REVERSE THE CURSE
By Brandon M. Easton February 11, 2011
I will start this column with a quote that I usually keep rattling around in my brain whenever I am in the midst of creating a new comic book, TV or feature film project:
“We want everything that is said about us to tell of the best and highest and noblest in us. We insist that our Art and Propaganda be one. We fear that the evil in us will be called racial while in others it is viewed as individual. We fear that our shortcomings are not merely human but foreshadowings and threatenings of disaster and failure." – W.E.B. DuBois, 1925
Simply put, any and all representation of African peoples should be the holiest, noblest and most decent depiction possible because negative images will be accepted as a reflection of the inherent worthlessness and corruption of our souls and culture. People will see an evil or criminal Black character and automatically assume that we are “all” like that depiction. There have been many studies on the effect of negative media imagery of African-Americans and the inability of non-Blacks to empathize or feel compassion for Blacks as a result.
As a creator of graphic and literary media, my cohorts of color and I find ourselves in a unique position to make positive changes across the pop culture zeitgeist. I would not suggest something as silly as saying that there aren’t Black criminals or villains; to exclude that would be unrealistic and stupidly naïve.
Yet, there has to be an alternative to the absolute foolishness that has pervaded our culture for the last decade. Most of the African-American population does not behave like nor endorse the images that have been broadcast across the world from music videos and current hip-hop culture. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped their incessant flow and only God knows how much damage these images have done to the collective perception of African-Americans and other people of color.
Imagine what someone in Eastern Europe must believe about us when the first and only image of Black people they see is Lil’ Wayne; seriously – let that sink in for a moment.
If you aren’t shivering in your seat or at least slightly disturbed, then you might be a member of the KKK. (Just kidding).
My intent is to offer some solutions to combat the relentless barrage of negativity that is spewed forth by the megalith corporations and their “street” counterparts. I do not personally have the power to stop them from pushing the garbage to our kids, but I do not have to support them. So here is my guide to combating the negativity out there, and I’ve always said the best thing to do is vote with your wallet or purse. It’s the only thing corporations actually listen to.
1) Support positive publications and shows – Every time a good Black movie is released with little or no criminality and no booty shaking (Eve’s Bayou, Akeelah and the Bee, The Great Debaters, Miracle at St. Anna, etc.), the Black community does not go out to support the film. And then, when cinematic abortions like Soul Plane are released we complain that there aren’t any “positive” movies made about us. It’s a never ending cycle of whining that has no real world result. Also, stop buying those booty magazines – you know which ones – and continue to support EBONY, JET and sometimes ESSENCE. I will say, until the day I die, that EBONY Magazine has been the only place I have ever seen regular, normal, human, everyday types of Black folks depicted every month. Let your kids see that magazine. Leave it on subway trains when you’re done with it. Donate them to schools and hospitals. The images presented go a long way to reaffirm the humanity of our people.
2) Learn which shows and publications are created by Black people – Grey’s Anatomy is an excellent example of a popular TV series created by an African-American. But did you know that the last two seasons of WB’s JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED and Cartoon Network’s highly lucrative international kid’s juggernaut BEN 10 franchise was under the creative stewardship of an African-American man named Dwayne McDuffie? A lot of folks wouldn’t even begin to think about this, but the idea that a Black guy is behind two of the most influential and popular animated series of the last 15 years is an exceptional thing. And this leads me to my next idea…
3) Realize that our success comes in steps – Just because Dwayne McDuffie isn’t doing a show with all-Black characters doesn’t mean his presence isn’t making a positive change. Right now, there are more Black people working in comics and mainstream animation than there has ever been before in history. This has only happened because of people like McDuffie who have come into the system and created quality work over a period of years. So while many of us on the outside of Hollywood yell and holler about proper representation, there are folks on the inside actually doing things to make a difference in the long term.
4) Complain to the right people – Black folks love to complain, but our complaints tend to fall on deaf ears. The best way to get the corporations to listen to you is to write letters. Get online, find out who the fan relations representative or consumer affairs executive is and then write them a clear and concise letter explaining what it is that you don’t like, and what you want to be changed. I absolutely abhor Lil’ Wayne and every rapper out there like him. I don’t buy their albums, watch their videos, or recommend them to families with children. And you know what else? I wrote strongly-worded complaint letters to his parent company UNIVERSAL/MOTOWN to stop encouraging the continued visual degradation of African-American people. I got a form-letter in response but few people know that big media corporations tend to assume that one complaint letter is a representation of the thoughts of about 1,000 to 10,000 people. So imagine if every single Black person who hates the images Lil’ Wayne and his ilk push onto the world wrote a complaint letter to Universal every week over the course of one year? Think about it.
5) Use the Internet to spread positive events and news – I remember when Tupac got shot. I remember when Biggie got shot. The news spread faster than that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and this was before the proliferation of the internet, cell phones and social media. Few non-creative media types tend to use social media platforms for more than extended chatting and gossip mongering. If we all do a little bit of research on what is happening in our towns and cities like Black Book Fairs, Black Comic Book Conventions, and similar events, we can cast a wider net of support for our creative community and build for the future.
I want to present you with a list of people whose work I greatly respect and strongly urge you to support by any means necessary. Or, you could just buy their stuff. These are writers, creators of color, and media professionals who are crafting some incredible stuff that might have fallen under the radar. Take your time, do a Google search on these folks and please tell them I sent you!
Sheree R. Thomas
Esteban “Steven” Valdez
N. Steven Harris
Until next time, Blessings and PEACE.