Reflections of the Self in “Infidel”

As I prepared to teach Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, and Jose Villarrubia’s Infidel, a lot of things stuck out. However, when I reread the haunted house story where the monsters that terrorize the characters are the manifestations of racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia, I became intrigued by a few specific scenes where the monsters appear in the reflections of objects such as knives and mirrors. Today, I want to look at those scenes and discuss them within a larger context of ideas that I have been exploring on this blog and in my other writings.

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Psychological Effects of Racism in “The Silence of Our Friends”

Over the last two posts, I’ve looked at some scenes in Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell’s The Silence of Our Friends. Today, I want to wrap up that discussion by examining a sequence where Larry takes Danny to Freeport to go crabbing. There are countless other sequences and scenes that I could discuss, but every time I read The Silence of Our Friends, this sequence stands out, specifically for the ways that it conveys so much emotion merely through Powell’s illustrations, the majority of the sequence has no words, and in this manner, it highlights the power that graphic texts have in the ways that they use the interactions between words, images, and layout to transmit the emotion to the reader.

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Building Bridges in “The Silence of Our Friends”

Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell’s The Silence of Our Friends opens with Mark playing war in 1968 in Houston, TX. He crawls through the front yard pretending to be an American soldier as he searches for Vietcong soldiers before engaging them. His sister Michelle wants to join him, and Mark gets angry because he doesn’t “wanna play with no girls.” Eventually, after Michelle threatens to tell their mother, Mark acquiesces and they play together, pretending to be American soldiers fighting a war halfway around the world. Their play, informed by the war and the culture, gets upended though when they return inside the house and come face to face with the reality of the war.

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August 28, 2020

On Saturday August 29, 2020, I awoke and checked my phone. The notification from one of the news services told me that Chadwick Boseman had passes away of cancer at the age of 43. In 2016, he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. He did not speak publicly about the diagnosis, and over the course of the next four years he filmed various films including Marshall, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Along with these, he completed some of the biggest action films of the past few years with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: End Game. On top of all of this, he starred in 2018’s Black Panther, a cinematic and cultural touchstone.

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“Our Laws Must Be Upheld”

When I was younger, I used to watch old black and white television shows on Nick at Nite and other channels. After watching the shows, I used to think that people, before the advent of color television or even technicolor, saw only in black and white. I used to think that what they saw through their eyes consisted of only two colors and shades in between. Thinking back on this, the idea that people only saw in black and white created within my mind a distance, a distance that created the period of these television shows or movies as bygone eras, eras far removed from my birth in 1978.

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“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

“The ill-conceived protests cannot be presented with the sensible way of presenting a grievance.”

Where did this quote come from?

It came, slightly altered, from a 1963 newspaper article condemning the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom, the event where Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his famous “I Have A Dream Speech.”

Mobile Register, August 30, 1963

You know, the one where he says that he dreams that one day children of all colors will join together, hand in hand.

You remember, right?

Do you also recall the beginning of that speech?

The part where he says, “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note [of equality] so far as her citizens of color are concerned.”

Or, do you remember where he continues to call for nonviolence, but he takes on the voice of whites opposed to civil right, asking, “When will you be satisfied?”

Do you remember how he responds? No, well, he says, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

Reading about the 17-year old who fatally shot 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber; got water from officers at the scene; walked past them after shooting two more people as individuals tried to subdue him, my mind started racing.

After hearing the the police chief’s comments claiming that if people weren’t out after curfew this wouldn’t happen; that the 17-year old was “involved in the use of firearms to resolve whatever conflict was in place,” my mind started racing, tracing lines from the present to the past.

After hearing a commentator ask, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”, my mind kept moving backwards, tracing the patterns.

After hearing the Vice President’s words at the Republican National Convention, “The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha, too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color,” my mind inched even further into the past.

Do you want to know where my mind drifted?

I went to 1848 and John C. Calhoun’s speech on the Oregon Bill. In that speech, he stated, “With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and the poor, but white and black, and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals, if honest and industrious, and hence have a position and pride of character of which neither poverty nor misfortune can deprive them.”

I went to 1861 and Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens’ “Cornerstone Address” when he used Biblical imagery and reasoning to justify enslavement of individuals and the laws. He said, “Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders ‘is become the chief of the corner’–the real “corner-stone’–in our new edifice.”

I went to 1861 and the chapter in Harriett Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl where she discusses the fears that enslavers had over Nat Turner’s rebellion: “It was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no negroes of their own to scourge. . . . All day long these unfeeling wretches went round, like a troop of demons, terrifying and tormenting the helpless. At night, they formed themselves into patrol bands, and went wherever they chose among the colored people, acting out their brutal will. Many women hid themselves in woods and swamps, to keep out of their way. If any of the husbands or fathers told of these outrages, they were tied up to the public whipping post, and cruelly scourged for telling lies about white men. The consternation was universal. No two people that had the slightest tinge of color in their faces dared to be seen talking together.”

I went to 1868 and the Bossier Massacre where over 160 African Americans were murdered in a violent act of voter suppression and no prosecutions occurred even though the authorities and the Freedmen’s Bureau knew the killers. Earlier in the year, when voters went to ratify the 1868 Louisiana Constitution, the Bossier Banner ran an article entitled “White Men to the Rescue!” which read, in part, “If you don’t want negro equality forced upon you, go to the polls and vote against the proposed Constitution, framed by the social banditi, domestic bastards, catamites, scalawags, slubberdegullions, cow thieves and jay-hawkers of Louisiana.”

I went to 1895 and Ida B. Wells’ The Red Record. Describing the lynching of Paul Hill, Paul Archer, William Archer, and Emma Fair in Alabama, she wrote, “Then these lynchers went quietly away and the bodies of the woman and three men were taken out and buried with as little ceremony as men would bury hogs.”

I went to 1896 and Justice Henry Billings Brown’s majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson. There, he wrote, “The object of the [Fourteenth] Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.”

I went to 1961 in Montgomery when citizens attacked Freedom Riders as officers stood by or joined in. I went to the picture of a bloodied John Lewis and a bloodied James Zwerg. I went to a burned out bus on the side of the road.

I went to 1963 and the bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church where Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair we’re murdered.

I went to 1965 and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. You know, the bridge where officers tear gassed and beat marchers senseless.

I went to 2015 when officers apprehended the murderer of Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was the church’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. Oh yeah, the officers took the killer for Burger King afterwards.

I went to August 8, 2020, when officers in Bossier City shot at 34-year-old Jonathan Jefferson 16 times, killing him in his front yard. He was bipolar and had schizophrenia.

I went to August 15, 2020, when 56-year-old Jeff Booker shot a sheriff’s deputy in the shoulder, had a standoff with officers, and was apprehended in DeSoto Parish. Booker has a history of mental illness and drug abuse.

I went to August 21, 2020, when officers in Lafayette shot 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin 11 times. He has a history of mental illness and drug related arrests.

I went to backwards from there to July 24, 2019, when 47-year-old Jason Pike barricaded himself in his home and shot at deputies. He was apprehended.

My mind went to a lot of places, too many to document here.

But I have a question for you.

Do you see a pattern?

My point is multifaceted.

For one, as William Faulkner succinctly put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The other is that a true discussion of our history and what happened during the Civil Rights era, during Jim Crow, during Reconstruction, during the Civil War, during America’s founding, during colonization, and on needs to occur.

Remember, enslavers wrapped their desire to enslaver others in the cloak of Christianity and Divine Providence.

Remember, powerful, wealthy whites told poor whites they were “upper class” because they were white.

Remember, slave patrols consisted of poor white and existed to squash rebellion.

Remember, voter suppression has always occurred.

Remember, people knew who committed lynchings, who killed individuals and left their bodies hanging from the trees.

Remember, the Civil Rights era was not peaceful.

Remember, police, north and south, brutalized marchers.

Remember, the Civil Rights Movement occurred less than a generation ago.

Remember, Ross Barnett, George Wallace, Bull Connor, and more proclaimed they were keeping order while the marchers marched to say, “I am not inferior. I am human.”

They marched to say, “Do not kill me. I am human.”

All I can say is ”The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”


“The Silence of Our Friends”: The Past is Not Past

Recently, I reread Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell’s The Silence of Our Friends, a graphic novel that tells the story of the events at Texas State University in 1967 and 1968, events that would become known as the TSU Riot even though a more apt label, as Black Past puts it, would be a “police riot.” While the novel tells the story of what happened at TSU in 1968, the core focuses on the relationship that arose between Mark’s father Jack and Larry Thomas, an African American activist and organizer in the Fifth Ward, and their families. As I reread The Silence of Our Friends, there were multiple moments that stood out, but two key scenes leapt out at me because as I read them I kept thinking about contemporary incidents which mirrored them.

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500th Post: David F. Walker Syllabus

For a while I have been thinking about a syllabus based on the work of David F. Walker. Recently, I was spurred on to work up a tentative syllabus through a discussion online, and as such, this is what I present to you today. This syllabus is in not way complete. However, it is meant to serve as an introduction to the ways to frame a course around a singular comics author. As I said, I have been thinking about this some over the past few years, specifically since I have read a lot of Walker’s work and connected with it in various ways.With that said, you will find the syllabus below.

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Subverting the Superhero in Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s “Incognegro”

Last post, I started writing about Zane Pinchback’s transformation into Incognegro in Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s graphic novel. Specifically, I focused on Zane looking in the mirror and having the haunting specters of the past superimposed over his reflection in the mirror. Today, I want to continue this discussion by looking at the rest of this seen, notably the next panel where the American flag waves in front of Zane’s reflection as he stares at himself in the mirror. This panel, along with the entire scene, plays upon superhero tropes and iconography, and the ways that the scene deploys those tropes is important within the context of the book.

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Two Individuals, Two Narratives

On the night of August 8, Bossier City Police officers in Louisiana responded to a domestic disturbance call. When they arrived, they encountered 34-year-old Jonathan Jefferson, a Black man who, since the age of 21, struggled with being bipolar and having schizophrenia. Jonathan came out of the house. His relatives say he had a knife in his hands before police arrived, but they were not sure if he still possessed it when he met the officers. When they exited their vehicles, the officers had their guns drawn. They ordered Jonathan to drop the knife, or knives, and when he kept walking towards them they shot him. He was pronounced dead in front of his home.

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Haunting in Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s “Incognegro”

In preparation for my fall literature class, I reread Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery. There are a lot of aspects of the book I could discuss, and that I want to discuss with students. One of these will definitely be looking at Incognergo in relation to themes that James Baldwin discusses in his essay “Stranger in the Village.” As well, we will examine Francis Jefferson-White’s passing as a white male in the text. Zane Pinchback asks, “Who would pretend to be a white man in this world? What could be the possible advantage of that?” Zane’s questions encapsulate Incognergo and the ways that white supremacy and patriarchy oppress individuals. I may discuss these aspects in future posts, but today I want to focus on a specific scene early in the novel, the scene where Zane become “Incognegro.”

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“What if . . .?”: Questions About Education

The other day, Beth Loveland emailed me with her thoughts after she read Ashley McCall’s “What If We Radically Reimagined The New School Year?” As I read McCall’s article, I kept thinking about Lillian Smith and her comments to Mr. Hartley about education. McCall asks us, among a myriad of important questions, “What if we recognized that life—our day-to-day circumstances and our response to them—is curricula?” This, to me, is key. In her letter in Mr. Hartley, Smith tells him that its important to remember that “what one does with one’s mind outside of the classroom” is just as important if not more important than what one does inside the classroom. Bringing those experiences from our lives to our learning is important, and for me, it’s the most important aspect of education. We must connect students’ and our own experiences with what we teach. Below, you will find Beth’s email which she has graciously allowed me to share with you.

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