Monday, July 6, 2009

Freelancing Is Not Slavery, N.C. Winters.

I am presently in the midst of a transition from a regular working-stiff job to freelance, and in that time I’ve relied on a few different websites for advice, job leads, and other resources. One of best sites for this (usually) is FreelanceSwitch. FS has a lot of great, practical advice on finding work, building blogs, and living frugally. As a former cartoonist, I also enjoy their regular comic, Freelance Freedom.

But this morning, I was disappointed by the comic and N.C. Winters' framing of freelancing as slavery:


To recap: The white freelance designer is behind on his work. This is somehow analogous to being a slave - complete with the shackles and physical abuse. Hilarious!

Using slavery as a visual metaphor for hardworking white people is an expression of the systematic minimization of the pain and ongoing legacy of slavery. Just because the point of reference is several hundred years old does not mean that the racism inherent and essential to the reference has faded into nothing.

Slavery is not over. It is not a joke, or a punchline. It's not at all similar to an independent contractor's work ethic and implied inability to plan ahead. Using slavery to humorously illustrate a comparably trivial point - the occasional hardship of freelancing as a career - marginalizes and dismisses the serious hardships suffered by enslaved Americans and its present effect on the black community in America today.

Even more problematic is the whiteness of the "enslaved" character (and the comic is written by a white man). The white man's burden is not that heavy. A white man freelancing is not analogous to a black man stolen from his home country and forced into slavery. White American men do not bear the ongoing brunt of slavery, and have absolutely no right to imply that they suffer anything similar to slavery - even if "it's just a joke". It's privileged folks wielding their privilege to dismiss the roots and thus the present fact of racism.

The most callous construction in the comic above is the physical violence implied by the crack of the whip and the lashes on the character's back. Being tied to a deadline so that you can continue to work and support yourself and your family is not similar to the degradation and humiliation of flagellation.

The cartoon above is callous, degrading, and racist. N.C. Winters needs to think and consider very carefully before publishing lighthearted cartoons that capitalize on America's history of racial inequality.

9 comments:

  1. My friend, that is sick. You should email the cartoonist (and FreelanceSwitch) with a link to this post. That sort of shit shouldn't be allowed ANYWHERE. And the scary part about it is, as you kind of said, I'll bet the cartoonist had no idea that this might be offensive.

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  2. I left a comment at the post, but surprise surprise, it did not make it through moderation.

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  5. "Using slavery as a visual metaphor for hardworking white people is an expression of the systematic minimization of the pain and ongoing legacy of slavery. Just because the point of reference is several hundred years old..."

    I thought the point of reference here was thousands of years old: Greek-owned trireme ships on the Mediterranean in which the slaves were chained to oars to propel the ships, not British-owned galleon ships on the Middle Passage in which the slaves were chained to each other to stay belowdecks.

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  6. Also, I agree that freelancing is not slavery!

    "Slavery is not over."

    I agree - it continued after the U.S. outlawed slavery, and it started long before the Middle Passage started.

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  7. "I left a comment at the post, but surprise surprise, it did not make it through moderation."

    I noticed the moderator over there only allowed two comments* on racism and the rest were all about the difficulty of freelancing! WTF is up with that?


    * here they are, in case the moderator over there deletes them too:

    Jake: "Wow this comic is wildly inappropriate. Comparing a white business man to an African slave is pretty degrading."

    Rafa: "mmm…wait, first, excuse me cause my english is bad, second, your comment maybe has a little tone of racism in the history of the humanity there weren´t only african slaves, there’re scandinavian slaves of the vikings, the slaves of the romans, the slaves of the egipcians, the aztec’s slaves, etc. And I believe the post is an example of the first I mentionated: the viking’s slaves."

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  8. Anonymous, the first Anonymous above makes a good point, as does Rasa in the OP's comments.

    However, audience must be considered - most Americans, like me, are going to immediately associate this with the British/American slave trade, esp. with the whipping reference (which, by the way, is misogynistic). If he wanted it to be read as the Hellenistic slave trade, he should have had some reference to that.

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  9. If the image clearly includes people chained to ranks of oars, which as far as I can tell never happened in the Atlantic slave trade for a lot of obvious reasons, why would - or should - the author expect anyone to make that connection?

    Can you explain how the whipping reference is misogynistic?

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