Editorial Cartoon: Racial Profiling

Using Editorial Cartoons to Teach Social Justice is a series of 14 lessons. Each lesson focuses on a contemporary social justice issue and begins with a basic strategy for interpreting editorial cartoons. In addition, each lesson helps build students’ background knowledge about a particular social justice issue. The objectives in every lesson combine these disciplines to challenge students and promote critical thinking skills. Although lessons may be used in sequence, each can also be used independently.This lesson focuses on an editorial cartoon that uses irony to comment on the April 2010 immigration law passed by Arizona legislature. The law aims to identify immigrants who are in the country illegally, but questions have been raised about how police decide who should be stopped and asked for papers. One criticism is that the law encourages racial profiling. In this lesson, students analyze an editorial cartoon that comments on that law using irony.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • understand how a cartoon uses irony to make a political statement. 
  • interpret visual and written material in an editorial cartoon.
Essential Questions
  • Why do artists create editorial cartoons? 
  • How can images and text work together to deliver a message?


Enduring Understandings:

  • Artists create editorial cartoons to express their opinions about society and events in the news. 
  • Editorial cartoonists often use language to accentuate the symbols and images they use in their drawings. Among other things, words in political cartoons can add extra emphasis or point out ironies or discrepancies made by the characters or symbols in the cartoon. 

A projector or interactive whiteboard showing the cartoon featured in this lesson, or copies of the cartoon to be distributed to all students.



racial profiling [rā-shəl prō-fī(-ə)l-ing] (noun) the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behavior


Suggested Procedure

1. Tell the class that you will be exploring how editorial cartoonists comment on current events. Explain to students you will be looking at an example related to a law that the state of Arizona’s legislature enacted in 2010.  That law empowered police to stop people who looked as if they might be in the United States illegally, and to require those people to produce papers proving their legal status. When the law was passed, critics contended that it encouraged racial profiling because of its lack of clarity in determining whom police were permitted to stop.    

2. Project on a screen or pass out copies of the editorial cartoon featured in this lesson.  

3. Divide the class into discussion groups of four students. Using a Numbered Heads approach, assign students in each group a number between one through four. Tell all students that they may be called upon to report on the discussion in their group.  

4. Have everyone study the editorial cartoon. Urge students to focus first on the cartoon’s images, then pose these questions for groups to discuss: 

  • What does the hooded character represent? 
  • What might the background represent? (It is a variation on the Arizona state flag. This will not be obvious to most students outside of Arizona, so if possible share the image here.)

Cartoon by David Fitzsimmons. Reprinted with Permission. Teachers may purchase individual cartoons for other lesson plans at PoliticalCartoons.com

5. Now tell students to pay close attention to the words. Ask them: 

  • To whom is the figure talking? How can you tell? 
  • Given what you’ve heard about the Arizona law, why does the character specifically address ‘citizens,’ rather than, say, ‘residents’? 
  • What is the figure referring to when challenging Latino citizens to “Prove you’re as American as I am? 

6. After they have explored the images and words, invite each group to analyze the cartoonist’s strategy. Tell students that this cartoon uses irony to make its point. Tell students that irony refers to a situation in which something happens that is the opposite of what was expected. Present the following questions and give the groups 10 minutes to discuss them: 

  • Why does the figure say, “Prove to me you’re as American as I am,” instead of just “Prove you’re American”?  
  • What is ironic about this particular figure proudly proclaiming his American citizenship?  
  • What is ironic about the figure insisting that Latino citizens prove citizenship to him? 

7. Now call out a number from 1 to 4. Ask the student in each group with the number called to report the group’s conclusions to the class. Have the representatives from each group take turns answering the questions, based on their group’s discussion.


Extension Activity

After Arizona Senate Bill 1070 passed in 2010, about two dozen similar bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country; five passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah. Have students research the current status of those laws as well as their state’s laws and write a letter to their congressperson that expresses their opinions about racial profiling.


Common Core State Standards: CCSS SL.1, CCSS SL.2, CCSS SL.3, CCSS SL.4, CCSS SL.5, CCSS L.3, CCSS L.4, CCSS L.6, CCSS W.1, CCSS W.4, CCSS W.7

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

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