On Niggapalooza

August 4th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

What we need, particularly on stages like Comic-Con International, is to show that the African American creative comes from lots of different places and that the African American community wants and, more importantly, needs lots of different choices and voices.

What we need is no more Niggapaloozas like The Black Panel each and every year.

-Vincent S Moore, Niggapalooza

Moore lost, and in the process, he lost me.

It’s fair to criticize the Black Panel. That’s the prerogative of anyone who attends any panel. Would I like it if there were more Q&A at the Black Panel? Sure! It’s always fun to pick a creator’s brain. But, it is what it is, and we can only judge it on its own merits, not on the baggage we bring to it.

Is Davis’s moderating style overbearing? Well, yeah. It’s his panel, which means he gets to run it as he sees fit. He didn’t inherit it, or kill the guy who had it before him and take it over. It’s his. It’s Michael Davis and his Amazing Friends, and has never been advertised as anything but. You’re gonna get a lot of Michael Davis in that mix.

Vincent Moore, though, came to the panel ready for a fight, took notes, and finally held up an entire panel as Everything Wrong With Black People Today. He went so that he could “vent [his] spleen about this travesty.” What he missed, and what the several hundred other people in the room seemed to get despite the apparent non-stop minstrel show, is that the Black Panel is important. Every time I go to one, I’m reminded of something vital, something that’s easy to miss if you get your comics news from the internet.

Black people are active in entertainment. We, the monolithic we that the Black Panel is bringing down, are doing things. We aren’t just hungry artists looking to get put on, writers chainsmoking and toiling in dark rooms, or people who are smart enough to get noticed, but not smart enough to get on. We are working, we are out there.

I can’t overstate the importance of that. This year’s Black Panel had a veteran actress, an artist who has been in the business for a couple decades now, a rapper learning how to tell stories in a new way, another rapper trying to stretch out into new areas, an experienced actor, a comedian staging a comeback push, an executive who has stayed busy for a couple decades now, an established television writer, and a woman working on a new property. That right there is a range of skills across a variety of disciplines, done by a number of vastly different people of various ages and levels of experience. It’s saying, in no uncertain terms, “You can do this, because we did this, and we are doing this.”

Moore, in his haste to demolish the panel and bury Davis, completely misses this. The audience at every Black Panel I’ve been to has routinely been the blackest at the con. Black people want to see what we’re doing, and the Black Panel is usually a good peek into that world.

At the same time, the Black Panel has never been, nor is it intended to be, the be-all, end-all of black pop culture. It’s a slice of black pop culture, like any other panel at the con. Marvel doesn’t discuss every single one of their books on their big panel, but no one holds that up as a cheat. In fact, for the first few panels I attended, Davis opened it by saying that it isn’t for complaining or whining about how a brother can’t get on. It’s about celebrating the fact that we are on, and have been on, and will be on.

The long list of people Moore wants invited isn’t even a real criticism– it’s “I know how to run my idea of what your panel is better than you do” couched in “you’re a failure for leaving out these people.” I could ask for Andre 3000 to guest star on every album ever, and DJ Premier to produce at least 50% of that album, but that doesn’t mean that’s a valid criticism. That just means that I want things.

The latter third of Moore’s essay basically boils down to calling Michael Davis a cooning minstrel hardhead who’s keeping other black panels out of the show, setting himself up as a Martyr for the Cause (Because No One Else Is Brave Enough), the usual call for black people to act better so that white people will like them, and a little bit too much “You kids get off my porch” for my tastes.

There’s a bit of completely unfounded conjecture, too. Moore takes issue with Davis’s story of how Milestone came about, which was basically “Denys had an idea, I was like ‘That’s a great idea!’ and then Denys got it going.” Moore says that “the silence of Denys Cowan at this point of the panel says so much more than I or any other commentator could.” No, here is what the silence of Denys Cowan at that point said: nothing. He’s ascribing motives here, seemingly just to paint Davis as that old golliwog jigaboo stepinfetchit lying negro.

Here is the gospel truth: who cares what (this theoretical and monolithic group of) white people think. Seriously: who cares? And if you care, get over yourself. Stop trying to appease massa. Black people, as a group, don’t have to prove anything to anybody. If someone is stupid enough to judge your entire culture off the actions of a few, and you care about their opinion, here’s a newsflash: you’re doing what is probably the dumbest thing in the world.

What we need is no more Niggapaloozas like The Black Panel each and every year.

This is the thing that pissed me off. The rest of the report, whatever, it’s a mix of perfectly fine opinion and some stretched truths. This bit, though, no sir. This isn’t how it works.

The Chris Rock Black People vs Niggas thing? That thing that you’re invoking here to describe the Black Panel? It’s kind of what I expect from a guy who says “We should use it as a chance to calm the subconscious fears of white people, to say that all we want is room to breathe and dream, just like you” or “I guess this is the price I pay for being a self admitted Boojie Oreo.”

We aren’t all like them, he’s saying. They’re niggers, you see. We’re just trying to get by, but those niggers on trying to get over.

I shouldn’t even have to explain this one, but I will. By terming the Black Panel “Niggapalooza,” Moore is making a choice. He’s choosing to use “nigga” like a slur, something to be hated, something of low class. He’s using it exactly like the white people he wants to impress used to, or still, use it.

Nice one.

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7 comments to “On Niggapalooza”

  1. David,

    Your points are valid, no denying.

    My purpose in writing this week’s column was to get off my chest what I’ve been waiting for someone else to say about The Black Panel. So far, as of Tuesday night, I’ve gotten mostly positive responses. Will more negatives come as the week wears on? I’m sure of it. That’s fine.

    But at least people are talking about this and about why aren’t there more panels featuring black people at Comic-Con.

    See, my feeling is as long as there is The Black Panel, the folks behind the show will be able to point and say, ‘what do we need other black oriented programming for when we have THE Black Panel?’.

    Also I remember how informative the original blacks in comics panels were each year. I’m sure others do as well.

    And I’m finding as I get older (as if 41 is really old) that I agree more and more with Chris Rock’s joking assessment about the class differences. What’s wrong with that? If we African Americans are not a monolith or hive mind, then shouldn’t be critical enough of those that continue to contribute to a negative view of blackness and negritude that affects us all? If Bill Cosby can do, shouldn’t some of us in the comics industry do the same?

    I lost you because of my choice of titles. Sorry to hear that. But let’s not stop talking about the issue of getting more varied black voices exposed to the bright spotlight that is CCI.

    Can we at least agree on that goal?

  2. Sorry about that. It should say, “shouldn’t we be critical, etc.”

    Oh, well, I’ve never said I was a great writer or editor of my own work.

  3. I could tell from the beginning of Moore’s article that he was going into the panel intent on finding things “wrong” with it. I wish I had been aware of this panel at SDCC, but I was not. It was my first time at SDCC so I missed out on a lot of things I would have liked to have seen.

    I like that you took out of it that black people are active in entertainment.”We are working, we are out there.” NICE! How Moore seemed to miss this point is beyond me.

    And what’s with “We should use it as a chance to calm the subconscious fears of white people, to say that all we want is room to breathe and dream, just like you”? I like my white folks scared shitless. I grew up in the David Hilliard school of though. But what do I know? I’m just a punk ass mick who reads comic and occasionally lights people on fire for fun.

  4. I’m somewhat surprised to read such a reactionary screed coming from here. Personally I agree with some of Vincent Moore’s points, but thought that the language he couched it in was looking for shock-value rather than clarity.

    You raise a lot of valid points, Dave, and I respect your opinion, because you’ve written a lot of great stuff. However, I felt the Ad-Hominem attacks against Moore and the insinuation that he’s an uncle tom that’s only worried about what white people thinks was crass, unneeded, and frankly disappointing, because I don’t think that’s what he said.

    And the problem isn’t that there isn’t inequality here. There’s only one black panel at these cons, obviously that’s a problem. But isn’t it also problem that the only black panel is “_______ and his amazing friends” no matter who it is?

  5. Speaking as a white dude, this kind of thing has always put me in a weird position: I want race to be less of a big deal, but I also want folks to be able to be proud of their culture. Bit of a catch 22, eh?

    For example, I love Garth Ennis. He’s a great writer who tackles a ton of issues very intelligently inbetween the crude sex jokes. When I started reading Preacher, I had no idea he was from Ireland. When I learned he’s Irish, did that change my reading of the book?

    Not so much. It leant a little extra weight to Cassidy’s story about how much is sucked to be in the IRA and how great it was to get the hell out of there, because both sides suck, but when I read it without that knowledge, it still rang true. I didn’t need his “race cred” or whatever you’d like to call it for him to write a powerful story about a very serious problem between two races. It would still be a great book if he was an Australian aborigine or a Maori or an Ainu.

    Similarly, if I like a CD or a comic or novel or whathaveyou, I’d like to like it because it is good, not simply because it’s by an author of X race. American Splendor isn’t good because Harvey Pekar is white, it’s good because he’s an execellent writer. MF Grimm’s Sentences is an amazing story, but not just because the author is black. It’s an amazing work by black people who know what they’re talking about (I’m hoping I’m not wrong here) when it comes to aspect of black culture, but it’s not an amazing work JUST because it’s by black people.

    That’s the destinction I always have trouble explaining, and what it seems far too many people miss. I want more good writers, by they black, white, Asian, First Nation, whatever. And if they write well about their culture, more power to them!

    So I guess what I’m trying to say, in a very roundabout way, is that while I like that there’s a panel celebrating their accomplishments, I’d like it better if every panel was mixed with awesome writers of every stripe, replacing the dudes who suck with dudes who rock. That goes for everything; I like the Beastie Boys because they’re good rappers, not because they’re Jewish. I also like Outkast, because they’re good rappers, not because they’re black. There’s nothing wrong with them being whatever they are, but that’s not why I’m listening to them.

  6. I am largely in agreement with Joseph.

    If in the single SDCC I’ve been able to attend, I had known about and been able to go to The Black Panel, I would be on my own. Why? None of the industry people I know brought up or presumably attend this panel. I wouldn’t have any way of knowing it would be, “Michael Davis and his Amazing Friends”. I would be expecting a lot more than that.

    I think a number of the guests Mr. Davis did have were excellent, but why fold them into a showcase with people who have only a tangential relevance to the con? And as much as hearing it randomly on the radio might jazz me up on a low day, running a clip show to This Is How We Do It comes across as maybe a little corny. With an awesome message that you get out of the panel ( — I love that) for me it would be fighting not to be undercut by the delivery of the message–you’re here for Michael Davis and his Amazing, ah you know.

    What white people think is way down the list to me. What future artists–young, gifted, and Black–could get out of this panel is far more important. And if the message a whole panel dedicated to reaching them and talking about their concerns mirrors the same thing you hear everywhere else? That you can do it, but only in this one way? Broaden the signal a little, maybe. I mean, in the same era as Montell Jordan you had Jeru the Damaja, Outkast, Raekwon, Soul 4 Real, and Xcape. And that’s in one genre. Why flatten it out to endless auto-tune retreads for ever and ever? If indeed, “the Black Panel has never been, nor is it intended to be, the be-all, end-all of black pop culture. It’s a slice of black pop culture, like any other panel at the con”, why hasn’t someone pointed out the alternate Black panels at CCI and asked Moore why he thinks those are better? Because that particular slice of black pop culture is the same slice you always get. And it seems as though there’s a problem with being interested in seeing more of the whole, and not just a sliver.

  7. The message you got and get out of the panel that works for me is:It’s about celebrating the fact that we are on, and have been on, and will be on.

    I love that. You can’t make everyone who attends the panel walk out of the room feeling that way, but what else could be done to make the focus, ” It’s saying, in no uncertain terms, “You can do this, because we did this, and we are doing this.””, and not anything extraneous? Just the good part. No distractions.