Sidewalk Soapboxing and My Race Radical Comic Series: Dreaming A Very Different Future

How one educator chose comic books as a medium to talk about race and identity and created (H)afrocentric: the Comic.

For months at Oakland’s First Friday, I have been selling my comic book, (H)afrocentric: the Comic, the story of a few undergrads of color at conservative “Ronald Reagan University.” The story centers around a protagonist, Naima Pepper, and her search for a political and racial identity in an increasingly hostile world. One night, a man who bought (H)afrocentric: the Comic opened up on his take on Naima Pepper. Pepper was similar to most recently politicized activists like himself when he was in college, he said: angry at first, pessimistic about the future, and in a passing phase marked by young naiveté. I thought that perhaps my writing was not clear enough. I wondered if he had missed the part about Naima Pepper questioning everything around her because she knew her life—much like the lives of other people that looked like her—was treated with less worth. I wondered where my writing had gone wrong.

I’ve been asked a number of times why I opted to go from being an educator to becoming a comic book writer. As an educator, one of my jobs is to do what James Baldwin called "beginning a disturbance, in someone else’s mind." I taught an introduction to political consciousness informed by the works of community organizer Malcolm X, prison abolitionist George Jackson, anti-racist and anti-imperialist activist Claudia Jones, and feminist poet Audre Lorde—they were ancestors we called upon during class.

Though I now work in the medium of comic books, I still converse with them. (H)afrocentric is the practice of dreaming in pen. Historian Robin Kelley writes about the idea of freedom dreams to call upon students, teachers, readers, and activists alike to imagine a different future. (H)afrocentric is a manifesto to create and a fantasy that calls on many freedom fighters.

In (H)afrocentric, Naima Pepper dreams from the vantage point of a leftist Black woman in this current moment. Assata Shakur is elected governor of New Jersey, UC Berkeley has a George Jackson endowment chair, and Hugo “Yogi” Pinell is freed after 40 years as a political prisoner. In different moments of her life, George Jackson and W.E.B. DuBois visit her in hallucinations, dreams, and visions. At times, we aren’t sure how and why these freedom fighters appear. For advice, guidance, or comic relief?

Another main character, Elizando “El” Ramirez, dreams of a time when the land is given back to its indigenous inhabitants. And yet, in this same scene poor black folks collect cans to secure their next meal. Naima Pepper oscillates between apocalyptic visions of the future and dire concern about her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

Of course, this comic is partly autobiographical— it's a world I want to see, but also a world I believe people are afraid to see. Folks may be aware of the high rates of imprisonment, bleak numbers regarding unemployment, and diagnosis of mental illness in Black communities, but those who climb up on their soapboxes are often dismissed as pessimistic or angry. But these issues require discussion and a radical dream.

When we think of the dream, the Martin Luther King speech is given the monopoly. Not all of our freedom dreams are the same though. The worker’s dream is to earn a higher wage. The immigrant’s dream is to be financially secure and blend into the new country of origin. The woman’s dream is equal pay for equal work and complete control over her body. But what is the dream of the enslaved?

Perhaps that man who bought my book on the Oakland streets recently sees anger as harmful to health and wellness. Anger, though, is but one emotion. It can be dismissed as illegitimate or overly emotional. It can also be a powerful catalyst for action. Understanding where Naima Pepper's seemingly unadulterated anger is coming from is vital.

Naima Pepper invites us to dream bigger. Frustration can root visions of freedom as well as fears of the future. The practice of imagining a different future is in part, a suture to our lack of feeling whole. My comics are just one small way to call out the structures that limit our humanity, and my own expression of a very different imagined future.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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The Planet
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

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via Twitter / Bye,Bye Harley Davidson

The NRA likes to diminish the role that guns play in fatal shootings by saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Which is the same logic as, "Hammers don't build roofs, people build roofs." No duh. But it'd be nearly impossible to build a roof without a hammer.

So, shouldn't the people who manufacture guns share some responsibility when they are used for the purpose they're made: killing people? Especially when the manufacturers market the weapon for that exact purpose?

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