Oh Come All Ye White Saviors

machine gun preacherLast week, Salon magazine’s David Sirota penned an article titled, “Oscar Loves a White Savior.” In it, Sirota noted that “If a movie features white people rescuing people of color from their plight, odds are high an Oscar will follow”–singling out current Oscar contender Lincoln and showing ten others in the past three decades that have done much the same. On some sites, and even CNN, the article was met with surprise, shock and (of course) spasms of denial. However, if anyone is unaware of the white savior motif, which has become a Hollywood staple, it’s only because of its troubling normalcy.

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Black Empire: George Schuyler, Black Radicalism and Dieselpunk

blackempire3232011Sometime in the 1930s, a black journalist is kidnapped in Harlem by the charismatic Dr. Henry Belsidius, leader of the Black Internationale–a shadowy organization determined to build a Black Empire and overthrow the world of white racial hegemony with cunning and super science. Journalist George S. Schulyer’s fantastic tale was written in serials in the black Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks. It quickly found a loyal following among African-American readers, who saw in Dr. Belsidius and the Black Internationale a heroic, sci-fi tale of black nationalism, triumph and race pride. The newspaper was surprised at the serials’ growing popularity, and pushed for more–sixty-two in all. Yet no one was as surprised at the story’s success than George Schulyer who, disdaining what he saw as the excesses of black nationalism and race pride, had written Black Empire as satire.

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Carnival of Fury- The Ballad of Robert Charles

robert charlesIn 1900 a black laborer named Robert Charles set off a massive manhunt after an altercation with several New Orleans police officers. Before all was done, Charles would shoot well over 20 whites sent to apprehend him, killing several. Altogether, 28 people (the exact number is truly unknown) would die in riots, including Charles, who made a last stand in a burning building. The violence that surrounded him continued to swirl and claim others even after his death. Previously unknown, the last turbulent days of Charles life would make him a monster to many and a folk hero to others. For blues artists he became one of the legendary “bad men”–those near mythic black personas of superhuman capabilities whose defiance of white authority was both frightening, dangerous and captivating all at once. He even had a ballad written in his honor. The famed Jelly Roll Morton would relate his own experience of the event in an oral tale to musicologist and archivist Alan Lomax, tying Robert Charles to an influential moment in the creation and dispersal of American Jazz.

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Race and Comic Books

JLA 173“You’re the second donkey who’s tried blastin’ me away tonight, and like I tole the other fella, you got a lot to learn ’bout Black Lightning!”–Justice League of America #173 This week there was a disturbance throughout the geek “interwebs” after John Hugues at Comics Alliance published an article titled Outrage Deferred: On The Lack Of Black Writers In The Comic Book Industry. This has led to talk of Dr. Jonathan Gayles’s 2012 documentary, White Scripts, Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books. We’re also fast approaching the anniversary of the birthday and death of black comic book pioneer Dwyane McDuffie. All of this has magnified the usual buzz on race in comic books. And it jogged my memory. Back in 2000, I actually wrote on this very topic, as part of a presentation for a friend’s Blacks in Media course. In the fast-changing world of comic books however, that is of course several dozen crossovers ago. Nevertheless, given all the recent talk, decided to dig up the article and thought, what the heck, it’d make a decent blog. Continue reading