In 1900 a black laborer named Robert Charles set off a massive manhunt after an altercation with New Orleans police. 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. The last turbulent days of Charles life would make him a monster to many and a folk hero to others. For black musicians, he became one of the legendary “bad men”–those near mythic black anti-heroes of superhuman capabilities, whose acts of defiance were both celebratory, captivating and frightening.
So it’s happened. Matt Smith, the latest incarnation of everyone’s favorite Time Lord, will be leaving Doctor Who at the end of the year. Goodbye to the Fezes and Stetsons. Oh, and did you hear there’s a book coming out that calls the series “thunderously racist?” Ruh-roh! Get ready for some Racey-Wacey-Timey-Wimey stuff.
When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.
–H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of Niggers (1912)
“Socialism is the preparation for that higher Anarchism; painfully, laboriously we mean to destroy false ideas of property and self, eliminate unjust laws and poisonous and hateful suggestions and prejudices.”–H.G. Wells
Men in Black, my contribution to the recently published STEAMFUNK Anthology, explores the darker side of the Victorian and Progressive Era, a minor Steampunk tale (no airships, corsets or zombies) about a lynching, the arrival of a mysterious stranger, his fantastic machines and the fate of a small town called Blackwood.
Sometime 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.
“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 →