Cartoon in U. of Florida paper ignites debate over whether a racial epithet can be used on campus

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When Kanye West blasted President Bush’s treatment of poor black people in New Orleans after Katrina hit, the rapper unintentionally set off a hurricane of words in Florida.

The Independent Florida Alligator, the student newspaper, ran a cartoon last week that criticized West’s statements by showing him holding a large playing card marked “The Race Card,” and having Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, exclaim with scorn at West: “Nigga Please!” Since the cartoon ran, there have been multiple rallies against the student newspaper, with the latest drawing several hundred on Monday; the president of the university and other senior officials have condemned the cartoon and called on the paper to apologize for it; and there have been reports that students reading the paper on campus have had other students come up and grab the paper away from them, saying that it is racist.

In a statement published in the newspaper, Bernie Machen, Florida’s president, said of the cartoon, “Such depictions reinforce hurtful and damaging stereotypes. They poison the ongoing struggle to overcome the racial barriers that divide our country, and give comfort to bigots who seek affirmation for their racism.” He added that he and many students and faculty members were “disgusted by the image and discouraged that such an insensitive cartoon could be published in a newspaper that, while independent from the university, is written and edited by UF students.”

The newspaper is holding its ground and refusing to apologize. In fact, it is going on the offensive, calling many of its critics hypocrites.

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