Archive: How To “Counter” Racism

 

 

The view of downtown from the museum’s second floor. 

 

 

Originally Posted: 6/23/10

The following was my account after visiting the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in Greensboro, NC. Reposted for Black History Month. Greensboro is the home of the very first     Sit-In, an act that still holds significance in American History. If I had learned anything from this tour and observing the artifacts, it’s that racism extended to the smallest, pettiest details of everyday life. Details that are often left out of movies or books, for lack of generational knowledge. Once you see that, it doesn’t seem unusual that racists will pitch a feral shit-fit if a black person sits in the “white section” of the lunch counter or pour acid in a pool. Humans are the most hair-pulling creatures ever.

I would know, wouldn’t I?

Forgive the poor editing. I was new to blogging. Any updated thoughts will be in bold.

“This week was the first week of the International Civil Rights Museum. Located in the original Woolworth store where four North Carolina A&T students started a sit-in, it was the museum’s first week after its grand opening. One of my mother’s fellow church members works there and invited us on the weekend tour.  The tour began as most would: A guide introducing what was going one in the world at the time and showing us a transparent American flag that revealed jim-crow artifacts.

Among the artifacts was a Klanman outfit. I can’t mention any faster how much of a historical gold mine this suit is. Think about it: how many people are willing to donate a piece of their racist pasts? [I’ve since seen the Klan robe at the Smithsonian Museum of the African American] After ogling the sheet, the group moved onto the next room, collaged with images of church bombing victims, MLK Jr., and other marching photos. One of the photos on the walls depicted a victim from a Birmingham church bombing [Sarah Collins]. If you looked at her out of context you would ‘ve thought the picture was taken in a war-torn African country. She was laid in a hospital bed with the sheet bundled up to her shoulders. Her burned eyes covered with square bandages. As the group moved on, the guide began telling the story of the four students from A&T.

Using a room that held some of the original Dorm furniture from the time, the group was treated to a projected reinstatement film courtesy of the contemporary A&T Drama Club. The first detail that caught my attention was her mention of their ages in college: 17. My mother was the same age her freshman year and that started my mind working. What was going on back then that had 17-year-olds in college? What was wrong with the educational system today that 17-year-old high school seniors were now rarer? I came back to my thought about the students’ ages in college, I asked my mother why so many kids were younger than 18 by the time they were college freshmen. According to my mother, such an occurrence was typical but eventually, some students were found to be emotionally unprepared so policies were put in place that set a 6-month line requirement, before. I knew they did that for kindergarteners with late birthdays but this was a revelation for me. [Since then, I learned more about the old junior high school structure and have since met a few 17-year-old college freshmen in the 2000s.]

By the time my mind left that thought for the moment, the group had moved to the preserved Woolworth’s food counter where the students made their sit-in. Not having seen a genuine counter establishment, I expected something smaller or more in tune with the counters of a Silver Diner. However, this counter stretched from one wall to the next connecting wall and covered what I think were 25 stools. As for those stools, We saw green and salmon covers, which weren’t originally there. The guide told us they were replaced after the original black covers began to wear. Two of the intact seats are in the Smithsonian [With two more at the Newseum in Washington, DC and a few more at the MLK Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta]. After the counter display, we moved on to another section, which was again more or less historical items that represented Jim Crow and Black achievements during said time. There were some artifacts that leaned towards the absurd side of white supremacy, like a double-sided Coca-Cola Machine. One side had a 5 cent label while the other side had a 10 cent label covering a 6 cent label. Guess which side was for “Coloreds”? [Don’t get me started on the prohibition of vanilla ice cream for blacks. Just don’t]. Across from that Machine was an old Plaque from one of the department stores. According to its information, the restroom for colored men and colored women were on the lower level with the White men’s restroom. What was peculiar was the white women’s restroom which was all the way on the way on the second floor. After thinking about it for a while I theorized that they planned this so that white women could stay as far away from black patrons as possible while the white male patrons could keep an eye on them. Once again, racism is a strange thing. [This speculation was based on the confirmed knowledge that blackface actors were placed in scenes featuring white actresses in Birth of a Nation to avoid having them act with real black males. Watch the film closely. It’s true. As for the plaque, still speculation that holds weight.]

I should point out by now that through the collages on the wall, Jesse Jackson’s picture would show up more than one could ignore. Well, he’s there because he attended A&T like the four sit-in guys [but there was no other reason for the Jesse overexposure other than a shameless effort to boast a famous A&T alumnus on part of the museum, but I digress]. As a matter of fact, the displays included people who either attended A&T or were from Greensboro. I mean this IS a local museum, but they kept a lot of focus on national history, even ending the tour on a display about other groups throughout the world who fight the same injustices. [Of course, the struggles of the civil rights movement was just one of many human rights struggles that were and continue to be fought globally]. After the tour, my mom and I went down the street for lunch. At a Diner. At their lunch counter.” [The diner in question, Fincastle’s, has since closed permanently. It will be missed.]

 

20170503_135914

The cafeteria at the Smithsonian Museum of the African American

Advertisements

In Defense of Franklin

Status

image

*Edited 12/24 to correct Hank Ketcham’s Name*

Lately, I found myself once again in a social media debate that long tires me: “Charles Shultz is a racist.”

Why does this tire me? Well, the only backup people have for this claim is a) an inaccurate anecdote from a comedian, either Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, and b) a screenshot taken out of context. People seem to want to assume malicious intent of the man without knowing the whole story.

image

The scene that make Tumblr kids cry

First of all, the screenshot in question is from the animated Thanksgiving special, from which Shultz had little input. Second, Those animated adaptions are the only exposure to anything Peanuts most people have. Third, Franklin is a product of the 1960s, yet he and the image he features in is being judged by the values of 2015 and pop culture osmosis. Very few have actually seen Franklin Armstrong in the comic let alone know his character history and Shultz’ well-documented reasons for creating him. If they want to criticize the character or his creator, some research would be appreciated.

A Little Backstory

Franklin Armstrong was created in 1968 at the insistence of a schoolteacher, Harriet Glickman, who felt the strip needed to keep up with the newly integrated society. Shultz was hesitant to do so at first for fear of unintentionally insulting his black friends and colleagues. In the end he went through with the suggestion.

In Franklin’s introductory strip, he meets Charlie Brown on the beach. The two exchange stories about their families and themselves, allowing a bit of humanity for Franklin in doing so.

Sequential strips reveal the backstory and personality Shultz invested for Franklin. We see which members of the gang we prefers to socialize with (Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Chuck) and whom he chooses to keep a distance (oh, Lucy).

Where Shultz Went Wrong

So he gave Franklin personality. Do I believe Shultz to be a saint?

Hell no.

image

Minnesota’s already got the “saint” part covered.

As Shultz anticipated, Franklin’s interactions often had questionable intentions seen by 1960s standards. Too often, Its Patty who provides the equality lecture to Franklin, never the other way around.

image

image

The hell?

In other panels, he’s seen off to the side of the group. But, again, this is the result of a white artist who doesn’t get input from the people he’s trying to represent. But Shultz did admit to being fearful of making such mistakes. In comparison, Shulz received criticisms for petty details such as having Franklin sit in front of Patty in the class but ignored them. I doubt the producers of the Animated Specials shared his feelings, leading to more unfortunate moments.

And as dubious as that is, Shultz still did a better job. Take this comparison: a few years later, Hank Ketcham of Dennis The Menace tried to ape Shultz’ success by drawing his own race relations cartoon. To call it an epic fail is putting it lightly:

image

The Paula Deen of Cartoonists

Does that mean Franklin stands the test of time? Well, not anymore. The character was well needed to get media to include more minorities in their stories. However, overuse of this characterization by media up into the 1990s lead to the classic “token” black kid who has nothing more to his personality than a love for sports. Due to this development in media representation, Franklin is now lumped in with the archetype he unintentionally influenced.

To Be Frank

If anyone should have a problem with Franklin, it should be the sad fact that he’s becoming as outdated in 2015 as Ketcham’s blackface creature was in the 1970s. Nonetheless, Shultz did a noble thing for a middle aged white man in the 1960s. He fought criticisms to bring blacks on equal footing with whites. If anyone actually expected Shultz to straight up see the world with black people’s eyes and predict the future, then I say those people are reaching.

A Month of African-American Cartoonists

15244-imag0007

For February, I bring you a selection of black cartoonists. No, not Aaron McGruder, but the ones who paved the way for him.

During the Jim Crow Era, African Americans created their own version of whatever was not available to them among the larger society, and cartoons were no exceptions. As did so many American publications,  Ebony, Jet and The Afro-American hired cartoonists who provided a window into the black perspective on everyday life and social or political situations during both the Jim Crow era and throughout the Civil Rights movement.

After integration opened more opportunities, the world of mainstream cartoon syndication was not immune from the obstacles of on-the-job discrimination. Many Black cartoonists began submitting to mainstream syndicates, many found that they would be rejected on the grounds that another black cartoonist was already on the payroll (Ebony, Nov 1966 ). Absurd excuses didn’t stop them, though, and the persistence to find fair work paid off. From their hard work we got great artists like:

Zelda “Jackie” Ormes of Torchy Brown, and Patty Jo and Ginger
Robb Armstrong of JumpStart
Stephen Bently of Herb & Jamal
Ray Billingsley of Curtis
Barbara Brandon of Where I’m Comin From
Morrie Turner of Wee Pals (whom, as of this post is still working the young age of 89)
Buck Brown, who illustrated for Playboy, Jet and Ebony.
Bumsic Brandon Jr., who creator of Luther

Check out the links below and learn more about these African American men and women didn’t let the barriers of prejudice or discouragement keep them from to pursuing their passion:

The work of Jackie Ormes

http://www.jackieormes.com/

Spotlight on African American Cartoonists, from 1993 issue of Ebony:

https://books.google.com/books?id=EtQDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=Black+Cartoonist+ebony+magazine&source=bl&ots=EwW9QzzSbR&sig=rv1ylAYM3lV8o1AunJpdHDlIbDg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Wya9VKO1FsyzggTT74OwCw&ved=0CB8Q6AEwBg

Morrie Turner, who’s still working at age 89 (at the time of this article).
http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2012/12/30/at-89-first-nationally-syndicated-black-cartoonist-still-drawing-and-giving-back/

.

With Great Creativity comes Great Risk

By now I’m sure some of you have heard the news on the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which four cartoonists on staff lost their lives. The victims are pictured below.

CharlieHebdo_deadCartoonists

What triggered such a massacre? In a moment similar to that involving Sony Pictures and North Korea before Christmas, ISIS threatened to attack France in response to the publications’s cartoon featuring the group’s leader (pictured below).

CharlieHebdoCartoon

Being a cartoonist will never be easy.

Harn_Lay

Before I make my point, allow me to talk about another cartoonist.

At the International Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, one of the exhibits is dedicated to international human rights. As you walk toward the entrance of the exhibit, you’re graced with wall-to-wall photomural of people currently risking their lives doing what they can to fight for their basic rights around the world.

Among the individuals featured on the wall is cartoonist Harn Lay (pictured above), a former Burmese rebel soldier who fled to Thailand in 1988. He’s been on record to say that the Burmese government would imprison him for every cartoon he drew if he ever returned. Remember, Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a nation where free speech is on par with soviet- era Russia and current day North Korea. What does a cartoonist from a totalitarian nation have to do with the French bombing? Both involve cartoonists who’ve risked their lives to communicate through imagery, only the latter finally succumbed to that risk.

While the French Cartoonists in had little to fear from their government, they still faced the threat of retaliation from foreign groups and fellow citizens.

Something to think about for Americans drawing anti-police cartoons.