown cutting Supreme Court robes into outfits resembling those worn by the Ku Klux Klan.
But it’s been clear over the years that the Cowboys reserve much of their so-called satire for people of color. As the late Danielle Juzan, who analyzed Cowboy antics for years, once noted, “I found it interesting that while the Cowboys mostly stick to local laff topics, eight of the 10 national figures they chose to hold up for scorn are black.”
And Stimpson, who said he was a four-year member, should have noticed years ago. So should City Councilman Joel Daves, who recently resigned after 20 years in the group. After all, this is not the first year that complaints have come in about the bigotry evident in some of the placards.
In 2015, the Cowboys satirized President Barack Obama’s immigration reform platform with a poster featuring a grossly stereotyped drawing of a Latino cutting a hedge into the shape of a buxom woman. The caption read: “If you like your gardener, you can keep your gardener.” Ha-ha.
In 2013, the Cowboys featured a drawing of a Muslim man wearing a keffiyeh, standing behind a camel, with his pants around his ankles. His crotch had a panel across it reading, “Censored,” but you get the point. How is Mobile ever going to attract serious international investment with that sort of message being advertised annually?
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Comic Cowboys is that their membership includes some of the city’s most distinguished civic and business leaders, as the recent resignations suggest. Of course, those pillars of the community have every constitutional right to continue parading their views about. I’m a staunch defender of the First Amendment, which gives every citizen the right to express views that are raunchy, rude, hateful and racist.
But if they are so proud of their satire, why are they so secretive? They should publish their membership rolls. Show your faces, gentlemen. Take your hoods off.
Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a native of Monroeville, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist. She lives in Mobile with her husband, Dr. Johnson Haynes Jr., and daughter, Carly.