Black History Month
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woohooligan Feb 28, 2016
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Imagine you see someone bullying people on the street. What do you do? Do you ignore it? Do you confront the bully? Do you try to find a police officer? Do you need more information? Do you need to know the bully's age or the victim's? What about their race? And if so, why do those details matter to you?

It's no secret that controversial subjects like racism make me anxious. In fact, although I published an apology this past year for my early comics lacking good representation of women, I never did address the fact that my early comics also lacked representation of any kind of ethnic diversity. I'm somewhat embarrassed not only by that, but by the fact that I've previously misused the phrase "white man's burden." The first time I heard the phrase, the guy who said it to me implied that it meant "feeling guilty for slavery and other abuses of non-white people because you happen to be a white American." I unfortunately used it that way a few times before I eventually googled it and realized that was a horrible, horrible thing to say. This also gets at the root of my personal demons on the subject of racism. Because I’m autistic, I already live in a world of being constantly worried that anything I say might be misinterpreted. So when I see how challenging it is for normal people to talk about racism, can you imagine how scary it is to me? So until recently I would approach an idea for a joke and I would think to myself, "I’ll make this character black," and then immediately freeze in terror because I realized that this character would either do something bad or they would be the victim of something unpleasant, and I’d be terrified in either case that people would read racism into my making the character black. I guess it’s a good thing the Lone Ranger is backing me up. ;)

Also another Facebook post recently reminded me of the motto of Comic Relief, "where there's laughter, there's hope."



When I see people being mistreated, like seeing a bully on the street, I can’t just stand by and do nothing while people abuse my neighbors. I have to do something, even if I worry that my contribution might not lead to any real change, and even if I worry that it may backfire and my attempt to be a good neighbor might actually hurt me in the long run. I have to make the attempt. And while I never expect my voice to save anyone, I still hope that I can be some small part of making the world a better place.

This month was kinda strange for other, seemingly unrelated reasons. We’ve been preparing to move my mother in with us here in Ohio after discovering that she was recently mugged and a neighbor’s son was shot and killed in her apartment complex in Dallas. And although I had been planning to make this particular comic for a while and only chose Black History Month out of coincidence, I also tried chitterlings for the first time a few days ago. I grew up in Texas and had never seen them at the store, but I saw the red bucket at the grocery here last month and thought I’d try it out. My wife, Tiffany, was awesome and she did all the work of preparing them… in the long run, I have to say, I know it’s "soul food", and I know for a lot of people this is tradition… you people are messed up. They taste fine! If they didn’t require fifteen hours of preparation and make the whole house smell like an outhouse, I’d probably eat them fairly regularly. I just don’t understand why, tradition or not, anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to that. Do you guys lace them with cocaine? Are you leaving that out of the recipe when you post it online? Then a few days ago I watched the latest episode of Blackish (Hope - about police brutality) because I saw a number of people talking about it, whether it was because they personally identified with it, or because apparently some people, who may or may not be extraordinarily white, who may or may not enjoy cosplaying in weird, white, pointy-headed pseudo-ghost outfits, were angry about it.

The really weird thing is, none of this was planned. I realize that saying I'm eating "chitlins" for the first time while watching my first episode of Blackish probably sounds like I heard it was Black History Month and set out on a black-culture appropriation safari and I’m just checking off the items on my list. I know it sounds like I’m just getting ready to watch Chi-Raq, rap-battle my neighbors and learn the blues. Yeah, no… it’s just a handful of odd coincidences this month… Frankly, I am super-white. If anything, aside from not being Jewish, I probably look like a young(er) Bernie Sanders to most people. I’m not fond of rap music and on the rare occasion that I try to use today’s slang, it’s truly cringeworthy.

Anyway getting back to the topic of Black History Month, I know there are a lot of things people will wish I included in this story. I know a lot of people will be disappointed that there’s no mention here of Martin Luther King or his I Have A Dream speech, or of Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Larry Wilmore, or a host of other great black inventors and heroes. And I know that others will be upset that I didn’t include other tragedies like the Tuskegee Syphillis Experiment. I didn’t include those things for a couple of reasons.

First, I wanted to make a succinct point and I was afraid I’d lose the message if I included too much. I already feel weird about mentioning the Mulford Act. It feels "bolted on", like it’s a stretch in context, but I wanted it in there, as a contrast to how we’ve apparently decided very recently that in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist shooting, the device that really needs government intervention is the iPhone, not the gun. Did you know there are people who say the Black Panthers were basically a reverse KKK? So… apparently if you’re white, having an official agenda of killing black people is the same as if you’re black and you believe you have a right to defend yourself with a gun. It’s well known that the KKK routinely and deliberately killed black people for many years and were a major part of the need for anti-lynching laws that white southern senators blocked for nearly a century. (Madam CJ Walker wasn’t lynched, she was an anti-lynching activist.) Meanwhile with only the ONE disputed exception (the death of police officer John Frey), the Black Panthers used their guns in self-defense and the Mulford Act passed in California LESS THAN ONE YEAR after their founding, with support from the NRA. Knowing this should give anyone a bit of perspective on those Youtube videos showing police treating armed black and white people in dramatically different ways.

Secondly, I left out a lot of those things because so many other people are already covering MLK and Malcolm X and all the heroes and wins of the civil rights movement. You can Google "MLK cartoon" or "Rosa Parks" cartoon and see all sorts of cool, funny stuff. Or if you’re in the mood to cry, you can Google "Malcolm X cartoon" or "Tuskegee cartoon" (don’t say I didn’t warn you).

And most importantly, while I may not ultimately be saying anything that’s genuinely new here, I wanted to make a point about the things American culture has largely forgotten. Of all the comics I’ve made, I don’t think I’ve ever researched as much as this. In November this year, I’ll be forty-two years old. (The only thing on my wish-list is the answer to Life the Universe and Everything… who says I’m hard to shop for?) It’s pretty appalling to me that I honestly didn’t know a LOT of these things until recently (seriously, the last few years -- several of them in the last few weeks).

I should have learned about the Five Nations tribes keeping slaves when I was in high-school. Maybe if we taught that in school, we’d be a little more accepting of the fact that our own ancestors were complicated people and that sometimes, like when they were being racists, slave-owning pricks, they were real assholes. Maybe if we taught our kids at an early age that colossal douchebaggery knows no race or religion, we’d be a little more humble about our own. But I certainly don’t think, like the guy on my Facebook feed or Morgan Freeman (sorry, God, I can’t agree with you on this one), that the answer to racism is to simply stop talking about race. How many problems are fed by the fact that we haven’t talked about it enough? Would we have so many people deifying our founding fathers if our schools taught that Jefferson preached separation of races while simultaneously fathering all the children born to one of his female slaves? Would we have the massive school-to-prison pipeline and outrageous for-profit prison problem if we as a voting public were better educated about the origin of the war on drugs blacks. If we all knew that although it never became federal law, the alcohol prohibition of the twenties was the KKK’s biggest rallying cry for many years? My panel about the newspaper headlines circa 1900 is slightly exaggerated, but not much!

To expand on the opening of this strip, the guy on Facebook argued that "we shouldn’t know George Washington Carver as a great black inventor; we should just know him as a great inventor." In an ideal world, I would agree. The problem is our real world is far from ideal, and I don’t think pretending it is will make it so. Does anyone really believe that lynching stopped because white southern senators pretended it was never a problem in the first place? (And I included both the elephant and the ass in that panel because both parties have miserably failed us in this respect - while Republicans may champion "the war on drugs" today, it was Democrats who still branded themselves the "whites party" in 1900.) I think pretending that there’s not a problem is how we get whitewashing like the Oscars.



I think we can’t fully appreciate the horror of for-profit prisons in America, without first understanding the origin of the "war on drugs", as a cudgel for the south to use against black people after losing the Civil War. And while lynching died out, the south’s weapons against blacks are unfortunately alive and well and supported by a lot of good, well-intentioned people, who should have been given more thorough black history when we were in school. This is the reason I feel we have a responsibility to ourselves and to future generations to preserve our unvarnished history, no matter how uncomfortable we may be in those classrooms. Sure, we all want to think well of our families, and it sucks to find out that your great grandparents were dicks. You know what's worse? Finding out that you're the dick who didn't know you're still doing their dirty-work 150 years later.

As citizens we have opportunities to make our country better all the time. On any given day we can start working on it in one way or another. This year brings that responsibility into sharp focus, now that it looks like Donald Trump might be the Republican nominee for president. I won’t say that the KKK supports him, because it’s too easy for someone to dress up in an anonymous outfit like that and claim support for anyone as a smear campaign. Heck, PETA dressed up as Klan members to smear the American Kennel Club.

(EDIT: Oops! This caught me a bit off-guard. At the time I wrote these comments originally, I had only seen news about the guys in hoods showing up to a Trump rally -- it was only after I posted this that I saw the Daily Show and the Nightly Show mention David Duke's public support of Trump. So, yes, I will now say that the KKK officially support Trump.)

Having said that, we still have exit polls from people leaving the primary voting booth, saying they voted for Trump and expressing a remarkable amount of white-supremacist thought. One in FIVE said they disagree with the Emancipation Proclamation! That’s roughly one person PER HOUSEHOLD amongst Trump supporters who think we should still have slaves. If that seems hard to believe... sometimes actions speak louder than words. While I didn’t hear anyone call him a nigger on the video, there are a couple of gaps in the audio (which could be coincidental or they could be deliberate). Also, Trump later said "he got what he deserved," about a guy who only planned to talk, and you can clearly hear a guy chanting "all lives matter," which in the context of ganging up on and beating a black man before ejecting him from the event, obviously translates as a racist insult.

You can call me an optimist, you can even call me naïve, I still believe we can fix the redlining problem. I also believe that, while I think most police are good people (and not actually racist), that we can ferret out the assholes, those bad apples in certain, deeply-racist cities, who are responsible for the atrocious track record we have of police killing black people far more often. And I think we can dismantle the for-profit prison system, the school-to-prison pipeline and even the "war on drugs". I don’t think these things will be easy. If they were easy, we’d have solved all these problems a hundred years ago! I do think we’ve made progress... and I think we should keep working at it. And if we want to make any real progress in our own lifetime, we have to start with a President and Senators who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. And before they can do their job, we have to do ours by (among other things) working at the state and federal levels to fix the voting access the Supreme Court recently broke. Then maybe, we can all get the education we deserve.

To all my patrons who helped make these four pages happen, thank you! (They're posted as one piece, but in print they'll be four pages and over a week's work.) I hope you enjoy this piece. I hope you didn’t find it offensive, although if I’m honest, I don’t want your money if the idea of equality offends you. To all the rest of you who are still with me, working to make ourselves and the world a better place, THANK YOU!

Did you enjoy this? Want more? All of the bonus panels and alternate endings are now available on the official Woohooligan Patreon page!

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