Comics and Current Events: Racism Edition

Just a small warning: This week’s post is going to be quite a bit heavier than anything I’ve posted before, but I feel like it’s necessary.

In the past week, one African-American child and two African-American men were shot and killed by police officers. Three people lost their futures, and three mothers lost their sons this past week.

The truly sad, heartbreaking thing is that Tyre King, Terrence Crutcher, and Keith Scott are a statistic; three more victims added to a disgustingly long list that just keeps getting longer by the minute.

With these three most recent losses, we are reminded that our law enforcement and judicial systems are broken. They are sick, infected by institutionalized racism, discrimination, and oppression. This is a disease that affects EVERYONE and we need to do something about it. Even if that something is simply raising awareness and starting discussions.

I was at the Long Beach Comic Con this weekend and I stopped by the both of a relatively new publishing company. One of the comics they had for sale was APB: ARTISTS against POLICE BRUTALITY: A Comic Anthology. The very last line on the back cover is: APB: Artists against Police Brutality is a comic book anthology with one primary goal: show pictures and tell stories that get people talking. As I finished purchasing this comic book, the man behind the booth said, “I would normally say enjoy your comics, but this isn’t that kind of comic. It’s a heavy read. I hope it makes you think,” I told him, “That’s exactly why I want to read it.”

I have not yet finished APB, but I am about half way through. The anthology doesn’t just contain comics; it also contains short stories and essays. The man was right, it is a heavy read and has already brought me to tears multiple times. But, more importantly, it’s made me think and has shed new (and different) light on certain things.

Boyz in a Hood: Mama’s Boyz by Jerry Craft was one of the comic entries that really solidified something for me: African-American parents have to raise their children differently because they know their children will face dangers other children won’t. I just want you to let that sink in…a large portion of our national community has to alter the way they raise their sons and daughters out of FEAR simply because of the color of their skin. Jerry Craft’s one page, three panel comic shows a son getting ready to leave the house. He is wearing a hoodie, with the hood up, a pair of sunglasses, and his pants are every so slightly sagging. His mom asks him to remove the hood and sunglasses, and pull up his pants before leaving. She also checks that he has the orange phone case she gave him. When her son complains about the color of the phone case she says, “Which means that neither the police nor anyone else will ever mistake it for a gun in your hand. NOW you can go honey.” The son thinks his mom does this to make him “miserable”, but the comic ends with the mom’s thought, “The things I do to keep him SAFE!”

Another comic, Split by Brandon L. Hankins, illustrates this point more obviously. Split is an eight panel comic divided in to two columns. The comic shows two boys growing up side by side, one black and one white. It shows the boys at age 4 both running around wearing capes and carrying a wooden sword. One is told to stay close to the house; the other is told to “show ‘em who’s boss, son!”. At age 9 we see both boys playing with a sling shot. On is told, “Careful who sees you with that!” while the other is complimented on their improving aim. Age 12: one boy is stopped inside holding a toy gun, and told, “NEVER play outside with guns,” the other is running outside, toy gun drawn, and making gun shot sounds. Finally, we see the boys at 23. One is sitting in his room watching a news report about a 12-year-old who was just shot. The other is dressed in a police uniform firing a gun.

Just as I have been taught to exist differently in the world based on my gender, so too have African-Americans been taught based on the color of their skin. The major difference is, as a white woman I am raised with the fear that I will be victimized; African-American men and women are raised with the fear that they will be dehumanized, vilified, and even demonized. The worst part is that members of the African-American community feel fear where ever they go because their biggest threat is from the people who have been sworn to ‘serve and protect’. They don’t get to feel protected because people with a badge and a gun have been conditioned to associate black skin with ‘criminal’, ‘suspect’, ‘thug’, and ‘threat’ and that encountering them could likely get you killed.

I understand that some people, many people, might balk at my saying police have been conditioned to be racist. So, I would like to share a personal story with you:

-I have an uncle who is a police officer and one who was a police officer. The former officer is a racist f*ck and has been since I can remember. He is also manipulative, abusive, and just an all around horrible human being. I’d say I hate him…but I don’t have that kind of energy to give him, to be honest. When I was younger I just thought he was some sort of fluke; a bad seed, if you will. He was already ‘retired’ from the force when I was little so I never thought to draw a connection. Then my FAVORITE uncle, the sweetest most loving man ever, joined the police academy. I was about 10-years-old. He’s been part of the force for 18 years and the man who shows up for holidays and family functions, is not my uncle. He looks like him…but he is not the man who helped raise me. Over the years I watched my uncle turn hard, angry, and mean. He even became violent with his wife and kids at one point.

When I was 19 I had my first real boyfriend. He happened to be hispanic. My mom and step-dad loved him; his family loved me. My grandparents tolerated him. He was part of my life for four years. One year in, we were at my grandparents’ for Christmas and my once-favorite uncle was there. He was talking about his job, he worked in a prison then, and made a very hostile, racist comment while look right at my boyfriend. From then on we spent holidays with his family.

Now, when I see him, which is very infrequently, he sounds just like his older brother. Anyone who isn’t white, anyone who has tattoos, pretty much anyone who doesn’t look like they popped out of a Norman Rockwell painting is probably guilty of some kind of criminal activity. However, I know that the one group he sees as an out right threat no matter what is African-Americans.-

The last comic in the anthology I want to talk about, in this post anyway, is a piece by Aaron Rand Freeman and J. Andrew World called The Problematic White Liberal. The speaker starts off with, “Dear white people.” He is then interrupted by, you guessed it, a white guy. The white guy takes over and goes on about how arbitrary race is and even accuses the speaker of being racist for bring the topic of skin color up. The white person talks about what a great ‘ally’ they are and how they are “working for the day when no one sees color and race is a thing of the past,” all the while bulldozing over the main speaker of the piece.

The main speaker finally gets to speak and at one point says, “The police don’t see us as people and not seeing us as people is a problem that goes in both directions. Allies hoping to kumbaya the historical fallout from slavery out of existence don’t see black people anymore than police do. I’d assert that you are here, but not seeing us.” This peace hits on so many important points, the most important being: African-Americans are people who deserve to be acknowledged and truly seen.

We cannot achieve this by constantly trying to rob people of color of a huge portion of their identity. The color of their skin shapes who these people are as individuals, not just a larger community. Just like being a woman shapes the identities of women as individuals. Not one man who advocates for women and feminism says, “I work for the day when we no longer see gender.” Instead they talk about the individual women in their lives and list the qualities and characteristics they posses that make them worthy of respect.

I felt the need to write this post because, at it’s core BF Geek Girls is a site that promotes equality and acceptance. We want to create a space people where people can feel safe and free to engage in discussions (some fun, some difficult or controversial) with out fear. I also wanted to show how artists, writers, and storytellers of all kinds can help facilitate social change.

As always, be excellent to each other and geek on.

~Michelle Renee

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