Thursday, July 9, 2015

Strange Fruit: When Writing Black Experience For A White Audience Goes Wrong

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

-"Strange Fruit", by Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol

"Strange Fruit" is one of Billie Holiday's most haunting and iconic songs, a haunting and moving metaphor for lynching in particular and racism in general.  The Library of Congress put the song in the National Recording Registry. It's been declared as one of the most important songs of the 20th century. So if you're going to release a comic invoking a name with that weighty a legacy, about an issue as volatile as racism, you want to make sure that you do things right. But even having the best of intentions doesn't mean you can't royally screw things up as comic critic and culture analyst J.A. Micheline writes in "The White Privilege, White Audacity, and White Priorities of STRANGE FRUIT #1":

Writing about Strange Fruit #1 has been a long time coming... since it was announced on February 20th — Dwayne McDuffie’s birthday. For readers who are unaware, Dwayne McDuffie was one of the most prominent black comics writers and, arguably, one of the most prominent black activists working within the industry. He is one of the few faces that looks like mine whose work specifically aimed to promote other faces like mine in the comics — on the page and off it — and for that alone, he represents a lot. And his birthday was the day BOOM! Studios elected to announce that two white men would be writing and drawing a title about the racist South called Strange Fruit.
...No, seriously, stop a second and look at this constellation of events. This comic, announced on Dwayne McDuffie’s birthday, about racism in the South by two white men is being marketed as a “deeply personal passion project.” Do I need to go into why I have some questions about why a story about racism is deeply personal to white people? Do I need to explain why I think that marketing choice was tone-deaf and perhaps even toeing the line into disrespect? Do I need to air my concerns about what that indicates about who this book is being marketed to and why I suspect it is not people who look like me?
The entire article is a great read and review of the comic itself.

I want to add to it that there’s already a comic called “Strange Fruit,” about black history, written and illustrated by black men.

Tumblr user spikedrewthis did a rundown of some of her favorite comics written and illustrated by marginalized people and you can check it out starting with this tweet: 

And here’s a list of webcomics by black creators: .

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