After protesters blocked recently-confirmed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from entering a D.C. public school on Feb. 10, conservative cartoonist Glenn McCoy channeled Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With.”
“The Problem We All Live With” depicts Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all white elementary school in the South, six years after Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregation. In the image, she is escorted by U.S. Deputy Marshals and there are heavy, racial slurs in the background – “KKK” and the N-word spelled out – and a tomato in the background emphasizing the public’s hostility to integration.
“Stop Trying to Trash Betsy DeVos” is a clear derivative. Derogatory words are replaced with “conservative” and “NEA,” or the National Education Association, the largest public school union in America. In place of the KKK, there is an anarchist symbol behind her.
Some went to Twitter to respond, offended by the equation of Bridges and DeVos, including political journalists and commentators.
What we're NOT gonna do is compare Ruby Bridges to Betsy Devos.
NOT EVA. https://t.co/RaliyauszO
— GreatIsNate (@TheGreatIsNate) February 14, 2017
They really just compared Betsy DeVos to Ruby Bridges pic.twitter.com/Yy7fkNxReu
— elexus jionde (@Lexual__) February 14, 2017
How can you compare a child who actively sought education to a woman who's trying to get rid of it? Betsy Devos is not Ruby Bridges. pic.twitter.com/REjxAEj2Yp
— nañi (@pettyblackgirI) February 14, 2017
Vox contributor Jenée Desmond-Harris tackled the controversy through a racial lens and paralleled the racism behind integration protests to the force that elected Donald Trump. “The racial anxiety and belief in white supremacy that led white Americans to riot over school integration should feel familiar: these same forces fueled Trump’s win and thus, indirectly, DeVos’s appointment,” wrote Desmond-Harris.
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“The image of DeVos somehow suggests that the struggle of a billionaire to enter a public school is similar to that of a vulnerable black child during the Civil Rights Movement,” Rachel Herron wrote for Black Entertainment. “Placing DeVos in a similar image to a child who endured racism and hate has reminded many how out-of-touch and privileged some members of the GOP are.”
Kyle Kulinski, host of the progressive radio show “Secular Talk,” criticized the logical premise of the depiction.
“She’s the head of public schools now and she doesn’t believe in public schools. She believes in privatization,” said Kulinski. “People aren’t protesting Betsy DeVos because she’s conservative. People are protesting Betsy DeVos because she’s an idiot, and it’s an outrage that she’s in charge of public schools.”
The Root’s Breanna Edwards asserted that this equation is inappropriate, sarcastically writing, “Because the public attempting to hold a public official accountable is hateful. I mean. I guess.”
In response to the backlash behind the cartoon, McCoy expressed in a statement to the liberal Talking Points Memo that he was attempting to highlight politically-rooted hatred. “I’m surprised that some readers see ‘hate’ in this cartoon when I thought I was speaking out against hate,” McCoy wrote. “My cartoon was about how, in this day and age, decades beyond the Civil Rights protests, it’s sad that people are still being denied the right to speak freely or do their jobs or enter public buildings because others disagree with who they are or how they think.”
Contributor for the conservative outlet PJ Media, Tyler O’Neil rationalizes McCoy’s equation, emphasizing the escalation of protests at the D.C. public school. “The Left has declared that the ‘resistance is barely getting started,’” he wrote. “If this rabid demonization of the head of the Department of Education continues, she may well end up hated nearly as much as the poor 8-year-old Ruby Bridges was (if she isn’t already).”
DeVos was one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees and was narrowly appointed through Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote. Many democratic constituents are apprehensive about her support of charter schools and lack of experience in the education field.