I spend a lot of time thinking about race. It happens both on the “being black in America consists in large part of being constantly reminded you are black in America” level and on the “how does the portrayal of race alter the quality of this bit of pop culture” level. If you live in America, it’s inescapable, isn’t it? You have to have some thoughts on the subject.
The vogue thing for a while was “Race is a social construct,” which really just translates to “I took a class in college once and learned to parrot pointless statements.” Another good one is “I don’t see race,” which is another way of saying, “I don’t think I’m racist, but I also don’t want to spend any time investigating this uncomfortable subject, so let me just dodge this and leave me alone, okay?”
Words are powerful. They help us define our selves and our limits, and can be used for good or evil. How you talk about what you’re talking about matters a great deal. In high school, I made the decision to wipe the phrase “African-American” from my vocabulary. It’s clunky and ugly, and growing up, I was taught to be black and proud. You can roll with it or get rolled over.
I struggled with “nigger” for a fair few years. Is it offensive, am I okay with that, is it disrespectful to my elders, what about rap music, how would C Delores Tucker feel about it, is it a political choice… in the end, I decided that saying “the n-word” is something I’m not even remotely interested in doing. Euphemisms, beating around the bush, all of that isn’t for me. If I’m gonna say nigger, I’m just gonna man up and say it. And so I did. And do. Death to euphemisms. Keep it honest.
There are a couple phrases I do not, and have rarely ever, used when writing about race, black people, and comical books. “Minority” and “People of color.” I think the last time I used “of color” was 2006. My problem with both of those phrases is how they set up white as the default, and then any other race as the other. I get how that can be valuable in politics or whatever, but for me personally? I’m not down. Why? Because I don’t like black being defined as being in opposition to someone else. I stand on my own, and my people do, too. I’m not not-white. I’m black. That’s something else entirely.
So, I made the conscious decision to scrub them from my vocabulary. That’s not how I want to think about these things. And I am better for it, both personally and academically, for lack of a better way to say “bloggily.”
Black History Month 2011 kicks off Tuesday. I’m learning a lot about the connection of blacks to comics and also about where I, as a reader, stand with regards to blacks and comics.