I have been working tirelessly on my new book, specifically I have been trying to get better at line work, story telling, and spotting blacks. These are some unedited, un-colored and in progress pages from the upcoming Bessie Stringfield: Tales of The Talented Tenth vol. 2. These seem to work better. Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably say they need to be completely redrawn. So goes self doubt, lol.
I was talking to my daughter about history. My 16 year old started with Federalism and it merged into a discussion about race; more specifically slavery. There is a family legend that we are descended from five sisters who were stolen from Louisanna. I said they were probably Creole, and since her mother is white, and I am fairly light skinned; I told her that they probably looked a lot like she and I. She said that it really wasn’t that long ago. I said I know and that there are people alive today who witnessed a lynching, or protested intergration. That got me thinking about how a history of violence is embedded in our cultural memory. It is as much a part of the U.S as the Liberty Bell, and amber waves of grain. Black people in America bare that violence on our skin. Are there are any carmel colored indeginous tribes in West Africa? Probably not. There are, however, countless accounts of the wholesale rape of black women. That means for black people the very violence that is embedded in American history is also embedded in our blackness; our light skin and soft features are from years of rape. It is rather depressing , but also empowering because it means that in the history of my skin tone there was a women who survived and thrived in the place where unspeakable things happened to her. There are those who will say that will say I shouldn’t think like that or that I should not be so focused on race. The problem is that if I never look in a mirror or a photo of myself, or I become truly blind to the color of my skin it will not matter. It will not matter because America will remind me. But, that reminder will also cause me to be aware of the fact that I am the product of perseverance in the face of tragedy.
Last year I wrote about the idea of getting rid of black history month. Whatever motives some people, ~cough~ Stacy Dash, may have, my reasoning was founded in the idea that black people should be included as an integral part of American history and society. It was not because I think that black people are trying to have it both ways: integrate in some places segregate in other places. All black events are important, because of the prevailing state of how black people are viewed in America (see the Oscars). Black people are an afterthought in Obama’s “post racial America,” and therefore need to sometimes make their own place.
In this country black people have the longest immigration story. A story that is marred by the fact that black people influence mainstream culture and society, but are still not fully considered part of American society. A family that comes to America from Poland in the 1940’s, not speaking a bit of English or understanding a smidgen of American society, can be fully integrated into America in just one generation. My family that has been here since Jamestown is still considered the “exotic other,” because of something as trivial as the color of our skin. This is because of the illusion that blackness is somehow something that is separate from American; because to be an American, in some simplistic definition, is to be white. Look at how people treat Cam Newton in comparison to his white counterparts. People like Dash want black people to just shut up, assimilate, and be real Americans; be and act white. Nope. And I would argue that blackness is more American than the country music, apple pie, and baseball.
Blackness is more American because, as a people, we exemplify the American values that some swear up and down that they love. We are hardworking; you know who built Washington DC and most of the South, family orientated; have you been to a park in the summer time in a black neighborhood and seen a family reunion, and self reliant; we didn’t have boots but we still managed to pull ourselves up by bootstraps. I said it last year, and I will say it again now: black people as a whole are the real Horatio Alger rags to riches story. The only difference is we are real flesh and bone, red blooded Americans.
So why, if we are so American, should we have all black events like BET and black history month, or any other all black things. Well, first the BET awards is about genre. They gave Eminem an award as well as included non-POC in programming. Last time I checked Eminem was a blond haired, blue eyed, dev…diva. So, that argument is tired. The other all black venues that also beg the question of why. Musicals, magazines, books, comic books, novels, and black focused comic cons like those organized by the great John Jennings. In those and other instances it is not exclusive. They have an altogether different purpose: inclusion.
Last Fall I was on a panel with John Jennings, Whit Taylor, Ben Passmore, and Michelina Hess at M.I.C.E (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo); an Indy comic con held in Cambridge Mass, and black representation in media came up. I admit I had questioned the idea of seemingly exclusive all black events, until I was reminded of black mothers and their daughters wandering around one of the black comic art festivals arranged by John, looking for black comics for her daughter. They were not looking for black comics because they don’t want to see white people, but because they wanted something they don’t often get in America: black characters as the default. Black people are so often underrepresented that we crave to see black characters in entertainment. These “all black everything” kind of events serve to make black people an important part of the story; something that they sometimes miss in America.
Black History month is more complicated. It began because there was no recognition of our history. However, it has morphed into a way for people to ignore black history all the rest of the year. Now is the time to make a switch and accept the stories as part of the holistic understanding of American history, culture and society. #28daysarenotenough. This will precipitate the inclusion of POC in the idea of America. So on that part Stacey Dash and I agree, but for very different reasons. I believe that POC and black culture epitomized what it is to be American. The people, stories, accomplishments are the very idea of America. I will admit that the country music, apple pie and baseball are American, but I would add that so are hip-hop, hoodies and baggy pants.
Yeah, that’s a shocking title. It probably made you flinch reading it. I was called that on social media a few years back. It wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last. I hadn’t engaged the person I only called her out on her use of the word. She responded with the vile word and then lied to all the other people that questioned her about it. She said that she was called a name first and that was the justification. I then got into flame war about the power the word nigger has. I tried to explain, but some of the people I was engaged with did not understand. I tried to use comicsto explain. I spend a lot of time on social media talking about social justice. Most of my work is about using history to teach and connect people. This comic was really about teaching, so that people understand. I reformatted it, so that it could be read easier.