The Comic Subtleties of Anti-Blackness
Sometimes it’s tucked away, hidden just beneath the tongue, or in that sly twist of the mouth…
Anti-blackness is so pervasive, and so deeply entrenched in the global collective consciousness, that I think media creators aren’t even aware of how they present and perform it on a regular basis. That’s me giving them the benefit of the doubt, in spite of all the evidence that suggests it’s intentional.
The image below is a cropped page from Image Comics’ SEX CRIMINALS, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. You can look up the premise of the book at the link above, but for this post, all you need to know is that the main character—a white woman named Suzie—is reflecting on her sexual history.
Take note of the ethnicities of the men she slept with, and the commentary that goes along with it. When it comes to the black man, and what is presumably a white man appropriating a black cultural aesthetic (red cap, Kanye shades), she says:
“It felt very silly. Like a mistake.”
Even if it were just the white dude in the Kanye shades, the image would’ve still evoked anti-blackness, because what makes such a guy “silly” or a “mistake”, is undoubtedly his proximity to blackness. White people came up with the term “wigger” to describe such a person. Wiggers aren’t reviled because they’re cultural appropriators, borrowing from black culture as a fad, while not respecting black people or their experience. White disdain for the “wigger” does not stem from some sense of justice. White people dislike “wiggers” because of all the racial groups to mimic, they’re choosing what to them is the most reprehensible: black people. Because I mean, like dude, seriously, have some self-respect!
You will not see the same revulsion expressed towards the white geek steeped in Japanese culture—because isn’t that so interesting, and isn’t he such a citizen of the world? Nevermind that his entry point was the desperate need to consume more anime and import video games, or in hopes of fulfilling some Asian bride fetish. Or how about the white girl who takes her Spanish classes seriously, deciding to study abroad in Spain, or Argentina—she was always so bright, wasn’t she? But the only proof you really need that white disdain for the wigger is anti-black, can be found in the word itself.
Wigger. Portmanteau of white nigger.
If it were just the white dude in the red hat, maybe it could be said I’m making a logical leap. That perhaps I’m being hypersensitive. But I don’t even have to make that leap, because Fraction and Zdarsky bothered to group the black dude and the wannabe under the same caption. And if you think it was mere coincidence that particular caption was superimposed upon those particular characters, just look at the neighboring caption:
“Sometimes it felt important and adult.”
Placed as it is over the images of two older white men, one holding a book as if to suggest an academic or someone equally “important”. There’s an inside joke in this panel, a subtle nod and an awkward chuckle, as we — some of us, anyway — acknowledge that the only way this white woman would’ve been romantically, or even just sexually involved with a black man, or a man who positions himself in cultural proximity to blackness, is through some flight of fancy.
Because no one takes wiggers seriously. Certainly not any self-respecting white woman. Don’t be silly. And having sex with black dudes? Yeah, right. Not even to make daddy angry. Especially in Suzie’s case, since her father died when she was in high school. No, no, the only way that could’ve happened is by mistake.
Believe me when I say that of all the ways black people could be represented in SEX CRIMINALS, the one place it wasn’t needed was amongst the Suzie’s sexual partners. In spite of all the rumors, mass advertising, the pining of black boys in the suburbs with no other choice, and the fears of white racists—enough to see whole towns burned to the ground—white pussy is not our holy grail.
Still, Fraction and Zdarsky did spare a whole thought for including a black man on this page, and as anyone familiar with comics will tell you, every panel, every image, every line, every caption, every letter, is meticulously considered. So while I want to give these fellows the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but imagine them laying out the storyboard for this page, and sharing a chuckle. Because jokes about black people—subtle, overt, spoken, illustrated, or told by a glance and a mutual nod—are just oh so hilarious.
Now that we’re all in on the joke, let’s laugh together, shall we?