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Monday, July 20, 2015 

Mark Waid's double-babble on the Confederate flag

Two weeks ago, Waid tweeted:

But just recently, I discovered he angered a fellow liberal with the portrayal of Confederate flags in a new book from Boom Studios called Strange Fruit, written by Waid and illustrated by JG Jones. The author of this review says that in her opinion, for example:
The reason why this comic was, amongst other things, A Bad Idea is because two white men are writing and drawing this book about racism and they have already decided that it is about them.
No surprise as far as Waid's concerned. I figure a lot of Waid's recent products are all about Waid, and not enough about the actual story within, which appears to be about an alien taking on the form of a black human and confronting racism in the south. But, there's problems:
This page features the naked body of the alien — one whose physical appearance is that of a black man — holding a tree trunk, with panels done in diagonal on either side of him, with the actual alien being used as a panel border. (I’m also appreciative of the pattern at the bottom of his foot, a subtle narrative communication of him being non-human.) It’s one of the more thrilling page layouts that I’ve ever seen — but it comes with some things.

This scene is our first engagement with this alien, who, for the rest of this piece I will designate as black male, as that is how he will be read both in-universe and out of it. This black male alien is superhuman and he does not speak, or perhaps has not spoken yet but the narrative suggests that he does not or cannot. He is attacked by Klansmen who are attempting to lynch him and the other black male character whose name might be Sonny (I’m not sure as it might just be how whites are referring to him) and our alien responds with an impressive show of strength. So, our knowledge of this alien is that he’s a black man, he’s superhumanly strong, and he does not speak — and this is kind of a problem.

You see, there is a long history of stereotyping black men as being physically aggressive and displaying them as intimidating physical forces, often to the level of being superhuman. That narrative is often given in parallel with white intelligence, presenting the brutish black of preternatural strength with one hand and the smart white of great intellect with the other even when placed in exactly the same environment. Comedians Key and Peele do a great job of delineating how this coded racism has found its way into, for example, sports commentary. This depiction of the superhuman black has led to dire consequences for a number of black youth in America, to name a few: Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. White police feel so threatened by black men, fear their purported strength, aggression, and animalistic tendencies, that they believe themselves justified when gunning them down in cold blood.

Of course, there’s the argument that, in this case, the character in question is genuinely superhuman. The alien isn’t a stereotype because it’s actually true, right? But here’s the problem: He does not speak. He does not show any capability of speaking. He has not shown any level of intelligence beyond sentience, any goals, any desires, any anything. For all intents and purposes, he could have been an animal. Sure, maybe he’s going to speak in the next issue, but I have no reason to think that he will given the way the character has been presented in this first issue. So, instead of presenting a subversion of a stereotype, the creators have managed to create the ultrastereotype by making the physicality of incredibly strong (and nameless) black man who cannot or does not speak the push of this splash page, and ultimately, his current identity.
Interesting how the reviewer feels. First, Waid and Jones resorted to sloppy stereotypes of black men as gigantic and menacing. Unfortunately, the writer apparently sides with Martin and Brown, ignoring the evidence and testimonies against them. Still, the argument about stereotypical rendition of the alien is interesting, and suggests Waid's not as creative as he probably thinks he is. Now, here's the really bewildering part:
After the alien runs off the Klansmen, Sonny, the human black man, notes that white people aren’t going to like it very much if the alien runs around naked. He looks for something to cover up the alien and finds the Confederate Flag. The last page shows our superhuman black alien in a heroic pose with the Confederate Flag wrapped around his waist, as Sonny says, “Them white folks really ain’t gonna like that.”

I am dead serious. And I am furious.

Waid, Jones, and BOOM! Editorial decided that it was just fine to pose a strong. heroic black man with a Confederate Flag for clothing — as dressed by another black man.

Really.

And you want to know why? Because Waid and Jones spent a lot of time considering what white folks are or aren’t going to like without once stopping to think about what black folks really ain’t gonna like.
Yes, that IS bizarre if Waid thought he could write the alien wrapping himself in a symbol blacks would find objectionable, and another black guy thinking this was fine in the context of the story's topic. You could have a story where an alien comes to earth during the 1st and 2nd world wars, and it wouldn't look good if they dressed themselves with nazi and Ottoman Turkish symbols either. What was Waid thinking? If he thought he could impress upon the black community with this slapdash premise (or left-wingers, for that matter), it's clear he was mistaken. And Waid even complains about a politician upholding the flag while using it himself in his own scriptwriting? Tsk tsk.

Since we're on the subject, it's interesting that he rails against a right-wing senator for upholding the Confederate flag...but not against a former left-wing Congressman who did the same, Ben Jones, formerly mechanic Cooter Devenport on the Dukes of Hazzard, that slapstick adventure that ran during 1979-85 and had 2 reunion TV films in 1997 and 2000. He served in Congress during 1988-92 before later returning to acting again. Wow Waid, how come you're so hot and bothered about a rightie politician upholding the flag, but not about a leftie politician who's done the same? Hazzard County must be having a big laugh at your hypocrisy, Waid! But don't worry, I'm sure sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane will give you a job. I can see him on the screen now, saying, "Just lookit that, Flash! A fellow southerner from our neighboring state of Alabama is espousing double-talk (ch-ch)! That'd go over perfect at our local constabulary! We should hire this Waid feller as a deputy and have him read me bedtime stories! I'll call him up right now on collect, 'cause our budget is a bit tight for phones! Kuh-kuh-kuh, I love it, I love it!" (and Flash says, "Woof!") By the way, is it any coincidence Waid comes from Hueytown, which has the name of Boss Hogg's conniving nephew Huey, who drove around in a Volkswagen Beetle? He probably has a bit in common with Huey's personality too, proving life imitates art.

The more Waid keeps ranting without clear direction, the more he puts his foot in his mouth and spoils his comics storytelling by extension. As a result, he only ends up losing liberals as much as conservatives for an audience. How well his Strange Fruit series will do is anyone's guess, but it's already clear it may only sell in the few thousands, and not in the millions, and anybody who feels the same way as the reviewer is less likely to buy the book.

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I don't see why people want to put up Confederate flags, they're just a reminder of a failed nation.

The shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were both justifiable homicides, committed in self-defense. Tamir Rice pointed a realistic-looking toy gun at a cop, forcing the cop to make a life-or-death decision in a split second. And Eric Garner was not shot (or choked to death, either). He died of medical complications resulting from his own obesity.

Vicki Weaver was shot by an FBI sniper while holding a baby (not a weapon, or even a toy weapon) in her arms. And Dillon Taylor was shot by a (non-white) cop while trying to pull up his loose pants. Evidently, the cop panicked and thought Taylor was drawing a weapon. Is there a stereotype about women with babies, or about unarmed white men wearing baggy pants, that makes non-white cops and federal agents feel justified in shooting them "in cold blood"?

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