whimsicalnobodycomics asked: What are your thoughts on why there is such a small number of African-American female "indie" cartoonists? Or are we just not hearing about them?
No, I think that the number is actually just really small. It bothers me so much. I’ve looked and looked but I’ve only found a handful of African American women cartoonists. I haven’t even been able to wager a solid guess as to why we see so few black women doing comics.
It is obviously a cultural problem of some kind. In our kind of comics, there isn’t anybody to overtly prevent anyone from participating. There are no cultural gatekeepers to exclude or dissuade black women from participating in indie comics. So the question of why black women are not nearly as represented in indie comics seems to be a question of access or exposure.
This ties into my yelling about public comics such as newspaper strips, poster-comics and the like. If comics as an art form are contained to a cyclical ecosystem, we need to intentionally break comics out of that ecosystem. Explore new venues to put this work into the grasp of all people, everywhere. If some groups of people don’t frequent places where comics are found, then find those people and bring comics TO them.
That’s how I feel about what should be done to cultivate a more widespread interest. But I’m still terribly hazy on the initial question of how it came to be this way in the first place.
Black people go where we are wanted—or at the very least, tolerated. This is not due to laziness, or the lack of a desire to push beyond the boundaries of what is “suitably black.” This is done to protect our lives, our livelihoods, and our income.
The reason why black people do not have a larger presence in comics now is because we were actively pushed out then. White newsprint makers refused to sell newsprint to black comic publishers such as Orrin C. Evans. White creators used anti-black caricatures such as Ebony White (derived from antiquated slave imagery depicting black people as hideous beats) in their works. Finally, the demise of the black newspaper meant that the one place openly hospitable to black cartoonists had been lost. Of course, there were white organizations such as Esquire who would hire African American artists, but the race of the gentlemen (not women) hired remained an industry secret. To the mainstream public, the comics industry was simply not an option for black people—and was a place where they could be ridiculed for entertainment purposes. And for the rare black individuals who forged ahead anyway? It was undoubtedly rough.
But you’ve asked about black female indie cartoonists and you’ve asked about the present, not the past. But the answer is the same, we go where we believe we are wanted or tolerated. And we know it’s safe when we see positive reflections of ourselves. Those reflections are found mainly in mainstream superhero books. Of course, there are no black women working at the “big seven” in a creative or editorial capacity, but we are there within the panels. And those panels get a great deal of publicity. Storm and Vixen are brought to the mainstream via Marvel’s and DC’s PR behemoths. Black women see these characters and assume that there is a place for them (leading to disappointment upon the discovery of the true mainstream industry behind the four-color curtain). These women add to mainstream comic culture through fan art and fanfiction—and some move onto original superhero characters.
The indie/DIY scene is actually more hospitable to black women than the mainstream industry. Anyone is welcome to grab a pen, hang a shingle, and do their own thing. You can actually find a small number of black women creating and editing comics. But these women aren’t broadcast to the public. The image of the indie scene that is pushed to the public—the media focus—is one of the navel-gazing white guy. The black women hustling on the web? The ones trying to make things happen via Kickstarter? They are invisible.
I founded the Ormes Society in the hopes of making these amazing women visible to the mainstream. It is my hope that the followers the Ormes Society has attracted will sample the works of these women after perusing the latest scans of Storm or Vixen—that not only will they absorb positive images of fictional black women, but they will read the words of real ones as well. The more these women are seen, the more other women will follow.
(I plan to drag as many in as I possibly can.)
Darryl’s tumblr essays are always thoughtful. Also, do head to that Ormes Society link.
Safe Spaces and Intersectionality
In the social justice sphere, probably the two most talked about issues are safe spaces and intersectionality; it is ironic because safe spaces don’t exist and intersectionality is something we pay lip service to. Even if a blogger does their absolute best to set a tone that respects differences between people, some jackass will decide in the comment section that this is simply unacceptable, and then proceed to spew their shite all over the comment section. To some degree, the blogger will have some control, because zie will have the option to ban, delete or simply not publish said comment, but regardless, someone has to wade through this muck.
Intersectionality is supposedly about eradicating the concept of competing oppressions and the end of the idea that there is any such thing as a good oppression. Since none of us are born outside of discourse, this means that we still at the very least subconsciously repeat patterns of behaviour and modes of thought that we claim to be against. How often have you seen a single issue blog that is determined to fight, sexism, racism, homophobia etc., turn around and oppress another group in the project of securing rights for themselves? Because these blogs are largely insular, they don’t get called out regularly on their failures, or those that do protest, are quickly overwhelmed with the onslaught of denial.
All of this of course leads to an unsafe space. Do you see how this creates a circle of oppression? I think what bothers me the most, is that in the act of calling out privilege, far too many forget that they still exist with privilege. If someone is marginalized, they are oppressed, and they should not have to justify this by producing a pound of flesh, as evidence of the way that they have been harmed, when we know that homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, disableism, ageism etc., (yes there are more) are institutionalized. The very fact that we demand this evidence, is proof of unacknowledged privilege. Imagine for one moment the need to relate the most painful events of your life to prove that you are oppressed. What kind of sense does this make? To me it feels like revictimizing someone who has already been dreadfully hurt.
Every community, no matter what form of oppression that they have faced, has actively oppressed another group. It is a very easy thing to do, because we are all taught from birth to respect and enforce hierarchy. This of course becomes complicated when one’s body becomes representative of several oppressions. I was born a Black woman, but I became disabled, and when this happened, I finally had a true understanding of the need for intersectionality, because my body became a reflection of it. I learned that having privilege in one area, does not negate the oppression someone faces in another.
Even with all that I have learned, I still make mistakes. Sometimes, as in the case of the trans community, I have gotten on my pedestal claiming to fight transphobia and cissexism, and then promptly engaged in it myself. Most recently, I think that I have been guilty of erasure. If you look through this blog, you will find many articles written by me specifically arguing against the suggestion that the Black community is specifically homophobic, but what I neglected to mention was the other side of the coin, the GLBT community is not uniquely racist either. While I have written articles against homophobia, and even have several BLGT contributors, I trusted my previous actions to speak for my feelings and by so doing, I ignored the way that when race enters the picture, suddenly the effects of homophobia or transphobia, seem to disappear in conversations in the social justice blogosphere. I am as guilty as anyone else and I apologize.
A White TLBG person will always have racial privilege. Nothing that they say or do will ever erase this, but this does not mean that the attacks that they face based specifically in cissexism and heterosexism should ever be minimized, no matter what the intersection is. Just as I decry racism, I must work to ensure that it is not over shadowed by cissexism and heterosexism, because they are harmful and wrong. I think for me, it was easy to let this slide, because I am a person of colour, and I know first hand the effects of racism. To take this idea one step further, the elements of the GLBT that are racist are no more respective of the entire community than the elements of the Black community that are homophobic. What we need to do is to have conversations about the isms rather than attacking each other because when we do this the project of acquiring equality is stalled. As oppressed people, we have far more in common than we recognize, and this pursuit to ensure that hierarchy is enforced in our various communities, is harmful and parroting the oppressor.
- Renee at Womanist Musings
This is an amazing post by Renee that relates to a lot of arguing that happens between social activism communities. She breaks it down like the amazing person she is, once again.
If you haven’t visited her blog, Womanist Musings yet, I highly recommend you do so immediately.
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