Stuff I Liked in 2013: Momentary Catharsis

December 13th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’m a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures, like this clip from Trisha Goddard’s tv show.

The woman in red’s laughter is the sound of the pain of centuries of oppression finally finding an outlet. It reminds me of a moment from Howard Chaykin’s issue of SOLO, when a Neo-Nazi finds out that he’s part Jewish.

It’s not a victory. That would be overselling it. This guy is still walking around North Dakota and actively trying to turn a town all-white using terrorism.

But it still feels really, really good. I laughed until I cried watching this video. It was one of those things that can totally make a night. It’s worth hooping and hollering.

Sic semper tyrannis.

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Sleepy Hollow, Assassin’s Creed, The New Heroism, & Them Old Pastimes

November 27th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’m a few episodes into Sleepy Hollow, starring Nicole Beharie as Lt. Abbie Mills and Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane, who has rip van winkled his way to the modern day after being nearly killed around the time of the Revolutionary War. I like it. It’s cast from the same mold as Elementary with Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller, that kind of cute antagonistic buddy cop wave. (Almost Human is on that, too.) It reminds me of a Kamen Rider show in a lot of ways (stakes, approach to conflict, lighting, plot, more), only instead of a bug-dude riding a motorcycle you have a time-lost British guy.

I’m also a few hours into Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, which is much less good than Sleepy Hollow, but a comfortably familiar sandbox murder simulator in a setting I’ve rarely paid any attention to. The fun isn’t where it needs to be, but the new is on-point enough that I keep messing with it.

Both works have a character type I only recently realized is fairly common. Ichabod Crane, upon meeting a black woman in 2013, excitedly asks her if she’s been emancipated and gets offended when he feels that she insinuates he supports slavery. “I’ll have you know I was a proponent of the Abolitionist Act before the New York Assembly,” he says. “Congratulations,” Abbie replies. “Slavery has been abolished 150 years. It’s a whole new day in America.”

Edward Kenway, rakish pirate captain and lead character of Black Flag, is similarly progressive. He frees slaves at will, forces his men to work alongside them despite their prejudices, and is generally a good and honorable guy, despite the theft and murdering.

This is a type of character I’ve seen elsewhere, too. They are generally men who have been removed from their time and placed in ours, though the character type appears in period pieces, too. Despite the time they come from, when horrific misogyny and racism were perfectly fine and accepted pastimes for men to indulge in at their leisure, they are staunch abolitionists or totally okay with giving women the vote or drinking from the same fountain as a…you know. One of those.

Captain America’s a great example of this, I think. I don’t mind it when it comes to him, since my favorite aspect of that character is how he represents everything America often isn’t, and that kind of dissonance makes the character a lot of fun for me. It’s elsewhere, too—Batman’s ancestors helped smuggle slaves to freedom, which is more than a little ridiculous. Even Jonah Hex, veteran of the Confederacy that betrayed their country because they thought chattel slavery was totally cool, has been updated to “hate everyone equally.”

Everybody’s a Schindler, nobody’s a Nazi.

I’ve been thinking about this pretty much ever since I saw Mison-as-Crane get offended that someone thought he’d be okay with slavery. Abolitionists existed, of course. Good, kind, loving people existed who rejected the mores of their time. But at this point, I feel like every guy we see from Not-Now comes off exactly like your average open, accepting, 2013-model White Guy. Sleepy Hollow likes to use Crane to complain about taxes, Starbucks, and bottled water. Kenway’s bootstraps-y “I’ll have any man, if he’s able and willing” philosophy feels like it doesn’t take into account the prevailing attitudes of the time at all. The average is off, tilted in favor of the suspiciously progressive and accepting hero instead of reality.

The characters in our stories, the sassy black women, inexplicably pan-Asian ninja, the gay BFF, nerdy hacker, sad white guy who just needs the love of a good woman, whatever whatever, are stories unto themselves. Whether directly or indirectly, these characters tell us things about ourself and how we view the world we live in. They don’t evolve out of nothing. They represent something.

I think the prevalence of this character type largely comes down to the shifting definition of what we consider a hero. In the past, this kind of anachronistic hero character wasn’t really necessary. I once picked up a James Bond novel by Ian Fleming that was casually and hatefully racist within the first paragraph. World War II was full of government-supported hateful art and propaganda. I have a joke book from the ’50s a friend gave me, and a few books of period pin-up art, and half the punchlines are “haha, women sure are whores, stupid, or both!” It was the times! You can find all types of racial stereotype sidekicks from back in the day, but that number is markedly lower now. Racial and sexual harassment aren’t dead, but we aren’t supposed to enjoy it any more, or as much as we used to, so it’s relegated to the villains, the bad guys, not our heroes.

Lois Lane can never have that moment where she clutches her purse on an elevator because a black dude got on. Being a bigot isn’t in the cool guy repertoire any more. We’re past that, even though there are plenty of good, moral people who are also secretly afraid of black people or occasionally slip and say something untoward about Asian people. Sometimes it’s unconscious, sometimes it’s learned behavior, and sometimes it’s just a slip, but we view good and bad as a binary, not a spectrum, so just one drop of bad taints you. As a result, we avoid and eschew it.

Funnily enough, this extends to the stories we tell about real people, too. The prevailing narrative around the Founding Fathers is that they were saints looking out for truth, justice, and the soon-to-be American Way. In reality, Thomas Jefferson had sex with his slaves and Benjamin Franklin, upon being asked for sex advice from a young friend, told that friend to go after older women and provided a list of eight reasons why, ending on “They are so grateful!

So you get Edward Kenways and Ichabod Cranes, men who came from a time when you could rape and murder people at your leisure, as long as they were inferior to you, being colored or of the fairer sex, but instead choose to be accepting and cool about everything. No awkward slip-ups, no uncomfortable conversations about why you can’t say things, just a lot of truth and justice. It doesn’t feel very true to me, exactly, it doesn’t feel very real, but I do know that if it were more real, I’d hate the characters for being human garbage.

The struggle continues.

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“A tree never grown, shade that was never known”

November 8th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’ve got a rep.

Actually, I have several reps depending on who you’re talking to, and some of them are actually pretty cool, but the one that always bugs me is my rep for being negative or pushy. I bristle at that description in part because I think it unfairly turfs the vast majority of stuff I’ve written in favor of focusing on a small aspect of my work. And yeah, I have gotten in fights and damned things I thought were worthy of eternal damnation and being removed from the sight of God forever and ever amen. I freely and proudly own that. But the entirety of what I write about, my “body of work” if I can sound like a real writer for a moment, feels overwhelmingly positive to me. But that’s my rep, amongst a certain group of people: negativity.

I know why this is my rep. Spending five years writing about the intersection of black culture and comics every day for a month doesn’t really get links, and neither does writing about how much I like Katsuhiro Otomo or Frank Miller. But pointing out that a comic has some mildly racist undertones or is tone deaf in some way? Hoo boy does that get people talking. So if they see that, but not the other stuff, I can’t really blame them for how they perceive me. They only know me that part of me.

It still grates, because I spend a lot of time thinking about how I approach writing, especially racial issues. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in comics I’ve called a racist. I spent a long time only associating that word with acts, not specific people. That was a purposeful choice on my part. I know how people—white people, specifically—react to the word “racist,” so I’ve avoided it. I’ve made sure to structure my arguments in such a way that they weren’t purely inflammatory or pointlessly insulting, included context and history and excuses and disclaimers and things that would soften the blow of saying, “Hey, this thing you did? It’s ugly and hateful and you should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking it.” I mean, count how often I’ve cussed here on 4l!—less than fifteen times since 2005, probably? I do quote a lot of rap songs, though, so maybe it evens out. Anyway.

I did and do that extra legwork because of how I was raised and who I am. I mentioned on tumblr the other day that I’m worried I might have a near-pathological fear of being seen as an Angry Black Man. That’s because I learned that Angry Black Men are someone to be avoided, someone that’s easily discounted and dismissed because he represents loudness or anger, instead of knowledge or power. I didn’t want to be that guy. I want to be taken seriously. It’s an insecure stance, but it’s one I can’t shake.

I bite my tongue a lot, I take great pains to avoid a certain type of offense even when throwing a jab, and it doesn’t work, because I don’t get to decide how people feel about me. They’re gonna feel however they’re gonna feel, and if that’s going to affect my personal and professional lives…been there, done that, and came out the other side with twin middle fingers, a mean mug, and a bad mood. But the idea that I can’t control the reaction to my work is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to internalize. I’m still not there yet, so I balk whenever I see it.

This thing, biting my tongue to avoid offense, is part of a concept called “respectability politics.” This recent post by Maurice Dolberry is a good primer. The short version is that respectability politics is a system in which you sand down your rough edges (pull up your pants, cut your hair, erase your accent, dress differently) in order to appeal to the majority. In America, that means white men, nine times out of ten.

It’s common, super common, and I can’t really blame people for buying into it. If you don’t have power, you don’t want to alienate those with power, because that just makes your life worse. Respectability politics argues that you should hide your light under a bushel because it might make somebody who doesn’t know you and will never care about you turn up his nose. It makes sense, because it’s basically “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” But it still doesn’t do any good, because it requires a level of control and equality (in power, in position, in dialogue, in society) that simply doesn’t exist. Respectability politics blames the powerless for their powerless status irregardless of history, and prioritizes the comfort of others over your own personal comfort.

You can’t win. The only thing you’re doing is diminishing yourself at the unspoken behest of someone else. It’s a “love me please” that tends to fall on deaf ears.

A few weeks back, I let a young black dude use my phone on BART. After I handed it over to him, he laughed and said that he knew he had to ask me, because none of the white folks around us would have let a young black guy hold their phone. “You know how that go,” he said, and I laughed, because I do. Some of them would have, but for the most part? Even money on a very high chance of getting a rude response.

A big part of being black in America is being constantly aware of how your blackness affects others. It’s being aware that you might could get away with something in one situation, but you’d get murdered trying that same thing in another situation. The guy knew he could ask me because, even if I still had a bunch of internalized racism (I do, it’s killing me inside), there’d still be a good chance I’d have a voice in the back of my head telling me I’m the same as him and should treat him properly. Our shared experience of being suspicious first, of being not-normal, was what made that transaction possible. I’ve been on both sides of similar interactions with other black folks, both out here in Oakland and in Georgia.

I got a flat tire on my bike last week, so I had to take to riding the bus to and from work until I was ready to fix it. One morning, while walking to the bus stop, I saw a car at a stop sign with the hood up. I looked in as I walked past and there was a lady just sitting in there, doing nothing, but obviously upset. Her car’s busted, it’s pushing 0900 so she’s probably late for work, that’s a bad scene.

My bus stop was across the street from her, catty-corner, but close enough that I could see her sitting in the car at the sign and watch as cars paused in confusion before looping around her. I got to the stop early (full disclosure: late for the bus I wanted, early for the bus I settled for) and I had plenty of time and nothing to do but look around.

I saw that there was space for her car in a red zone just around the corner, maybe 15 feet away from where she was. It’d take her out of traffic, it’d be less embarrassing (I’ve been stuck in traffic with a busted car—it’s awful, especially if you don’t know how to or cannot fix it), and it’d be safer when whoever she called showed up to help her. I had ten minutes on the bus, and I could’ve easily pushed her car over there for her. I’ve done it before for friends and family. It’s easy. It would have taken longer to convince her to let me push her car than it would to get it where it needed to be, particularly since she was at the bottom of a hill, but still on the incline.

But again: I’m very aware of who I am and where I am. Strange black dude knocking on her car window in a moment of distress? Maybe it would’ve been okay. But as a counterpoint, my beard’s mad scruffy lately, my hair’s slowly getting longer, and I was probably in a t-shirt, jeans, and a backpack, because waking up blue means just throwing on clothes that sorta match and leaving the house. I was dressed “regular black guy,” not “respectable black guy with a decent job,” and a lot of times, “regular black guy” is not good enough to avoid people looking at you as a threat.

I had to choose whether or not doing something to help someone, which wouldn’t have involved going out of my way or anything resembling actual work, was worth the risk of getting dissed and dismissed first thing in the morning, whether that was a curt “no thank you” without eye contact or her jumping in fear when I tapped on the window.

I chose to go to work.

Renisha McBride was murdered in Dearborn Heights in MI recently. She had a car accident and was walking door-to-door looking for help. She knocked on a door, the man inside saw her and recognized a threat, and shot her in the head. She was nineteen and unarmed. He has not been charged, and the prosecutor’s office says they need more information before they decide to file charges.

Jonathan Ferrell was murdered by the police. In a cruel twist of fate, he had also experienced a car accident and was looking for help. He went door-to-door, looking for it. A woman opened the door, thinking it was her husband, realized it wasn’t, slammed it shut, and called 911 to report a home invasion. The cops arrived, Ferrell ran to them, and was tased, shot, and killed. The charge is voluntary manslaughter, and the cop who killed him is free to walk the streets after posting bail. Ferrell was twenty-four, unarmed, and had been in a wreck so bad he apparently had to crawl out of the back window.

These are recent incidents, but they are far from uncommon. These situations? These are my mother’s worst nightmare. A lot of what she taught me—including the respectability politics—was delivered with the intent of preventing my early and sudden death or a trip to prison. Like anyone else, I have a right to my anger, to my frustration, but I know that that frustration, no matter how eloquently I express it, will be seen read differently than anger from a white man or white woman, and I will be treated as more dangerous by default. It’s not my fault—it’s the result of centuries of white supremacy—but I have to live with it.

ComicsAlliance EIC Joe Hughes tweeted some things recently that were the truest tweets ever wrote:

Renisha McBride was shot in the back of the head for the crime of being a black woman who asked for help in a white town. She was 19.

We won’t talk about it enough. The story won’t go viral. Because as much as this country hates black men, it hates black women even more.

I doubt Jonathan Ferrell’s family will ever actual know justice, but at least we TALKED about his story. I doubt Renisha will get even that.

Every day I fear being shot to death while unarmed, my family going through a media circus that ultimately leads to nothing. Every day.

And so I’ll sit here and fear for my life, and my sister’s. And I’ll feel horrified and enraged for Renisha McBride’s family.

And when I’m done working, I’ll head home and hope to god that no one shoots me dead, knowing full well that they’d get away with it.

And somewhere, my sister will do the same. Because that’s what we do. Every day.

This is real life. This is truth. It sounds like paranoia, but paranoia suggests irrationality, or that you’re at fault. This is fear, and more than that, justified fear. If there’s a shooting near my area, or near places she knows I frequent, Mom will email me to make sure I’m okay. She knows that white America hates black bodies, and that colored life isn’t worth too much. She shouldn’t have to live under that burden. We shouldn’t have to live under that burden.

Killer Mike, one half of the duo Run the Jewels with El-P, said this on their cut “DDFH” (“do dope, fuck hope”):

Cops in the ghetto, they move like the gestapo
Drunk off their power and greed, they often hostile
My lil’ homie talked shit back and they beat him bad
That boy in the hospital now, he lookin’ bad
and I’m with his mama and dad, we lookin’ sad
My own mama called me said, “Baby, I’m just glad
“They ain’t put they hands on my child and kill his ass
“Please don’t rap about that shit ‘fore they murder yo’ black ass!”

And this situation is fictional, it’s storytelling raps, but every line of it is drawn from real life.

Vince Staples on “Versace Rap:”

I asked my mama what’s the key to life, she told me she ain’t know
She just try to take it day to day, and pray I make it home

I don’t quote these songs to prove a point so much as to illustrate how we think about the fact that we can get dropped any day of the week. Some of it is typical parental concern, but there’s a morbid edge, a fatalism, tucked in there. We prepare for this, train for it, because it is a real enough possibility that we worry about it. And in that sense, we accept it. We reject the violence, we reject the post-death smear campaigns that always follow, but we accept the reality of the situation, which is that we might just get killed by the people who are theoretically responsible for our safety or total strangers who fear our skin. Sometimes it’s glib, a lot of times it’s a joke, but underneath the gallows humor is the truth: “Please, God: any one but me or mine.”

Respectability politics are a self-defensive move. I modulate my self. I avoid police as a general rule, I avoid the appearance of wrongdoing, and I’m very careful and discreet when doing something I know I shouldn’t in a way that none of my white friends have ever been. I don’t ever lose my temper in public, I’m polite, and I’ve never thrown the first punch.

But it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. I can’t fix any of this. I can’t make anyone feel better. This is the kind of problem that manifests itself in major and minor ways. You could get murdered for being black or dissed in a store. Both results are unacceptable to me. But all I can do is try to figure out how to survive and steal a little happiness for myself without simultaneously diminishing myself.

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“Racists React To [thing]” posts are just passive white supremacy

September 17th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Over on tumblr, franzferdinand2 asked:

Just wanted to say your crack earlier about people using racists on twitter as some kind of weird “I’m not racist” barometer really got me thinking. Journalism has managed to make gawking at obvious racism something to be consumed.

Franz is referring to stories like this, or this, or this, which I tweeted about a bit the other day. Today, I’m expanding on those tweets. I’ve got a lot of moving parts here, but bear with me. The tweets:

Those stories actually really make me frustrated with the people who put them up and the people who share them. I think these types of stories are actually a kind of passive white supremacy. I call it passive because it’s not the result of a conscious choice to prop up white supremacy. It’s actually coming from what I think is a good place on the part of the website or anyone involved, a desire to spotlight someone overcoming not just personal adversity, but specifically racial adversity too. There’s an extra oomph in that story. It’s nice when people do things and racists can only sit there impotently.

Which I understand, and empathize with. But nine times out of ten, more column inches are devoted to how racists react to them, and then occasionally how they react to the racist, instead of their actual accomplishments. The accomplishments have always been considerable, whether she’s Nina Davuluri, the first Indian-American Miss America, Gabby Douglas doing super well in the Olympics, or Amandla Stenberg playing Rue in the Hunger Games.

Stenberg has the best first name ever, was the best part of Colombiana, and is a promising young actress. I don’t know anything about Miss America except that it’s weird we still do that kind of thing, but I assume they don’t just hand out that crown to anyone. You have to have some merit, and you have to have more merit than the next woman to go home with the crown. Sports stories are always interesting, and I bet the eventual ESPN 30 for 30 on Douglas in ten years is gonna be great.

All of these people have stories that are pretty interesting, and that’s without the outside input of people who quite literally would have never mattered in any even vaguely meaningful way to the people they are insulting. With that input, their story shifts from “really talented in their field” to “really talented in their field, also hated by racists.” Which is true, racists hate a lot of people, but a lot of things are true that aren’t regularly and consistently reinforced through the media.

These types of stories elevate the racist feedback above the only real issue at hand: some people did a cool thing and deserve press for it. They privilege the voice of the racist above the accomplishments of the actual person who is being attacked. Here’s a search on Jezebel for “Amandla Stenberg.” There are three posts about the racist tweets. There is one about her being cast in the role. There is nothing in-between. There is nothing of substance about this actress on that site, but there are three posts about racists reacting to her, her reaction to racists, and racists reacting to some other actor who dared be something other than white. They haven’t mentioned Nina Davuluri once without mentioning racism.

I most commonly see these stories with non-whites, and it’s usually a pretty even mix of men and women, maybe tilted a little toward women due to selection bias. The effect of tagging brown faces with hate narratives a dozen times a month all over the place online—and occasionally super often depending on what you choose to follow, in terms of blog subjects—causes a connection in your head with that negative stigma. It’s why when I say Somalia you think Black Hawk Down and starving children, the Middle East and constant warfare, China and disgusting smokestacks. It’s why black-on-black violence is a problem, a real tragedy, and white-on-white violence isn’t even a concept in your head.

We get a limited number of stories by and about non-whites, and women too, in comparison to white dudes. Think of how often those stories are about conflict or hate or death, the unbelievable burden of being brown. Think how many major movies starring black people are action vehicles and how many deal in black misery like it’s pornography. These stories are almost always othered—The Fast & The Furious being a notable, and rare, exception. It’s not about us over here. It’s about things that happen over there, to them, instead of here, to us, whether over there is Detroit or Beijing. The hate narrative becomes part of your definition of that group, and that affects how you treat people of that group.

So he’s articulate, she’s such a strong black lady. They’ve overcome so much adversity, like… racism! Which, again, positions them apart from you. You’re not racist, but you’re not them, either. People aren’t doing racist things to you. That happens to other people. Or maybe you’re a victim of racism, too, but what do you get out of seeing people say racist things?

No, these lists and posts are a chance for people who believe they aren’t racist to confirm their own internal assessment of themselves, and also how racism works. The story being “hated by racists” instead of “incredibly accomplished” gives people a chance to react against it. They share it with an affirmation that they, the sharer, are not anything like the racist. They scorn the racist. In fact, sharing this is yet more proof that they are not, in fact, racist, because racists should be scorned on sight. Which is cool, A+ for motivation but more or less a C- in execution in terms of being useful or helpful or anything but self-serving.

The racism this story depicts is binary. It’s on or off, is you is or is you ain’t this racist, and that encourages the idea that racism isn’t something you personally do or are. It’s something other people do. You don’t do that, right? So you aren’t racist!

But any colored folk can tell you that’s not how racism works. Everybody is a little racist. There are hundreds of learned reactions to different groups of people to unlearn, not to mention the areas of society where racist sentiment is implicit instead of explicit, like zoning laws or the prison industrial complex or the war on drugs. It’s in all of us. We’re gonna have to live with that racism until we fix it and our selves, and viewing racism as a binary personality choice doesn’t allow for that.

That’s why people react so strongly to being called “racist” when they say something totally racist or suspect, or their work being called “racist,” or occasionally even just hearing the word “racist” in like a fifteen meter radius or something and their “I’m Not A Racist!” alarm goes off. They aren’t like those people, no, not at all. Their personal definition doesn’t allow for internalized racism. Which is adorable.

So, in that sense, these posts help prop up white supremacy. But there’s more.

This stuff trickles down, just like everything else has trickled down over the years. It’s how culture works. We tell ourselves stories so that we might combat the stories that are thrust upon us. People talk about sexy Asian girls, black dudes with big dicks, black chicks with big butts—those aren’t positive stereotypes. They’re stereotypes that reduce a people to objects of desire, and animalistic desire in the case of black people in particular. Black men having big dicks isn’t a compliment. It’s a sign that they were closer to animals than humans, filled with uncontrollable desire thanks to their firehose of a penis. (Consider the tenor of a lot interracial porn if you don’t believe me. That didn’t come out of nowhere. There’s a long history that you don’t even need a book to understand. Or read this, which looks like a great resource.)

So: “Black is beautiful” battles “black is disgusting.” “I am somebody” served to convince children that they were, in fact, somebody, when every little thing in their life told them different. Black men became kings and black women became queens because the narrative was that they were lower than trash. It’s counter-programming.

These posts are programming, too. When you consider that we get precious few stories about us in comparison to white men, the impact of every single story is elevated. If you most often see stories about young black girls reacting to racists, then you’re going to associate young black girls with the struggle. If you only ever hear about Iraq when it’s wartime, you’re going to associate Iraq with that. If the only story you hear about Islam is violent jihad, you’re going to feel a spike of fear when you see a woman in a veil in the TSA security line. It’s why I see a cop and think about what I’m doing that might get me shot, and a cop sees me and thinks about what I’m doing that’ll get me shot.

And that, at its heart, is what white supremacy does.

White supremacy is a self-sustaining enterprise, a system, but that doesn’t mean that everyone involved in that enterprise believes in white supremacy. When white is established as the default, then the default story is a white story. That positions all other stories as Other, Alternative, and you think of the people in those stories that way, too. White supremacy is nothing but “White first, y’all second” and it’s not as easy as just deciding you aren’t racist.

White supremacy infests everything. That’s why Obama is still our “first black president,” instead of the first word being wrong and the second word being meaningless. Black sits apart from white, for reasons both intentional (for a long time they couldn’t be president because all that cotton needed picking I guess, I’m fuzzy on the rationale) and completely incidental (no black person had a chance of getting elected because they didn’t have access to the same resources whites did).

Things go around online occasionally that make people go “This is what racism looks like.” Sometimes it’s a young black male being shot down by an old white man, sometimes it’s a burning cross. It’s true: those are often indicative of racism. But by that level of racism is seen as the only level of racism. “Hey, this dialogue you wrote–that’s kinda racially suspect, isn’t it?” isn’t a personal attack, but every time I say it, no matter how hard I try and soften the blow (and I spent years pulling punches and getting blown up at anyway), somebody gets mad because their personal definition doesn’t allow for any type of racism, even accidental or incidental or institutional.

Racism is intentional and unintentional, and that’s why looking at race like a binary proposition sets up ideas that end up hurting everybody in the end. You have to be willing to accept that a little of the poison is in you, too, if you want to understand why these ideas persist after all this time and in so many different areas of our life.

So yeah, I’m not a fan of those stories. I don’t like the way they distort the reality of life. It makes black life seem like a burden, instead of a life with ups and downs. It messes up the way we view other peoples, and that trickles down to how we interact with them on a personal and foreign policy level.

I want fewer stories about racists and more stories about the people the racists hate. But that won’t happen, because those posts do gangbusters in terms of hits. You get to point and set yourself apart from them, people get to be sure that they’re on the right side of history, and you get to show support for a brown face by attacking a white face.

But it’d be better if you just supported the brown face in the first place and thought harder about why you’re sharing what you’re sharing.

Read the commentary on this post to see how racism manifests itself in subtle ways, in the absence of malice, hoods, and dead bodies.

This is real life. This is how it works. Everything we take in has a point and an effect. Think twice. Dig past the surface-level and try to understand that if it’s bigger than whatever makes you feel good for not being them, whether they’re racists or colored folks who are the victim of racism. Try harder.

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Time Goes By…

July 19th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’m at San Diego right now, chilling in a hotel room. It’s busy, it’s nice, I’m digging seeing the show from this direction. But I need to write, and so I’m writing this:

I love weed songs, from Bone thugs~n~harmony’s “Buddah Lovaz” to Kid Cudi’s “Marijuana.” I’ve had OutKast’s “Crumblin Erb” stuck in my head for a couple weeks now, particularly Sleepy Brown’s work on the chorus, which is one of my favorite of his performances:

There’s only so much time left in this crazy world
I’m just crumblin’ erb
I’m just crumblin’ erb
Niggas killing niggas they don’t understand
What’s the master plan?
I’m just crumblin’ erb
I’m just crumblin’ erb

I’ve been thinking about this song, mostly by mulling over the lyrics as best I can remember. Andre’s “splish/splash/of blood” bars stick out, Big Boi’s first four bars or so are stupendous, “sprinkle sprinkle motherfucker, don’t be crying on me” is one of those things I’d love to say in real life, but what I only just realized now–and please believe by “now” I mean 8:00 on Friday morning, July 19–is that this isn’t a song about the joy of getting high. It’s a weed song, but it’s not a weed song.

I love Meth & Red’s “How High.” It’s an OG weed song as far as I’m concerned, and it’s basically just a regular rap song with tight lyrics that talk about weed. “Crumblin Erb,” like a fistful of other references to weed in rap, isn’t about how being high feels good in and of itself so much as how being high feels good because it pushes back against the pain. It’s melancholy, not exuberant. It’s a coping mechanism.

I feel like I knew this before now, because I’ve honestly listened to pretty much every OutKast song a hundred and fifty-eleven times, the joints on Idlewild included, and they’re one of my favorite groups, so they occupy a lot of space in my head. But I didn’t know it in relation to, say, Tupac’s “Krazy,” which has this for a chorus:

Time goes by, puffin on lye
Hopin that it gets me high
Got a nigga goin cra-zy
Oh yeah, I feel cra-zy

Before segueing directly into these four bars:

Last year was a hard one, but life goes on
Hold my head against the wall, learning right from wrong
They say my ghetto intrumental detrimental to kids
As if they can’t see the misery in which they live

Or this verse from Deck on “CREAM”:

Though I don’t know why I chose to smoke sess
I guess that’s the time when I’m not depressed
But I’m still depressed and I ask what’s it worth?
Ready to give up so I seek the Old Earth
Who explained working hard may help you maintain
to learn to overcome the heartaches and pain
We got stickup kids, corrupt cops, and crack rocks
and stray shots, all on the block that stays hot

Or even Layzie and Krayzie Bone’s couplet toward the end of “Buddah Lovaz”: “It’s a Bone thang how a nigga like me smoke and maintain/ Maintain, maintain.”

“I’m maintaining” is a phrase I love and have used myself, the rap version of “I’m fine.” I can only hear it in El-P’s pitched-down voice from “Tasmanian Pain Coaster” now, part of the first verse on the song. I bit & edited these lyrics from OHHLA but they seem pretty right:

Bumped into this kid I knew, he often would walk strange
So I ignored the blood on his laces so this cat could save face
The dunks and the gaze stayed in an off-grey haze
And the lump in his pocket talked to the ox that he clutched safe
So I saluted him there, waiting for the A
Trapped on the empty platform without the option to escape
Gave him the standard: “Yo, what up man, how you landing?”
And the hypnotized response was no surprise: “I’m maintaining.”
“Yeah, we all do, that’s the standardized refrain
“But on some really real man, good to see you, really, what the dealy deal?”
Oops, fuck, screwed the pooch, asked too much, knew the truth
On the train now, a caboose
In his brain now, no recluse
80 blocks to uptown spot, destination vocal booth
MetroCard like: “You get what you pay for, stupid!”
No excuse
He pulled his hoody off his cabbage, rugged practical
And began to fancy the words I mistakenly jostled loose
The stogie he brazenly lit where he sit looked legit
But when the flame touched to the tip I could smell it’s of another nit
He leaned his head back and inhaled the newpie dip and said:
“The whole design got my mind cryin’, if I’m lying I’m dying.”

Even Kid Cudi’s “Marijuana” leans melancholy. “I-I, I be on it all day like my nigga Big Boi said/ That’s the only thing that keep me level up in my crazy head.”

Lauryn Hill is the queen of this, though. Remember “Ready or Not”? How ill of a way is this to open a verse: “Yo, I play my enemies like a game of chess/ Where I rest no stress if you don’t smoke sess.” I love it so much. Rap music!

I don’t have a point or big revelation here for you at all. I already knew that weed is an amazing coping mechanism, and I knew that rappers sang about that aspect of it regularly. But I was struck by how “Crumblin’ Erb” took root in my head recently and that I never made the obvious connection that the song made between weed and melancholy, between weed and what we like to call The Black Condition.

This is what people mean when they say rap is real or the CNN of the streets. This is rap reflecting life reflecting rap reflecting life.

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monday mixtape lazy

June 10th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

No mixtape or fast essay this time. I just wanted to say how much I like this video for Buraka Som Sistema’s “Up All Night,” which is probably mildly nsfw for having the sexiest people in the entire world in it. It’s erotic without being a real bore about it like most videos like to be. I like the gimmick of this video, the live webcam dance party. It’s very fun, and it reminds me of Vines, the little six second videos that you can record and post to Twitter now. I know a few people who do vines, and I’m always impressed when they manage to get across a whole idea or mood in that short period of time. I love dance videos anyway, and this is one of my favorites.

I like this video, too. Description:

Cho Cho Cho is the first song and music video produced and written by the youth of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Created in a Beat Making Lab, the song was inspired by a popular call-and-response chant in Goma, and the video was filmed during Yole!Africa’s SKIFF Festival dance competition.

I read and enjoyed this excerpt on the subject of Magical Girls and the influence of Sailor Moon. The full piece is over here. I like reading about paradigm shifts in genres and mediums, things that forever alter the landscape. It makes me wonder how much of it is bandwagoning and how much is someone realizing that a door they thought was closed or didn’t exist is actually wide open. A lot of the post-1986 stuff in comics is like that, I feel like. People out there read those books and realized that they could actually push the envelope and evolve in new directions and there was a market for it and worth in it.

I read and enjoyed this piece on a Latina teen “coming out” as black. One thing that gets lost in the conversation a little is how internally diverse each race is, and how the lines between them are often blurred thanks to… basically everything, really. I’m interested in how other people view the fine lines and subtle gradations that go hand-in-hand with race as a concept.

Jim Rugg’s Flickr is must-viewing.

-I got a new job! I’m Content Manager at Image. Sort of a Flo Steinberg, quality assurance type of situation, with a little more besides. Someone asked me why Image and I talked about that some. Last week was my first week, and it was pretty interesting. BUT I’m basically gonna stop writing about comics for a bit, especially industry nonsense or recent books. I still owe people reviews for a few comics, but I’m gonna put those off for a few weeks while I get settled and figure out the best way to do that while distantly or implicitly representing the company. I’ll probably do more stuff like this parallel I noticed between a couple books I like and this question about the current best cape comic, but definitely no news and nothing that would make me drown in conflict of interest. I’m still figuring this out—bear with me.

-If I ever become one of those braggy “Oh look what I just read that you can’t see yet” types of dudes (outside of like, a legitimate critical context, I mean) feel free to smash me into a thousand pieces. I don’t want to be that guy. I’ll still be enthusiastic about stuff I dig, but I hope it’ll never come from that place.

I wrote about a family friend who passed away some time back, and my reaction/lack thereof.

I caught up on Arrested Development over the past week or so. I didn’t want to binge on it, but I did find myself wanting to watch it, so I did a couple episodes a day after work. I’m surprised by what impressed me. I thought it was pretty funny, but much, much better-written than it was belly-laugh funny. It was still plenty funny, especially anything involving Maeby, Ann, or the Michael/George-Michael stuff, but the writing was what grabbed me more than the laughs. A few of the parallels only hit me as time went on, from the various walls to how much of the series was about people explicitly trying to get something from someone else without tipping their hand or giving up anything valuable. I appreciated it more than I laughed at it. I’m really interested in how it was made now, too. They successfully nailed an incredible juggling act, editing scenes down to equally significant slices of time and then organizing those slices into a greater whole. Everything had to work when it was obscured, partially revealed, fully revealed, and integrated. There’s something really impressive about that. I like complicated or intricately constructed shows, but I don’t think any of them have managed to walk that line half as well as Arrested Development. I’ll have to wait a few months and check it out again to see what reveals itself.

Open thread. What’re you reading/watching/hearing/enjoying?

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Professor X isn’t Martin Luther King, and Magneto isn’t Malcolm X, either.

April 3rd, 2013 Posted by david brothers

It’s hard to boil someone down to one position, but I think it’s fair to say that Martin Luther King wanted America to deliver on its original promise: that all men are created equal and therefore deserve the same rights, access, and opportunities. His preferred method of doing so was non-violent resistance, essentially making himself into a martyr to show exactly how unfair America truly is. I like this paragraph from his “I Have A Dream” speech:

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

“Put up or shut up.”

Of course, non-violent resistance doesn’t mean that you fold at the first sign of hate. King kept guns for protection, and many of his peers did, as well. Owning a gun is their right under the laws of America, and it’s a right that’s well worth exercising, depending on your situation. It seems weird at first blush, but think it through: non-violent resistance doesn’t mean that you let someone kill you at their leisure. Non-violent resistance is a focused tactic, something you do intentionally. Self-protection exists apart from that, right?

Malcolm X is harder to boil down, and he’s been put into competition with MLK so often that it’s hard to define him as his own thing sometimes. I like these quotes, though:

This is to warn you that I am no longer held in check from fighting white supremacists by Elijah Muhammad’s separatist Black Muslim movement, and that if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm to Reverend King or any other black Americans who are only attempting to enjoy their rights as free human beings, that you and your Ku Klux Klan friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation from those of us who are not hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence, and who believe in asserting our right of self-defense — by any means necessary.

“This a hands off policy. Y’all touch him, we riding.” –Young Jeezy.

I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.

“You can get with this, or you can get with that.” –Black Sheep.

I like these quotes because they both show a better picture of the relationship between King and Malcolm X, later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, than the usual narrative does. America likes to place them in conflict with each other, but the truth was much more nuanced. They didn’t see eye-to-eye, but they were both working toward the same goal, and they knew that.

Malcolm was more willing to be the devil than Martin was. He was willing to be the demon that America deserved, while Martin was able to become something different, something softer. Both approaches have their merits, and they aren’t necessarily fundamentally opposed. If America resisted Martin’s soft approach, Malcolm made it clear that he was right around the corner with a harder approach. “Deal with him or deal with me.”

Personally, I identify with Malcolm a lot more than Martin. I’ve had a copy of “The Ballot or The Bullet” in my Dropbox for years now, and it remains one of my favorite things to read. There is a directness to Malcolm’s approach that I appreciate and try to emulate. “You better give me the respect I deserve or I’ma take it by force.” Malcolm is bigger than his rep as the white-hating, bigoted side of the civil rights movement. That’s too small and too inaccurate an idea for him.

But it’s that idea that led to the idea of Martin and Malcolm in competition, which led directly to the idea that Professor Xavier of the X-Men and Magneto of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X of the mutant rights movement.

It’s an easy comparison to make, considering Xavier’s position as angel and Magneto’s as demon, but it’s wrong on basically every single level. Professor X drafted children into a paramilitary unit under the guise of educating them, and then sent them out to fight other mutants. They’re essentially a self-police force for the mutant people. When you step out of line, they’ll step on you. This was later explored when X-Factor and Freedom Force became government-sponsored squads, a kind of walking, talking COINTELPRO.

Magneto is the other side of the fence. Where Xavier wants mutants to coexist with humans, Magneto is a mutant supremacist and terrorist. He murders humans, he brutalizes mutants, and anyone who stands in his way is found wanting and considered a traitor. Magneto is a murderer with ideals, when you boil it down.

Neither character bears any resemblance to Martin or Malcolm, outside of a short-sighted and frankly ignorant idea of what Martin or Malcolm represent. People have said it, but that doesn’t make it true.

Professor X uses violent methods to get what he wants and to police his people. Magneto uses violent methods to oppress another species and is an actual terrorist.

Martin & Malcolm wanted America to deliver on its promise. Professor X and Magneto are the hero and villain of an adventure comic. Any connection between the two sets of people is based on inaccurate data. Any comparison between the two has no leg to stand on.

There is no relation in tactics, approach, or personality.

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Ask Dr Racism: Blackface, Cosplay, Intent, Reactions, and Responsibility

March 5th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Personal anecdotes first, talking about blackface later. Chronological order right here:

In kindergarten, this kid I was friends with sang a song to or at me. It went “Jingle bells/Batman smells/Robin laid an egg/Grandma pulled the trigger/and shot a nigger/and Joker got away!” I joked on tumblr that it was the first mash-up because it combined two different songs with the same melody, but in real life I went and got a teacher, who reprimanded him in the limpest way possible.

A few years later, I don’t remember exactly when but young enough for “playing games in the car” to be a thing I still thought was cool, me and my cousin played a game. It went “Chinese mother,” and you pull the corners of your eyelids up. “Japanese father,” and you pull the corners of your eyelids down. “Mixed kid,” and you do one up, and one down. I was in the car with my cousin and grandparents, with my grandfather driving and my grandmother passenger seat driving. And my grandmother, she turned around, right, and she didn’t say anything, but she laid that Look on us. You know the one. It’s kind of looking down the nose with your eyebrows narrowed and your mouth tight. That “I raised you better than that” look, the one that makes you stop what you’re doing cold, apologize, and then never do it again. I’m from a Christian family, and we were raised to do unto others. Be fair, be loving, be honest, be genuine, be right in your life. That stupid joke I picked up from somewhere? Anti-Christian. Full stop. I knew better in the abstract. But not in the specific. I didn’t think it through.

Twenty years later (a complicated and fancy way of saying “a few days ago at Emerald City Comicon”), I found out about a blackface Geordi LaForge cosplayer. I don’t know who he is, and I don’t particularly care, but I did make a joke about it:

And that was it, I think? Maybe an RT somewhere. I had a couple conversations over the weekend about that guy, of the “Did you see him? Can you beLIEVE him?” variety. On Sunday, a couple friends told me there were a blackface Walking Dead troupe, only I was so exhausted I was utterly incapable of figuring out what that meant. I got stuck on “There are black zombies in Walking Dead? What a weird costume, blackface aside,” and sort of forgot about it.

Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool posted about it, and my tweet (proving even my so-so jokes are pretty funny!!!!), and the message board dudes got MAD that I would threaten VIOLENCE against someone who was just trying to have some FUN and show his RESPECT and all types of other all-caps offended-you’re-offended let-me-tell-you-what-racism-really-is internet fedora dude nonsense. So:

I could never figure out a good one, I guess because high concept jokes about the US Marshal Service in film are difficult, but this led to some comic book dudes tweeting at me about it anyway. They had a few points, but I’d heard all of them before, ad nauseam. I’m breaking it up into three sections — intent, offense, and education — which I think covers the spectrum.

Intent: When people bring up intent, they’re talking about what someone meant to do, rather than what they did. And that’s cool, I get it. I didn’t mean to be a dick to Asian peoples when I was a kid. I thought I was just having fun with my cousin. My grandmom knew better and put me in my place.

People intend a lot of things, but the only thing that matters is what they actually do. If what you intended to do is show your respect for someone, and you do it by replicating an incredibly dehumanizing practice, guess what! You’re a jerk. You can be a jerk through ignorance as well as malice. And blackface? Kind of a jerk move.

So no, intent doesn’t matter in this situation. It would be one thing if they were challenging or exploring some idea, as Garth Ennis did in Hellblazer, but they aren’t. They’re dressing up to impress their friends, not comment on our world today.

Shorter version: nobody taking part in that stupid Harlem Shake fad means any harm, but they’re still disrespecting and obscuring the long history of the actual Harlem Shake.

Offense: I’ve had people telling me how offended I get to be when people do offensive things since I was a kid. “It’s just a joke!” is a good one, “they didn’t know any better!” is another. “I hate everyone equally!” is a good’un. But what it comes down to is this: how much something gets to hurt me? That’s an internal process that I honestly don’t have a lot of control over. I can say “I don’t let things bother me,” but that’s a toughguy way of saying “I try to ignore these things that really hurt me inside.” There are some things I don’t care about that are offensive, some I do care about, and that balance isn’t something where I pick and choose. Some jabs hit my kidneys, others my forearms.

But in this case? I keep saying it, but the sum total of me acting on my offense was making jokes about US Marshals. I didn’t go off, I didn’t write an 1655 word essay about blackface, and I still got called upset and condescended to about reactions to offense! YOWZA. It’s “u mad” disguised as “I’m very cool and progressive and positive and you aren’t!”

You can disagree with my response. That’s totally cool. I’ve done/will do that. But c’mon son.

(Another dude said I lost the conversation because I used disrespecting as a verb, and well… if that’s what you say, bruh.)

Education: A different guy, not the condescending guy but another one, said that it was a teaching moment for the lady cosplaying Walking Dead. She’s a good lil gal, never meanin’ no harm. She means well, so why not educate her instead of zinging her to literal death?

That’s a good point, and he’s right. I honestly believe that education is crucial to fixing racism. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t spend Februaries pulling teeth and talking about this stuff with regards to comics until my eyes bleed.

I could have sought out Blackface Geordi or the Alexandra Jolson Walking Dead Trio. I could have explained to them how blackface has been used to lock black entertainers out of the entertainment business. I could have talked about how blackface has been used to dehumanize black people, which in turns makes it easier to think of them as being different and weird and so on. I could talk to them about the utter savagery that America, and the colonies before it, and Europe in general has forced upon the black race, whether African or American or some combo of the two. I could do that in my sleep at this point.

But why does it fall to me to do that? Why does the butt of the joke, the guy who looks at someone “having some innocent fun” that is explicitly something that has been used to destroy and degrade people who look like me? “Listen, maybe if you just told this guy punching you in your guts that it hurts, he’d stop? Maybe he doesn’t know?”

“Boy, if only someone told those colonists that maybe they shouldn’t slaughter native peoples…”

Nah, son. People are going to do what they want to do. Somebody should tell them what’s up. But that ain’t on me. It’s their mess, and I’m expected to clean it up? No. They’ve got parents. They’ve got teachers. They’ve got friends. They’ve got people who love them. Somebody should have told ’em, but expecting me to do it? To always be on call? That requires a retainer, and you can’t afford me.

You don’t have to know the history of race relations to not be a dick about race. That’s this weird reductio ab absurdum argument, where you have to be an expert to know things. You don’t. You just need a friend, or the internet, or to simply think about what you’re doing beyond “is this fun.”

Blackface isn’t obscure. There’s controversy every year about it, whether in movies like Cloud Atlas or some dumb party in some dumb college in some dumb state. It’s not like I’m getting mad (getting “mad”) about somebody not knowing that… I’m trying to think of a really deep cut bit of savagery here… I dunno, it’s not like I’m expecting people to know that Tommy Hilfiger hates blacks (he doesn’t, but for a while we were sure he did) or that there’s ground up glass in Kool cigarettes (ditto). This is basic. It’s in the news. It was in the news the week of the con!

People know about blackface. And if you don’t know, I guarantee somebody you know knows. If you think, even just a little, you’ll figure this stuff out before you step out of your house in a bad makeup job.

The burden of explaining why it’s offensive? That isn’t on me. If I choose to do it, and I have hundreds of time at this point, I’ll do it. But if I choose to make the joke? I’m going to make the joke. And if you choose to tell me that I was wrong for being offended and making that joke? Son, you are turning a corner that you can’t walk back around.

dr racism out.

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Black Panther & Black Supremacy

February 26th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

This’ll make sense tomorrow, I promise. But for now, enjoy (and feel free to discuss) this exchange from the letters page of Black Panther #4, which was written by Reggie Hudlin, drawn by John Romita Jr, and collected as Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?. It’s a good comic, but I needed to excerpt this for another piece I’m working on elsewhere.

I typed all this out myself, so the errors are my own. Here’s the original joint:


Tomorrow: I’m throwing molotov cocktails at the precinct. We can discuss it rightchea if the comment thread on another site (I don’t know why I’m being secretive, it’s not like I write for anyone besides ComicsAlliance) isn’t to your flavor.

I read the Black Panther #1 relaunch with an open mind. I love the character and loved Priest’s run. Honestly, I haven’t liked much of the usual Marvel hype surrounding this new series (obviously aimed at Marvel’s perceived core audience of backwards-hat-wearing skateboarders), but I am totally willing to give the new writer a chance. The result was mixed feelings.

First, it seems that Reginald Hudlin can write comics. Marvel feels that only Hollywood writers can write decent comics; the truth is usually the opposite. I’m always wary of a new Hollywood writer, mostly because the aforementioned hype machine has wildly overrated their talents. But Mr Hudlin can visualize and write a coherent script. So far, so good. The penciling was fine. I did not care for how emaciated and anemic-looking John Romita Jr’s Spider-Man was, but he doesn’t make the same mistake with these characters.

The scripting started to break down about halfway through. Specifically, the meeting in the White House. The suggestion that a top military White House official would call blacks “jungle bunnies” is ridiculous and speaks to Mr Hudlin’s hatred of Bush more than his writing abilities. Really, President Bush has a much more diverse staff than any of his predecessors and the most diverse Cabinet that has ever existed. Is this President really going to tolerate racism in his staff, General or not? This scene did not ring true.

The white industrialists attacking Wakanda in the 19th century were a little more believable. This reflects the gree and racism of the time and besides, black tribes were also showing attacking. Wakanda is a rich nation, and as such is subject to attack throughout history by all sorts of forces. I bought this.

Then there was the Cap thing. I suppose there was a chance that on a really good day T’Chaka could take Captain America, but the scene just reeked of the “all black people are good, all white people are bad” attitude that permeated the story. And of course, our racist white General ferociously denies that such an event actually took place. I suppose this is Mr Hudlin’s way of telling fans like me that if we question that the great Captain America can be beaten (by a black man), we’re just as racist as the General. Sorry, not true. It’s just that it’s hard to beat Cap, period, regardless of the race of the protagonist. I’m still not sure if I buy that, but I suppose it’s possible. Then there was the fact that Cap’s shield was the wrong one for 1944. Of course it’s minor, and no, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story, but it’s just another way that NuMarvel in general, and the editor specifically, ignore any comic printed before 2000.

It’s too early to tell if Black Panther is going to be a good adventure comic or a soapbox screaming that every white person (and super hero) is, knowingly or not, a racist. Take a note from Priest on this; his run occasionally touched on racism, but he was never heavy-handed about it. I was impressed when Priest, a self-admitted liberal, depicted President Bush as a savvy leader during his original BP run. Priest managed to tell a story first, and stick in his personal agenda mostly not at all. Can this team do the same?

Again, because of my love for the character, I’ll stick around for the first storyline. I’ll never forget how cool I thought the Panther was in FF during the ’60s. And even cooler when he took off his mask and revealed that he was black (as you well know, black heroes were almost nonexistent at the time). So to the entire creative team, especially the writer and editor: story first, personal agenda nowhere.


Ho-kay, Jerry. You grind quite a few axes with that letter — we lost count by the third paragraph, in fact. We think it’s only fair to let Reggie respond for the record. Reg’?

I respectfully disagree with you about JR Jr’s Spider-Man — you wanna see scrawny? See Ditko’s Spidey — and I love Ditko’s work! There is no doubt John is doing a great job on this book. That said:

Regarding your point that the White House sequence “is ridiculous and speaks to [my] hatred of Bush more than [my] writing abilities”: Whoah. I’ve been black for a very long time and I’ve met prejudiced people in every walk of life — regardless of race, creed, social position, or political affiliation. Acknowledging their existence does not imply that whatever group they belong to automatically shares their beliefs. As for whether such talk could occur in such rarefied circles, plenty of Presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, have been documented saying racist remarks. Do I think it’s in the realm of possibility that a White House staffer from either the Clinton or Bush administrations (remember, the story does not specify who is President) might make a racist comment? Yes. Would such a remark be tolerated? Well, in my story, the black woman who is running the meeting — Dondi Reese — summarily dismisses the idiot without breaking a sweat.

Regarding the Cap thing: I don’t engage in Hulk vs Thing debates, and I won’t engage in Cap vs Panther debates either. I am in the fortunate position of writing Black Panther, and the Panther beat Cap. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Captain America — I spent 200 bucks on one of those fancy shield replicas on eBay — but Panther beat Cap, baby. Live with it.

Regarding your assertion that the whole story was saying “all black people are good, all white people are bad,” all I can say is, this remark says more about you than the comic I wrote. Aren’t the first “bad guys” in the book black invaders with body part trophies from previous raids? If you think I’m vilifying the administration, isn’t that a black woman in charge? Clearly, all black people aren’t “good” in this issue. So maybe the problem, in your eyes, is that there aren’t enough “good” white people? Why? Captain America may have lost the fight with the Panther, but he certainly doesn’t say or do anything to betray the principles he stands for. And when one guy in the meeting says something stupid, everyone looks at him like the fool he is, and once he is dragged away, intelligent conversation resumes — so why brand the entire room as racist because of one guy’s comments? I wouldn’t presume that about them, so why would you?

Finally, regarding your concern that this book will become a “soapbox screaming that every white person (and super hero) is, knowingly or not, a racist,” let me say this: By necessity, many black people spend long hours analyzing the complex permutations of racism, while some of their white brothers and sisters have a harder time discussing the awkward and painful feelings the topic evokes. But sticking our heads in the sand only makes the problem worse. Until we develop a common language and a shared understand of each other’s experiences, these conversations will generate more heat than light. I don’t want to preach to the converted. I don’t want to preach at all. But I do want to challenge readers of every political stripe. I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to stick around. The more you read, the more you’ll see I’m an equal opportunity offender. The more you read, the more you’ll see I’m all about kick-@$$ action and heroics. And if you think Stan and Jack didn’t have a personal agenda, you’re wrong. Like The Beatles, they used their artistic genius to make the world a better place — and they succeeded.

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Could anybody tell me what is the Race Card?

February 11th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Lena Dunham’s Girls debuted last year. I hadn’t heard much about it, but a friend talked me into watching it, and it was pretty definitively Not For Me. But because I’m an idiot, I’ve kinda/sorta kept up with following the reaction and controversy about the series — how it’s super white, how the writers like to say stupid things in public, and so on. Looky-loo stuff, really. “Why do these people hate/love/defend/attack this stuff so much?”

Of course, that began backfiring almost immediately, because all things do. I don’t think I’ve read a single pro or con piece on the show that was worth the time, though a few of the more measured reactions — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s piece definitely included — were interesting, from the outside looking in. I’m curious about what works about Girls, what doesn’t, and why much more than I am than checking it out firsthand.

The latest one I’ve read was a piece by Rob Hart called “Call It What It Is: The Hatred Directed At Lena Dunham Is Petty, Childish Bullshit,” which I checked out after it drifted across my Twitter. It’s one of those defenses that depends and/or suggests that everyone is either a moron or jealous — in other words, not a good defense so much as a “You are all dumb and mama said knock you strawmen out.”

But this defense, when dismissing any and all negativity also tripped one of my pet peeves once I got to here:

As soon as the race card got played, there was no way for Dunham to win. When Donald Glover showed up as a black Republican, instead of being an interesting role for a funny and talented person, adding a black person in a featured guest spot was deemed RACISM (according to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at least).

There’s a lot I don’t like about this bit. Abdul-Jabbar said “But this really seemed like an effort was made to add some color — and it came across as forced,” which is pretty objectively not what Hart says he said. But the bit that made me roll my eyes, that made me second-guess this habit of driving slowly past other people’s problems and gawking, was the first eight words: “AS SOON AS THE RACE CARD GOT PLAYED.”

If you believe in the race card, you’ve got some scumbaggy views on race and culture. End of story.

It’s cool to defend Dunham or whatever, I agree that a lot of the rhetoric about her and her show has been pretty stupid and thinly veiled horribleness, but I feel like you shouldn’t act like a moron and pretend like the race card is a thing that actually exists while defending some dumb TV show.

The race card isn’t real. Let’s say that for the purposes of this argument the race card is a real thing that can be played by colored people. It isn’t, I repeat, but let’s say that in this hypothetical world full of unicorns and dragons and magic, it is real. The race card wouldn’t be the big joker or the small joker. It wouldn’t be the Ace of Spades or a Royal Flush (assuming you had several… never mind), either. It wouldn’t even be Draw Four. It would be that extra card that comes in card decks that explains the rules to a card game. You know the card that we all ignore? It’s that one. But the only thing written on it is “YOU CAN’T WIN.”

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