Race, gender, and comic books at the Hackenblog

I was recently accused of racism when I thought I was recognizing the continuing struggle of African-Americans to be seen as human beings. Of course this bothered me. I don’t mind being misunderstood, but the level of hatred surprised me. So it made me think, think about race and why a comment, a comparison and an observation on history touched off a firestorm.

On July 15, 2007 I made a hasty, angry post on the Hackenblog in response to some creepy-fanboy asshattery (Cached version of If there’s a fanboy heaven with only one comment. There were more; I’ve addressed the two I could retrieve from my emails below ). I deleted this post and all the posts associated with it due to the level of invective it was attracting. Not talking about race because it’s a delicate issue is… interesting.

What I meant:

The blackface Ebony White in the original Spirit comic is a disgrace.

We no longer see blackface in mainstream comics.

We see many other racist things in mainstream comics, but we no longer see blackface.

I consider this progress, not perfection. But progress, however minor, still, to me, it’s progress.

It is my opinion that the continuous struggle of African-American to be treated as humans in the United States is why we no longer see blackface in mainstream comics.

It is also my opinion that this is so because the society changed and mainstream comics, for various reasons, was forced to change with it.

Finally, it is my opinion that representations of African-Americans in mainstream comics has changed more than representations of women.

I find that interesting.

What I didn’t mean:

I did not mean that representations of women in the Spirit were as insulting as Ebony. I can’t think of anything in comics that’s as insulting as the original Ebony.

I did not mean there is no racism in mainstream comics.

I did not mean that all the problems of race in the United States have been solved. If that were true, I wouldn’t be writing about it.


I think this comment from Betty on the July 15 post was sent with the best intentions:

“Ginger, I think you’re making a mistake by attempting to establish some sort of hierarchy of oppression, or even hierarchy of acceptable portrayals. In some cases, I think comics have a bigger problem with race than they do with gender, simply because it is so difficult to have discussions about race. We can have discussions about gender, although some of them are more like shouting matches, but discussions of race are shut down. In light of this, I think it’s particularly harmful to imply, as I think there is some danger of your phrasing doing, that it’s an issue which is less in need of attention than gender in comics.”

It’s difficult to have discussions about race because we don’t have enough of them. Yes, I agree that shutting down discussions of race is far too easy. But I’d rather take the risk involved in writing posts about discussions of race and discussing race than walk on eggshells and be silenced. Frankly, I was surprised that my post set everyone off. My point is that representations of African-Americans have changed more than representations of women in mainstream comics. We’re all in the struggle for better representation together. I think that comics feminism can address racism as well as sexism, but we have to talk to each other about racism as well as sexism to fight together instead of fragmenting and accusing each other of racism.

But I really didn’t understand most of this comment by Willow:

“You really think that just because Blackface has become something to be publicly and politically aware of, and to not step in that there’s _progress_ in comics for Blacks that’s more than what’s happened for women?
“Everyone else on here is being incredibly polite to you. But are you seriously believing the words that are showing up in your brain?
“Not showing blackface and black people as monkey-like has nothing to do with the progress of the fight against racism as much as it’s become vulgar on how it reflects on _whites_
“Take a close look at the _roles_ that black characters play in comics and they’re still helping the white character and sacrificing themselves as side-kick loyal negro, not to mention being portrayed as violent thugs border lining heroism, but without the backstory that makes the Punisher plausible.
“You’re hurting my head.”

I said “… I don’t see that women have progressed as much from that as African-American representation has progressed from the original Spirit comics.” Representation. How they’re drawn, not how they’re scripted.
Now, this interests me: Not showing blackface and black people as monkey-like has nothing to do with the progress of the fight against racism as much as it’s become vulgar on how it reflects on _whites_ Does this mean that White people figured out they looked vulgar enjoying blackface because it’s just plain wrong all by ourselves? Or was this pointed out to us by Black people through generations of struggle and in ways that made us see how badly it reflects on White people because blackface is just plain wrong? I think it’s the latter, but if it’s the former, then, hooray for White people getting a clue all on our own.
I’m sorry I made your head hurt. Your comment gave me things to think about, which didn’t hurt my head. Thank you.

So my question is: who has changed more? I grant that Ebony had much more to change than P’Gell, but P’Gell still hasn’t changed very much, including the fact that she still has no internal organs in her peritoneal cavity.
Images of Ebony White and P’Gell now and then are from One diverse comic book nation. Thanks for doing the heavy image lifting for me, and/or sorry to bring you into this mess.

Dead Bro Walking weighs in or piles on, either.

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3 Responses to Race, gender, and comic books at the Hackenblog

  1. Ragnell says:

    You seem to have missed the meat of both comments.

    Willow’s pretty clearly upset because the problem was so much worse with African-American characters, and there are still unbelievable problems with African-American characters in all forms of media, and your comparison is sweeping that under the rug in favor of supporting your own personal agenda, which is examining gender discrimination. You are putting down her concerns to prop up yours. That is a problem.

    Meanwhile, Betty was basically telling you to avoid this comparison, its useless and all it does is set people against each other. With this clarification attempt, you persist with the comparison. Why?

  2. Maybe I’m just being dopey, but I don’t see the problem. I have many times seen feminist comic readers say that just as the racist caricatures of comics have become a thing of the past so should the caricatures of women that overemphasize female features. In this post, you seem to be suggesting that the depictions of women should follow a similar path and that the features of Blacks have become realistic than those of women. There is certainly a lot of evidence of that, like the pictures you posted.

    If you’d like a piece of advice, the problem isn’t that you are wrong; so much as you are threatening someone’s victim status. Some people hate that. I’ll tell you what, as a gay man, I’ll let you say that depictions of gay characters have come further along than those of women, and I won’t get cranky about it.

  3. Lloyd Webber says:

    You must live in that magical world where Blacks are treated with the utmost respect at the expenxe of all other groups. In this day and age, where Black characters are so few and far between, and well-written blacks even fewer, to speew the garbage you are is pretty back asswards. But then again white privilege can do that to a person.

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