Book Club / What If You’re Wrong?

Black PantherBlack Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 1
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Brian Stelfreeze

 

 

 

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JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

What if you’re wrong?

1. Viewpoint one.

Here’s a thing called What Black Panther Means to My Black Son by James Peterson

“I’ll say it right now: I liked Black Panther, the character, the comics, just the idea, from the beginning. This dude in this suit running around, all these flashy abilities. When he stepped on the stage in Civil War and scratched Captain America’s shield — the impervious shield of whiteness — I was like, yo, I’m wearing Black Panther everything. And then when I heard there was going to be a movie, I was like, Please don’t mess this up. I got my dashiki on, I got my African medallion on, I walked into the theater, sat down, boom. Even in the first scene, I was just shook. I heard people talk about like, “Oh the acting wasn’t this or that.” Nah. That movie was great.”

But hey – what does being “wrong” really mean? Like: if two people disagree about something is it possible that maybe they’re both right? That they both have a good reason for believing the things they do? (That seems like it makes sense – otherwise: well – why would they believe what they do? There must be some reason there – to make them think the way they do right?)

But then: why do we think the way we do?

I tried to read this comic. Honest to god I did. Three times I sat down and read it. And my brain just spat it out. It was like trying to eat a piece of plastic.

(Saying that: I don’t think it’s a Black Panther thing. Like at the Shoe Lane Comic Forum on Tuesday Natalie had a copy of a collected edition of stuff by Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr. and even tho I only read like the first six pages or so I was still like… oh hey: this is actually pretty cool! Some tribe getting massacred by a giant storm of arrows or something…. You know: some good comics coolness).

the hate does not rise on its own

2. Viewpoint two.

Here’s a thing called Beyond “Race Relations” An Interview With Barbara J. Fields & Karen E. Fields

Racism being an action: it is acting on a double standard based on ascribed or putative ancestry. Racism, in other words, is neither attitude nor bigotry nor prejudice. It is an act, and it is a repetition of the act of racism that makes race looks like a real entity. That is what has happened in American history… Racecraft encompasses the fact that the race that is pictured by the subjects as real in fact is not; it’s made to be real and envisioned collectively as something real. People begin to think, “I have a racial identity, I have a race. As a black person or white person, I have certain characteristics: I’m smart; I deserve to be at the bottom, and so on.” These things are programmed into people through the activity of doing that first thing, the act that is ostensibly based on heritage. That puts somebody in his or her place.

Here’s a thought: maybe all viewpoints are true?

Here’s another (maybe more scary) thought: maybe the things we believe aren’t based upon facts but something else? If you’ve ever had the misfortune to speak with a racist then it soon becomes very obvious that it’s not really possible to refute what they say with facts and figures and links to whatever article you can find… Here’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times “I just believe what I believe and that’s that.”

But – what if you’re wrong?

I mean – yeah: part of that is maybe that I hadn’t read a DC/Marvel superhero comic in quite a while (I did try a Tom King Batman last year but didn’t manage to finish the whole thing) but I think that most of it is because – fuck Ta-Nehisi Coates. Yeah. I said it. Obviously he’s America’s favourite liberal intellectual and oooh he’s writing Captain America and lalala Obama and etc. But hey short version: I agree with Cornel West.

So I haven’t really read the comic and even worse I haven’t even seen the Black Panther film (which is basically like the most successful thing since forever now right?). But shit – for a while now: it’s been the only thing I can think about.

(Some of you reading this may be spluttering over the idea that I was dare to talk about a film that I haven’t even seen – but come on: at this point I reckon I’ve seen enough Marvel films to know what every other Marvel film is like – right? But hey: if there’s anyone out there that felt as ripped off and bored and completely and totally let down by Thor Ragnarok as I did and they can say to me that Black Panther is worth me spending money on – then maybe I’ll think about it. Otherwise (and I’ll say this in the nicest way possible): let’s just assume that our tastes diverge ok? LOL)

you have lost your soul

3. Viewpoint three.

Here’s a thing called ‘Black Panther’ Is Not the Movie We Deserve by Christopher Lebron

Black Panther presents itself as the most radical black experience of the year. We are meant to feel emboldened by the images of T’Challa, a black man clad in a powerful combat suit tearing up the bad guys that threaten good people. But the lessons I learned were these: the bad guy is the black American who has rightly identified white supremacy as the reigning threat to black well-being; the bad guy is the one who thinks Wakanda is being selfish in its secret liberation; the bad guy is the one who will no longer stand for patience and moderation—he thinks liberation is many, many decades overdue. And the black hero snuffs him out.

But: here’s a thought: what if it’s possible to judge and think about a movie more than just in terms of representation? Like: in terms of it’s ideology? Or terms of what it’s trying to sell you? Or in terms of what it’s messages are? or just in terms of what kind of narratives action films are? And (uh oh) what if those different things start to conflict?

If every viewpoint is true does that also mean that every viewpoint is also wrong?

Thinking about all of this stuff is tricky because a lot of is thinking about thinking which I know for some people is a recipe for horror. Most discussions or things I’ve seen on the internet seem like they’re based upon the idea that there are only two sides on every debate and most of the time the people are the other side of the conversation are defined as “deplorables.” But what if there’s more on two ways to think about a thing? (I’ve stopped at three here: but I feel like there a whole lot more…). The trouble is that as soon as someone disagrees with us it’s a defensive instinct to put them in a box because of course no one likes being wrong.

But then: how do you know if you are?

OK, so putting that all aside,

I feel sorry for kids coming out of ‘Black Panther’ and wanting to read more stories about this cool character and his family and his friends and his rogues and picking this book up because it is… difficult. Although I’d known of Black Panther for years the first real story I read about him was Jonathan Hickman’s ‘Avengers’ run, where he is the first and (almost) last character we see and one of the characters that has a proper arc throughout the entire long tale. But beyond T’Challa and his sister Shuri none of his other cast are in it (IIRC we see some Dora Milaje and the name is mentioned once but if you don’t know who they are then they don’t stand out), so coming to this comic and being introduced to them all is somewhat overwhelming. The only thing worse than this is that someone thought it would be a good idea to split the entire first year’s story into THREE volumes and so make it seem even more of an expense for someone on the fence to buy the books and then to make up space in the first volume reprint the Panther’s first appearence, in a terrible, terrible Fantastic Four issue from the sixties.

So this is a dense political story with confusing continuity (not just in the sense that this follows on from Hickman’s Avenger’s run despite the fact that cancelled itself out after Secret Wars/ the Marvel universe was rebuilt as though that never happened), a cast who it’s expected I will know about their histories and relationships without being told anything and a writer who’s not experienced in writing comics and is clearly learning as he goes along, so we have references made to events happening that we don’t see in the comics, although that might be due to the hurriedly launched and even more hurriedly cancelled companion comic where these stories might have been told.

I’ve stuck with Black Panther and it’s improved. You get nothing with reading just volume 1. You have to read the first twelve issues to get a semblance of a storyline and even then it’s not a thrilling one. Coates writing is far too slow, it’s not even decompressed it’s just slow. Twelve issues say what should be said in three, and with a certain po-faced seriousness. I found the Christopher Priest run and am having a certain guilty fun reading that and about the one thing I like about Coates’ run is the awful sexism that seems to be in Priest’s treatment of the Dora Milaje (having only read the first four issues of Priest’s run so far) is absent, although that might also be the fault of the art.

So I don’t know if there *are* good Black Panther comics to read coming out of the film. But this probably isn’t one of them.


RAMSEY
Twitter

Hi All,

When I got to my late teens and got curious about reading the canon – Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Moore’s Watchmen and even the non-masterworks but brilliant Neal Adams Batman, Nocenti’s Daredevil etc etc NOBODY but a little Dwayne McDuffie interview I read 15 years in the future, told me about Don McGregor & Billy Graham’s ‘Panther’s Rage’ Black Panther story that HANDS DOWN belongs in the upper tier comics pantheon but wasn’t really much in print or spoken about.

When I did get my mitts on it I found a rollicking, poignant and very Steranko cinematic comic story that really knocked me out. I’m just gonna leave some of the pages here for them to do the talking

 

1

2

3

4

5

 


PAUL

Totally agree Ramsey, I was gripped when these came out, they were pioneering and stand up still today.

New York Times profiled Billy Graham aka ‘The Irreverent One’:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/07/movies/black-panther-luke-cage-artist-billy-graham.html

Luckily, I can respond to his shameful lack of screen credit, and credit for McGregor too, in the movie and choose who I give my money to.


RAMSEY
Twitter

I feel Pop comics critics/journalists at the time – 90s and 00s never really spotlighted that run. Marvel rarely put it out in print. I feel that the quality was well known but maybe they thought the appeal wasn’t big enough


PAUL

It’s only the movie release that has prompted Marvel/DIsney to finally collect Panther’s Quest, a later Don McGregor serial drawn by the excellent Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.

I was aware of it being serialised in 25 chapters in Marvel Comics Presents fortnightly anthology in late 80s but never read it.

It deals with BP finding his mother in South Africa, I need to investigate this one.

The Comics Journal recently did a piece on that plot, if anyone wants the cliffnotes.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Whoops. I realise maybe that I’m not the best one to be leading this discussion as my all comments are basically of the tinfoil hat variety. It’s like watching an old war movie and the main character is the quiet religious guy who keeps mumbling bible verses to himself and then goes crazy halfway through… When maybe what’s really needed is a more straight-laced Tom Hanks type: with a quiet charm and easy-going manner…

Oh well. 🙂

Here’s some more random thoughts about everything that’s not really the comic. As always: please feel free to side-step.

After I sent that first email I found something else online that managed to get much closer to the point I was trying to make (lol – isn’t that always the way?)

This thing here: Black Panther as Empty Container by Duane Rousselle

It would seem to me that the film has opened up a space for the alt-right and the alt-left to agree and to disagree for exactly similar reasons. Is this not the perverse ideology of the film? It is similar to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” his ninth symphony, which, as Slavoj Zizek correctly demonstrated, has been used famously to signal ultra-conservative nationalism — it was used by the Nazis and it was used by the Soviet Union and during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It also became the unofficial anthem of Europe.

warriors

 

(Altho – erm: “Wesley Snipes was key in the film”??! lol)

The most common reaction that I’ve heard about the Black Panther movie so far is that it’s a powerful affirmation of Black Identity. I think someone at the Shoe Lane Comic Forum said it best saying something like: how much of a positive effect it would have for a 7 year old black kid watching it…. etc.

And obviously only somekind of awful racist monster be against such a thing – right?

But yes the smart move here would be for me to shut my mouth and leave it at that – but here’s what I can’t stop spinning around inside my head:

Like there’s Fox News and the Daily Mail and every smart free-thinking person knows that they’re garbage and morally reprehensible outlets right? Like: they’re the bad guys. They spread misinformation and lies and slander and hate. Because well obviously. I don’t even need to link to anything because everyone reading this knows all that stuff already. We have eyes and brains and etc. right? If you’re not already on-board with that idea then I don’t really think that I have the time or the inclination to convince you otherwise…

But here’s something that I kinda feel is less commented on – apart from all of the toxicity that they spew out (which is damaging enough): Fox News and the Daily Mail are also damaging because they’re such obvious and easy boogeymen and so all the rest of us have to do to feel good and right about ourselves is to stand in opposition to whatever new story they pump out everyday. “That thing that they said today? Well – that’s stupid and awful and I don’t believe that. Therefore – I am a good person. Because I’m better than the bad guy.”

And I’m not saying that this means that therefore you should agree with the Daily Mail or whoever (because lol – that would be stupid). I’m just saying – maybe the world is more complicated than that. And maybe being good is something more than just thinking the reverse of whatever the bad guys think. (It reminds me of that old saw about how to be smart – just think of something really dumb and then do the opposite).

Because maybe the trap is thinking that there are only two sides to everything? That as long as you’re better than the bad guy then you must be good – right?

Which you know: is obviously a philosophy that is taught to us constantly via every single film and TV show we’ve ever watched since we were born. But here’s a thought: what if dividing the world into good and bad guys is part of the problem? What if that’s not like a healthy way to think about the world? Because it means that you end up thinking of every viewpoint that’s not yours as being bad? That you end up thinking of yourself as the good guy: therefore that everything you think and do must be right – right? (And what makes “maybe you’re wrong” such an abhorrent thought: because good guys are never wrong – right?).

death to tyrants

 

Here’s another interesting thing I found called The Many Meanings of Black Panther’s Mask By Kwane Opamfeb

“I’m actually wondering now what it might be like for that parent who’s not of color if his kid comes home and says, ‘I want to dress up like Black Panther,’” said Katrina Jones, 39, the director of human resources at Vimeo. “When I look at it, I see no reason why a kid who’s not black can’t dress like Black Panther. Just like our kid who’s not white dresses up like Captain America. I think the beautiful thing about comics is they do transcend race in a lot of ways.”

The thing about it that got my brain so fizzy is that it comes really close to one of the major paradoxes of this kind of centralist viewpoint that says that the best way to fight the forces of evil that wants to judge people by the colour of their skin is to erm – celebrate skin colour as an end in itself? I mean: the 7 year old black kid watching Black Panther is only going to be able to triumph in it if you’ve already managed to convince them that they should think of themselves in terms of their skin colour. You have to accept the racist assumptions of a racist society in order to glorify in the anti-racism. You have to say that only the black kid can wear the Black Panther mask and only the white kid can wear the Captain America mask because otherwise it’s “cultural appropriation.”

I don’t know if this helps but I recently learnt a new word. “Ressentiment.”

Forgive me if I get this wrong but the basic gist of it is this – let’s say that you’re poor and you’re ugly and the you’re stupid (lol – maybe you are? who knows?) and living above you is someone who’s rich and beautiful and smart. You have all of the vices and they have all the virtues. Which – well: is a tough situation right? No one wants to go around feeling rubbish about themselves all the time. It’s not very nice. What ressentiment is – is the process where you turn your vices into virtues and their virtues into vices. It’s like a re-value-orientation thing. So you know: instead of maybe doing things so that you’re not so poor or ugly or stupid (and hey: you know – maybe that’s not possible?) or even better – rejecting the value system itself (what is ugly anyway? and who decides etc?): ressentiment is saying: actually poor people are better than rich people. And ugly people are better than ugly people and stupid people are better than smart people.

A particularly good example of this is what the Christian slaves did back in Ye Olde Roman times where they basically did exactly this and made all of the stuff that made everyone else turn their noses up at them into things to glorify in (“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” etc – yeah! Take that moneybags!)

If you’re powerless then ressentiment is a way to feel powerful.

my people

 

(“Actually – the thing that everyone else says is why I’m bad? That’s the exact reason why I’m good.“)

And here’s a question for you: what if the unit of measurement is bullshit? What if the unit of value is something ridiculous? Like: what size feet you have? Or if you use your left hand or your right? Or what your favourite food is?

If you have a society of people who think that people who like oranges are better than people who like apples.

What’s going to happen then?

There’s a bit in that article I linked to right at the start of all this What Black Panther Means to My Black Son by James Peterson that gets to the place that I feel like we should all be trying to get to:

Jordan: My younger brother is 13, 14. For him, the biggest influential person is Donald Glover. And his music. I followed (Childish Gambino) too when I was 13, but back then it was nerdy, niche. And you’re black, you’re nerdy, it’s kind of hush, hush. But Glover rose like crazy. And now black representation is better than ever … And to what Adrian said, my younger brother didn’t call me about Black Panther. What makes that so important in my mind is that this is normal to him.

And shit: maybe in a generation or two we can get to the point where we don’t have to teach about racism anymore because it doesn’t exist (wouldn’t that be nice?). But until we get to that point – it feels like this shit is going to keep propagating itself – because I’m sorry but I don’t think it’s possible to end racism using the viewpoint that there are Black People and White People and etc.

Will leave it there for now.

I thought the film was ok. Some interesting concepts and ideas in there and some tedious ones too.

One of the black panther books I’ve enjoyed the most recently is when he took over as the guardian of hell’s kitchen whilst matt Murdock was…unavailable. Was a good way of learning about the character himself when he was placed in an different setting/context (see: Black Panther: Man Without Fear/The Most Dangerous Man Alive). http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2018/01/02/black-panther-the-man-without-fear-the-complete-collection-is-a-must-have-for-fans-of-the-character/)

As always, I don’t have much else that’s very clever to add to the discussion about the black panther comics or the movie, except I’m reminded by Joel’s last comment of something that happened at my wedding reception, 11 years ago.

My wife and friends were kind and generous enough to help make it as comics-themed as they possibly could. I was asked to suggest a bunch of characters that I wanted represented, then they made each table themed around a character or group of heroes. I was mindful of primarily making sure it was all characters I enjoyed reading about…but I also thought a little bit about making it be something that might in some way be relatable to the guests and maybe get them talking. Each table had a big card on it with a picture of the character(s) on the front and a bio inside. So there were scientist characters for my scientist friends, wonder woman for my aunts (important for me as they were/are still embedded in a highly sexist, misogynistic, ultra conservative and gender-power imbalanced culture and I wanted to give them a subtle(?) shout out for all that they have achieved despite that…even though some of them haven’t done good things…others have), the Gotham Central characters were on the table of people I think were all shitty, amoral crooks, to ‘keep an eye on them’ (that was obviously a private joke I kept to myself..until now….)., etc etc. I had a GL Corp one, with a diverse range of green lanterns..ie not just a black person, but also a sentient planet and others that look like insects and fish and other diverse alien races). one kid at the event asked me about the GL corp one and I explained all about it and how maybe it meant that anyone can be a Green Lantern (achieve something worthwhile) no matter who you are or where you are from.

But coming back to earth….I also had a black panther one and a Luke Cage one. The Luke Cage one had a picture of him breaking some chains that were binding him. At the end of the evening, one of the guests, a close friend of my mum, came over to me to ask if she could take the Luke Cage one home with her, for her son. She had seen all the cards and immediately drawn to the Like Cage chain-breaking image and said that it struck a chord with her. She said she struggled as a black Londoner working to support her family, in a job rife with institutional racism and corruption and a dominant culture and media void of what she felt were suitable role models and stories for her son, and seeing the Luke cage image and reading about him made her want to go home and tell her son all about this character and maybe inspire him in a positive way. Nobody else asked to take any of the cards home with them.

luke

I think it might be noble to aspire to end racism (and the concept of race) and develop a society that upholds equity for the benefit of a future generations, but it’s important to remember were starting from a place where the real-life experiences of some people match those of the guest I described above, who had to deal with the worst aspects of being a POC in London in the 70s, 80 and 90s and who wanted to give her son some stories he could perhaps in some way personally relate to and give him some inspiration or at least some potentially useful concepts/ideas to think about as he grows up in the same city, heading for what we all hope, is a better future. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of myths and stories in aiding that process. Maybe he picked up some comics after that and got something good from them. Maybe he learned about who Luke Cage’s friends and immediate family are now, and what that might mean…

So, for me, the Black Panther film didn’t do much, but I do wonder what it meant to that kid (now a young man) and his mum, for whom it may be important to have stories and legends they can feel they relate to and that speak to their life experiences in ways that others don’t? I’m not saying I think it was “good” in any way for them…I’m just wondering….

Do check out that Black Panther in Hells Kitchen story I mentioned above….it’s very cool and I think it does a hell of a lot to develop and elevate the character beyond being a pawn to be used in the philosophical/political debates about race, racism, diversity and identity (or maybe thus it’s a useful addition to those debates?).

I also think that before we start talking about Joel’s idea of going beyond “white” people and “black” people, we should do a poll of what race actually means to each of us? I’m starting to wonder if the answers will be a lot more diverse that I may have thought previously. It’s one of those concepts that the closer you look at it, the more mind-bending/expanding things get (in a good way). For me, it goes beyond the colour of my skin.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Darn. Abidali makes a good point and one I wish I had been smart enough to make. (Did feel it bubbling in my head as soon as I pressed “send”): but yeah – it’s basically the paradox: there’s this poison that’s affecting your whole life and sense of self-identity and the best thing to relieve it and give you a sense of a release is ingesting more of the poison. Racist society sees me as being less-than because of my skin colour and so the best way to act against that is to make my skin colour into something to glorify and be triumphant in. And please please understand I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing and that people shouldn’t do it because hell: it makes total sense. But it seems like as a culture we’re getting to point where everyone is starting to under how representation is a good thing: so maybe it’s time to take the next step and get a deeper understanding of it’s effects and etc? Good things can have negative consequences (oh my).

But whoops – that wasn’t the thing that I wanted to say. The thing I wanted to say was: what would a poll of what race actually means to each of us look like? I mean: does it have to be a poll (check “yes” if you think Black = Good or check “yes” if you think Black = Bad)? I mean: this isn’t as simple and clear-cut but I think it would be a very interesting question to just ask everyone reading this in general: what does the concept of “Race” mean to you?

Or maybe we can just talk about how awesome Ab’s wedding sounds and how hurt I am that I didn’t get an invite… (I wanna sit on the 2000AD table!).

Joel wrote:

I tried to read this comic. Honest to god I did. Three times I sat down and read it. And my brain just spat it out. It was like trying to eat a piece of plastic.

I’m glad it’s not just me.

I had the same experience. It was on the Hugo nomination list last year and since we were going to Worldcon, I dutifully attempted to read all the nominees so I could cast an informed ballot. Obviously a lot of people love it, but I could not make it through. So yeah. Divergent tastes. (Full disclosure: I was Team Paper Girls / Saga.)

As far as some of your other points go about representation and ideology and capitalism and liberalism and thinking about thinking, I spent my afternoon bicycling around in snow and wind and sub-freezing temperatures thinking about the death of the liberal world order and the resurgence of the ethnostate in the wake of post-colonialism. I guess you could talk about post-colonial ethnostates in the context of Wakanda. Or write a clickbait hot take anyway.

All viewpoints aren’t true. They’re probably all varying degrees of wrong, though. Even this one.

I think all viewpoints are subjective. And I think we believe our subjective viewpoints are true. Which is not the same as them being objectively true. Only that we experience them as true, and we frame our beliefs and behaviour toward others as if they were true. We run ourselves into some serious problems when, as a society, we become afraid to challenge the assertion that individual subjective interpretations and perspectives are objective truth.

Whatever we think, whatever we feel, whatever gets us het up and morally righteous, whatever capital-T Truth we believe we carry within…. It’s all just biochemicals in our meat machines, baby.

Ramsey Hassan wrote:

Don McGregor & Billy Graham’s ‘Panther’s Rage’

That sample already looks way better than the Coates book.

Finally managed to get hold of Vol. 1! I liked it a lot more than I really expected to – I was expecting generic-superhero-but-with-added-‘urban’ (I have low expectations for DC/Marvel) and it really surprised me that the story was asking actual questions about identity and values.

It’s a shame it didn’t actually do anything to answer the questions, but I thought the setup was pretty cool. I’ve not seen the film (I agree with Josh’s take on Marvel films), I’ve read that TCJ article I linked, otherwise I came into this one blind. So you’ve got a super-powered king-by-divine-right, and a country with a ton of issues that’s really conflicted about him. By itself, that really floats my boat, there’s a really interesting power dynamic implied there, political power vs. brute force (and how much does one effect the other).

What struck me was: if you didn’t know Black Panther was the hero… does he come across as one? He’s pretty much the definition of a strongman ruler; he’s unelected, he has an elite guard of thugs, he proxy-kills striking workers in the first scene, puts political pressure on an academic who got uppity, etc. He doesn’t do anything in the book to make me think he’s good, he’s just another self-centered asshole. I’d honestly be much more interested in the story of how the people come together to fight against a super-powered despot than in how he (presumably) gets them to accept his rule.

I really enjoyed the fantastic four first appearance thing, though I’d be pissed if I’d bought the book – it kinda smacks of deadline issues to me, ‘oh shit we’re nowhere near done, how can we fill half the book?’ I’m enjoying the Adam West Batman series at the moment, so I had the right narrator-voice in my head to read it. It was fun in a goofy way, maybe the idea was to show how far Marvel has come from the ‘noble savage’ schtick?

rat queen wrote:

What struck me was: if you didn’t know Black Panther was the hero… does he come across as one? He’s pretty much the definition of a strongman ruler; he’s unelected, he has an elite guard of thugs, he proxy-kills striking workers in the first scene, puts political pressure on an academic who got uppity, etc. He doesn’t do anything in the book to make me think he’s good, he’s just another self-centered asshole.

This brings to mind the critique of Coates by Cornel West that Joel linked.

Black Panther is first and foremost American entertainment, by Americans for an American audience, from an American cultural perspective. And American culture idealizes a strongman: a rugged, take-no-shit, shoot-first, bend-them-to-his-will individualist strongman. American values are not necessarily values shared by other cultures and I think Black Panther needs to be considered in that context.

Americans share much more in common culturally with each other than they have differences because of their skin colours, whether they realize that or not. That must be balanced against the marketing of Black Panther as diverse — so much depends on where you’re sitting when you read it. If you’re a black American sitting in America reading about an idealized fantasy of an African state by a black American writer, that may feel diverse to you as a minority in American culture, but as someone who doesn’t live in America, the American-ness of it is probably going to be the dominant flavour.

This Black Panther is more interesting to me as an artifact in American culture wars over diversity and which Americans have the right to cannibalize non-American cultures and societies as creative fodder than it is as a creative work in itself. (I think the criticisms of the work itself have been pretty fair.)

Abidali Fazal wrote:

I also think that before we start talking about Joel’s idea of going beyond “white” people and “black” people, we should do a poll of what race actually means to each of us? I’m starting to wonder if the answers will be a lot more diverse that I may have thought previously. It’s one of those concepts that the closer you look at it, the more mind-bending/expanding things get (in a good way). For me, it goes beyond the colour of my skin.

I should probably have a good stiff drink before I answer that publicly on the internet.

Caveat: to me — talking about “race” in human beings is loaded with pseudo-scientific baggage predicated on biological essentialist ideas that should have been discarded along with garbage like phrenology. We have better, more specific, words for talking about commonalities in groups of humans than a term that lumps physical characteristics together with behaviours and language and beliefs and religion and ancestry and social norms and values &c. &c.

Race is a social construct well past its expiration date (much like gender) built on disproved beliefs and ideas and I think continuing to cling to it is demonstrably harmful to human beings. A couple years ago I read Gilles Kepel’s Terror in France, and one of the things I took away is how, much like religion, race is a thing you can use to form an identity group, and if you can command an identity group, that gives you some some measure of power. We love power, and we’re loathe to give up the beliefs that enable it and support our entitlement to it. The bitch of a social construct is, even when you know it’s made up, you’re still stuck because every one else believes in it. Not believing in something doesn’t protect you from the guy who does.

(You asked for it. :p )

I get what you’re saying, and I totally agree it’s an unhelpful concept. I think even being aware of that doesn’t stop the sort of constant low-level cultural racism that it’s really hard to even notice you’ve internalised. There’s just so much media that’s incredibly white-focused and sees non-white as ‘other’ (and usually worse), some of that is going to stick. I used to fly the ‘I don’t see skin colour’ flag, but I’ve come to realise that’s a sign of my priviledge in itself, that not worrying about (my) race is a luxury. Not sure if it was ever true, or just something I liked to tell myself to feel virtuous. I definitely notice people’s race a lot more now I’m not living in London, and realise how terrifyingly white the rest of the south is.

With representation as poor as it’s been in mass media, I think it’s inevitable you get the non-white characters seen as representing their race – such as with the Black Panther. Hopefully we can get past that. I think it’s starting to happen, but for the minute we’ve still got non-white protagonists being defined by their race instead of character.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Oh man. Reading Frankie’s email and kissing my fingers at the end of every line like I’m Colonel frigging Sanders.

Like: I guess that’s like my whole deal right there – I think it’s very good and positive development that the widespread use of cultural theory has got to the point where most people know what representation is and can think and talk about it’s consequences and the reasons why people need it – but then it just sorts of… stops there? Like: now the “rugged, take-no-shit, shoot-first, bend-them-to-his-will individualist strongman” is a black man – we can all celebrate and raise our hands in hallelujah? I get that probably most of you reading this think that I’m too critical about pretty much everything but I am genuinely convinced that it’s our only hope and our only way out. How can you escape from the prison if you don’t even know what the prison is and you don’t even know what the traps are?

Speaking of traps: here’s another one that I only really realised last week reading all the things people had said so far and thinking things over in my mind… (I should probably also have a stiff drink before I write this down because well – duh): but what if we take seriously the now commonplace idea that your experiences will shape your view of reality? Only instead of being triumphant and celebratory about it – what if we think about the other possibilities… Namely I guess the kinda familiar dynamic that repeats itself over and over again inside the internet and in real life (don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before) – where there’s a white guy saying “race isn’t real” and someone who’s not a white guy saying “race is real.” (And I think even so far on this thread – we’ve seen a version of that play out already). And here’s my heady idea: what if they’re both wrong / both right? Like: what if the “race isn’t real” guy doesn’t get and can never experience the feeling of what it’s like to a victim of racial violence or prejudice (because duh) and (uh oh): what if the “race is real” guy can’t get to the point where they can or want to be like: “oh yeah – race is just a social construct lol.”

Talking to a friend on Whatsapp and they were all like: “Why is it always the white people who say race isn’t real?” Like: well – I don’t think it’s a coincidence. My best guess (and please keep in mind that I could be wrong about this and please correct me if you think I am): but racism is such a violence and such a violation of identity that to get to the point or the place where you can think of it as a social construct is too much and probably not worth the effort and – (remember that stuff about “ressentiment” I mentioned up above?) it makes more sense as a psychological response to turn the wound into a source of pride. Because – what’s more fun? Critically examining the sources of the various ways you’ve been dehumanised or buying a ticket to go see Black Panther? (wooo). This might be a shitty metaphor – but the one that springs to mind is say that someone is obese – what’s going to be the more normal and understandable reaction? Taking the long tortuous steps to eat healthy and exercise and all that stuff that everybody hates and no one likes to do and takes so much time and energy and effort (urg!) or you know: eat some ice cream that will make you feel better?

And hey – I’ve got nothing against ice cream. I guess I’m just saying – maybe ice cream isn’t the way out?

(And also hey – not all non-white people think that “race is real” – you all remember that link I shared right at the start right: Beyond “Race Relations” An Interview With Barbara J. Fields & Karen E. Fields?)

Joel wrote:

Namely I guess the kinda familiar dynamic that repeats itself over and over again inside the internet and in real life (don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before) – where there’s a white guy saying “race isn’t real” and someone who’s not a white guy saying “race is real.” (And I think even so far on this thread – we’ve seen a version of that play out already). And here’s my heady idea: what if they’re both wrong / both right? Like: what if the “race isn’t real” guy doesn’t get and can never experience the feeling of what it’s like to a victim of racial violence or prejudice (because duh) and (uh oh): what if the “race is real” guy can’t get to the point where they can or want to be like: “oh yeah – race is just a social construct lol.”

Something being a social construct doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have real impact on people. Or even that you can opt out of it. (I think I made that point.) Our economic system is a social construct too, but it doesn’t make any sense to then argue that economic inequality doesn’t exist, or that you can just stop being poor by clicking your heels together three times and saying “I don’t believe in money.”

Did anyone else catch the Vogue piece about the next Black Panther spinoff?
https://www.vogue.com/article/black-panther-dora-milaje-comic-series-preview

It’s nice that they’re giving Ayo and Aneka another shot after canceling World of Wakanda, but it’s a little irritating that Vogue that doesn’t mention World of Wakanda at all and makes it sound like this is the first spin off.

“In Wakanda Forever: The Amazing Spider-Man, the Dora Milaje are finally getting their own arc…”

“Finally”? Because it’s been sooooo long since last year?


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

I’m trying to work out the best way to reply to this “Something being a social construct doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have real impact on people. Or even that you can opt out of it. (I think I made that point.) Our economic system is a social construct too, but it doesn’t make any sense to then argue that economic inequality doesn’t exist, or that you can just stop being poor by clicking your heels together three times and saying “I don’t believe in money.””

Like: when I first read it I thought the point was like: well yeah – you can say race isn’t real but that isn’t going to stop the racists. Just because you’re aware of what racism is and how it works or however the fuck – then that’s not really going to help you in your day to day life because your own mind only reaches to the edge of your skull. But then to me that just kinda begs the question of: well – what is the cure to racism? How can we best rid the world of this sickness?

(Question for everyone maybe: what do the best way to defeat racism?)

And well: yeah – from my vantage point (and this could be wrong) – it seems as if the current solution being offered is the Black Panther one – where: if we can just somehow change all of our films and TV and entertainment to be more diverse then that will change people’s minds and the racists will all stop being so racist. And hey: I like the idea and I hope that it works – and maybe it is working already because I’m guessing that the world is probably (all appearances to the contrary: probably as least racist as it’s ever been).

My worry tho is that this approach mixes up symptoms for the disease. And that ice cream while tasty doesn’t really work as medicine or treatment. But I guess my hope relies upon something way more than just changing one person’s mind. Because that’s not going to do anything. The only real hope I think is a change that works society wide and pretty much radically changes everything. So it’s not just more black faces in Marvel movies – which seems like little more than a drop in the ocean to me – but something more akin to a revolution where people no longer need to be defined by their skin colour. Like: maybe a form of social justice where the major end result is that Disney earns even more billions of dollars isn’t really social justice at all?

Or in other words maybe: you only way you can stop being poor is by people giving you more money. And maybe the best way to combat racial inequality isn’t by advancing one or two people – but by advancing everyone (aka: giving them more money?).

And if you wanna say: “well hey – we can do both.” Black Panther and social justice at the same time. Well – that just makes me think of this thing here: Looking Where The Light Is by Freddie deBoer.

“The reflexive, unthinking insistence on what we hypothetically could be doing in addition to fixating on symbolic victories seems remote from a real-world political condition in which we aren’t actually doing much more than that.”

Wakanda Forever.

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