On Niggapalooza

August 4th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

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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