The thing about the black condition is that it’s exhausting. If it’s not major stuff, like living in fear of police brutality or struggling under the weight of being born behind the eight ball, it’s smaller things, little aggravations like realizing that “ghetto” is a code word or googling to make sure you got a joke right in an essay and accidentally finding a white supremacist site. You gotta keep your guard tight as you bob and weave through your everyday life, and that makes it easy to miss things. You find yourself trying to weather the storm and forgetting about the sunshowers.
As a kid, my knowledge of what Black People Did was limited by my education, my family, my region, and my society. “Black People Don’t” do this, that, and the third. I’m sure you’ve heard a few. Sometimes it’s spoken outright, but a lot of times, it’s an assumption. If I didn’t know that black people were specifically doing something, if there wasn’t some obvious signifier, I’d assume they didn’t. Milestone Media in the ’90s was a revelation because it made it very obvious that black people did, in fact, make comics, and excellent ones at that. Sean Combs and Master P did own record labels. Barack Obama did become president. Spike Lee made movies. There was a wall here before, but it’s gone now. Now it’s become a door. It’s become an option.
In December 2013, cartoonist/animator LeSean Thomas shared this post on tumblr, which featured these images, plus a few more:
That’s LeSean Thomas himself (in an ill One Piece shirt), Ron Wimberly, and Roni Brown. Thomas is the Creative Producer/Supervising Director of Black Dynamite, Wimberly does character design and layout assists, and Brown is Production Coordinator on the show. There are several more people through the link, too.
Black Dynamite is a brutally funny show, a worthy successor to an excellent movie. It’s a cartoon, a good-looking one, and it airs on a popular channel. As a kid, the thought of a team that was all, a majority, or even partly black probably didn’t even cross my mind. Cartoons were from Japan or Hollywood, and black cartoons were Fat Albert. (Were there more cartoons starring talking cats than blacks?) But this, and The Boondocks, where black people aren’t just on the ship, but guiding it through the waters? Outfitting it with all types of guns and accessories to make it the biggest, baddest ship on the block? It was unimaginable. But it’s beautiful.
As an adult, the tumblr post struck me. I know Ron, Ron’s a friend, but it was more than just “that’s my man doing big things.” It’s bigger. It’s an example, and it’s something that I hadn’t necessarily seen put into one place like that. It’s a reminder that black people do, and do it well.
It’s the flip side to the black condition, the narrative that gets tamped down in favor of slaves and graves. We’ve got rock’n’roll, wild sci-fi tales, ancient civilizations, rap music, soul music, R&B, Richard Pryor, Milestone Media, all types of wild and unbeatable innovations and creations.
I wish I’d had it as a kid, or at least that that idea was easier to access than it was back then. I was talking about this with a few friends the other day, and we were all…not in awe, we’re all grown-ups here, but we definitely felt something warm. “This is good. This is right.” Our news, our culture, delivers a constant stream of misery, condescension, and death, so it’s nice to have reminders that black is, and has always been, more beautiful than I ever realized.