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Black History Month ’09 #01: “You Are Appreciated”

February 1st, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

This is for the single maternal figures beaten to the floor
And crawled back for the children and stood up for more
And watched those same kids as adults
cut bullshit vinyl kites callin’ women whores

El-P, “Constellation Funk”

Single motherhood is a fact of life for a lot of black people. I’m a product of a single mother, related to others, and I can’t really think of a time when I didn’t have friends who were also products of a single mother.

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I don’t know if I have to regurgitate the facts for you. We all know about the lowered expectations, an insult in and of itself, and the hardships that society puts single mothers through. We know that they get sneers at the mall, tut-tuts on the street, and a lack of eye contact in the church. It’s probably a lot like being a leper, only lepers don’t have mouths to feed.

So, single mothers are basically the original hustlers. Work twice as hard for half the reward. Keeping your nose to the grindstone isn’t really enough, is it? You’ve gotta get your whole face in there.

I asked a few friends about single mothers in comics a few weeks ago. I got a decently long list of names. I knew some of them, while others were fairly obscure. I had a hunch before I asked that none of the named characters would be black, and that hunch turned out to be pretty much correct. I’d forgotten about Rocket from Icon, but that was it.

That’s kind of surprising to me. I don’t know whether it’s out of some sense of overcorrecting for stereotyping or what, but black single mothers in comics are shockingly rare. Luke Cage, poster-child for whatever black issues you’d like to hang on his shoulders, was raised in a house with two parents.

I can’t think of a series where real attention was given to a black single mother. There are orphans, single fathers, and ones whose parents are never mentioned, ever. I think that it’d be an interesting move to make. What would a hero that came from a that kind of household be like? What about a villain?

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I’ve found that the children of single mothers tend to turn out one of two ways. Sometimes you get what El-P is talking about above, where the kids grow up and don’t respect what came before. You get songs dedicated to whores and a generation of folks making the same mistakes their parents did. On the flipside, you have people who watched someone struggle to make ends meet for years, sacrificing a lot, and learned from that example.

Tell me that situation isn’t rife with possibilities.

It’s odd what makes it into the comics and what doesn’t. I’ve seen drug dealers, civil rights leaders, thugs, businessmen, sidekicks, crackheads, hookers, strippers, and soldiers, but not recurring single mothers. Muslim characters tend to be paper thin, if they appear at all, and I can’t think of a church-going black character who isn’t also a grandma.

In comics, it’s a relatively unexplored aspect of being black in America, and one that’s so much more common than any of the stuff I named above. You’d think that someone, somewhere, has gotten into it, but I haven’t seen it, and it certainly hasn’t happened with any of the major black characters, has it?

Sentences, by Percy Carey and Ron Wimberly, was the first book I read that bothered to give some attention to it, with a frankly hilarious and pretty much true to life scene starring Carey’s mother.

Either way, this one’s for Staci, who showed me that fighting can be literal or figurative, but never optional.

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5 comments to “Black History Month ’09 #01: “You Are Appreciated””

  1. There have been single black mothers, like Amanda Waller, but her family history is always in the past and never present. Usually Family backstories are filled in later on for heroes.I wonder how much the Cosby show affected situations like this. People were more likely to emulate that model than previous ones.

    I do find it interesting how many single black fathers there are, the Static Shock TV show, Firestorm and Steel feature Black Men in single parental roles. I am amazed by Firestorm’s especially since it weaves a narrative of abuse into it that I seen rarely handled with such control. It was a subplot that really resonated with me.

    I do have to say, Black Panther almost covered what you were looking for in regards to what happens to a person who doesn’t have a father figure and is raised by his mother. Too bad Kasper Kole’s mom is jewish.


  2. I don’t want to see it explored, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the full spectrum represented – including single mothers.

    As far as seeing drugs n whatnot, well, it’s sometimes easier to show extremes or less common scenarios than the things are most likely to hit closer to home. Or maybe it’s just easier to accept.


  3. @Pedro Tejeda: Oh yeah, I thought of Waller while writing this, and then realized I’d seen maybe one actual story about that ever. It’s window dressing, rather than something actual.

    @West: I agree with the spectrum, but (obviously :)) disagree about the exploration. I think it’s rife for potential and would be incredibly interesting.

    Regarding your latter point… I’m going to deal with extremes a lot this month. Stay tuned :)


  4. […] Black representations in comics Link: David Brothers (introduction, one, two, three, four and […]


  5. I would like the now the comic that you posted in this post.

    who’s is it by, because I would to check the rest of it out.

    I have to admit I hadn’t really thought much about the fact that there is a lack of single Black mothers shown in comics, even though I was raised by one, I guess its just the fact that it was some rare to see Black characters in comics that was enough to stick out to me when I was a kid.

    But that you point it out, it does seem odd that there at least a few Black single mothers in comics. I would say that maybe the writers don’t want to use something that falls into a “negative stereotype” but as you pointed out they don’t back way from making that characters that actually fall under negative stereotype characters.