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The Protestors Cartoon by Clay Bennett: Visual Analysis


The analysis of acute social, political, and other topics through the assessment of current media resources can allow considering a specific issue from a new perspective. The cartoon by Clay Bennett, a famous columnist and cartoonist, will be used as the object of analysis (Figure 1). This image is taken from the popular online magazine Chattanooga Times Free Press that offers not only news reviews but also a fascinating collection of social comics reflecting contemporary ambiguous issues. The purpose of this image is to highlight how biased the legal system can be in terms of racial inequality. In this regard, the problem of racial profiling will be considered as a key subtext of the cartoon utilized. In his work, Clay Bennett reflects an apparent contradiction in real-world legislation regarding racial bias.

The Protestors 
Fig. 2: The Protestors 

Visual Context

Bennett’s cartoon in question offers the observer to pay attention to such a pressing social problem as racial bias shown by the legislature. Visually, the image does not have complex structural elements, but in this context, they are not required. The caricature nature of the image does not imply a multi-stage plot or outstanding graphic details since the main goal is to convey the essence of a certain problem through subtext and humorous meaning. At the same time, the cartoon reveals a complex and controversial issue that deserves discussion not only at the national but also at the global level.

Cartoon colors are essential tools used by Bennett to convey the main idea. The different races of the two protesters carry the key meaning of the author’s thought and reflect the core of the problem. The red color of the inscription attracts attention and is intended to influence the public, including real observers and the audience assumed in the context of the plot of the image. The lettering font is large and legible, and this element of the cartoon is central and draws attention first. The words of the police officers addressing the African American are shown on the side and become noticeable only after examining the large details of the image. The entire composition of the cartoon is constructed so that to focus on the inscription, and the fundamental idea that conveys the irony of the subtext is hidden in the corner of the picture. This approach allows sharpening the observer’s attention and encouraging him or her to study the cartoon for longer, thereby meditating on the problem more consciously.

When applied to the elements of persuasion based on the philosophical modes of ethos, logos, and pathos, not all of these elements are represented in the image. With regard to ethos, the argumentation of the author’s credentials cannot be identified. The only criterion by which the observer can determine the authorship of the cartoon is Bennett’s signature with the name of the periodical publishing this material. Readers who are familiar with Bennett’s work know his ideas and satirical manner. However, from the standpoint of a single illustration, ethos cannot be identified. At the same time, the mode of logos is present. As the main participants in the image, two Protestants of different races are represented, as well as two police officers. The call on the banner makes the position clear, and the context of the story also reveals the controversy of the situation. Finally, the pathos in the illustration is conveyed through the characters’ emotional facial expressions – the surprise of the Protestants and the discontent of the law enforcement officials. All these aspects form the general visual context of Bennett’s cartoon and make it possible to understand the author’s message.


One of the main objectives of the cartoon under consideration is to draw the attention of both ordinary citizens and legislators to the problem of racial inequality and prejudice towards non-whites. According to McCurdy, if the racial profiling policy is supported by the authorities, this is a step towards legitimizing the criminal system with violations of constitutional rights and freedoms. By comparing target audiences in the context of the impact of the media and its target, Bennett’s cartoon aims to engage officials rather than laypeople in the discussion. Ordinary people are well aware of the issues faced by African Americans and other non-white races. Therefore, from the standpoint of influence, the illustration has a greater impact on the representatives of the law as a call for measures to take to prevent social inequality.

In addition to legislators, drawing the attention of police officers to the existing prejudice is also a significant prospect. Forman mentions a number of cases when African Americans reported highly biased attitudes from law enforcement employees and notes that excessive aggression was common when detaining black people. Given that the police officer is to be a model of courage and impartiality, this behavior is unacceptable for a number of reasons, including both ethical and legal norms. Therefore, Bennett’s cartoon aims to draw the attention of police officers to how their actions look from the outside and how unreasonable racial profiling is in the context of legislation that does not imply segregation.

The effect that the cartoon is intended to produce lies in a clearly reflected contrast between the attitude of law enforcement agencies and the entire legislative system on the whole towards African Americans. As Tomaskovic-Devey and Warren state, discrimination based on ethnicity, which is expressed through profiling and other manifestations of bias, is a stereotype at the cognitive level. A person of a non-white race is often perceived as a potential violator of the law, which contradicts with the existing rights of citizens to equal coexistence in society and the protection of personal interests. The more representatives of the legislative sphere will see Bennett’s cartoon, the more appropriate conclusions will be drawn regarding the issue in question. The illustration conveys the current inequalities accurately and highlights the bias adopted by law enforcement in relation to racial minorities. Thus, the key message of the piece of media concerns all those stakeholders who have the power to control the observance of democratic freedoms in society.


The contradiction in the legislation, which is associated with racial bias, is the main message of Bennett’s cartoon. The illustration draws observers’ attention to the emotional appeal of the two Protestants through the bright inscription, and the details of the subtext are revealed after studying the composition. Logos and pathos are manifested, while ethos cannot be identified because the author’s credentials are not presented. The key audiences Bennett targets in his work are legislators and police officers since the existing prejudices and stereotypes they display towards non-white races are significant social and political issues to address.

Works Cited

Bennett, Clay. “The Protesters.” Chattanooga Times Free Press, 2014, Web.

Forman, James B. “Law Enforcement Agencies Should Eliminate Racial Profiling.” Crime and Criminals, edited by James D. Torr, Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Web.

McCurdy, Jesselyn. “Law Enforcement Should Cease Racial Profiling.” Criminal Justice, edited by David Haugen and Susan Musser, Greenhaven Press, 2009. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, 2020. Web.

Tomaskovic-Devey, Donald, and Patricia Warren. “Racial Profiling Leads to Discrimination.” Racial Profiling, edited by Carol Ullmann and Lynn M. Zott, Greenhaven Press, 2013. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Web.


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