Octavia E. Butler’s KINDRED

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

It is Martin Luther King Jr. day here in America.

Over the weekend the prez elect* has called out Senator John Lewis for being a do-nothing-talk-without-action kind of guy. The accusation is astonishing and ridiculous. (Please read March: Books 1-3 if you want to know what action looks like.)

coverI wanted to draw attention to work other than March on this MLK day. So, I want to highlight and call attention to the graphic novel adaptation of Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.

If you’ve never read Butler’s work, you have missed out on some mind bending sci fi work. I’m not a big fan of the genre but I have read the Lilith lyapo series (Dawn, Imago, Lilith’s Brood, and Adulthood Rites) series. Butler is not a great Black sci fi author. She is a great author who writes sci fi and is Black.

What’s the difference you might ask? Isn’t that just semantics?

And I would answer, NO! Her storytelling is tightly constructed, her characters are whole people I had a hard time letting go, and they are diverse. The characters are good and bad – often at the same time – Black, White and alien (with tentacles and everything!). She deftly crafts settings that are unknown and familiar.

But, for all this love I must confess I never read Kindred. It didn’t sound interesting … I am not a historical novel kind of gal and when I saw the book was about a contemporary (it was written in the 80s) Black woman being summoned through time to to save a White boy in the Antebellum south, I was out. Not interested in the least. Hard pass.

But, now Damian Duffy and John Jennings have written a graphic novel adaptation … so, I had to read it. I downloaded a review copy while ago, before Christmas at least, but put off reading it. I continued to be not interested.

Turns out, I’m an idiot.

kindred_p1From the first page with the startling image of a Black woman in a hospital bed and the first line of text, “I lost my arm on my last trip home” I was hooked. This book captured my attention and held on for dear life. I have read it several times, and still think about it. There is something artfully painful about the struggle, both historical, and fantastical that this graphic novel captures.

Set in the summer of 1976, Dana, a contemporary Black woman, married to a White man, living the life of a struggling writer is wrenched out of her time deposited in the Antebellum south. She arrives just in time to save a young White boy, Rufus, from drowning. But, there is no explanation of how or why she transported through time and space. And, perhaps more importantly, no clear way for her to get back.

I was less intrigued than I was scared crapless by the set up. Did I mention Dana is BLACK, and not some high-yellow Black with straight hair and light eyes that could pass. Nope. Dana is dark skinned with a tight afro, large lips, and broad nose. There is no hiding her Blackness and I think that is an especially important aspect to this adaptation. The protagonists, the heroine, is a woman who is illustrated to be unmistakably and unabashedly Black.

Dana discovers that she can and does return to her life when she is in a life threatening situation. Right after she saves the boy, some unseen person draws a gun on her and aims it at her head. She returns to her home, to the shock of her husband who saw her blink out of existence and then reappear a few seconds later, wet and muddy and in a panic. The second time Dana lands on the plantation, she has more time to discover what is going in, but honestly, it still doesn’t make sense! Instead, I was worried about her getting caught and killed or worse. I mean … HELLO!! Black Woman on a freaking PLANTATION!!!

As the book continues, Dana keeps going back and forth and each time she is in more and more danger. Each time the violence she must endure is worse. As she gets more accustomed to the level of violence and pure hatred she experiences as a Black woman on the plantation, the violence required to return her to 1976 increases as well. In other words, the more time she spends surrounded by systematic, socially accepted, violent racism the more inured she becomes.

Sound familiar?

The novel is challenging to read. The illustrators are brutal in their depiction of the violence against Black bodies. It also passes the Bechdel Test many times over. I’m glad I took the time to read outside my comfort zone. You should, too.

 

 

*I will never add his name into the social media sphere because it feeds the beast.

 

Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

A friend and colleague asked me to take a look at a new graphic novel, Indeh by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth. She is considering it as a text for her secondary history and social studies education class. At first glance it looked interesting, so I agreed to read it with a more critical eye.

The Book
Ethan Hawke, yes … Ethan Hawke the actor from Gattaca, Snow Falling On Cedars, and Boyhood … has been fascinated with Indians of the old west since he was a child. As an adult his fascination continued and he watched movies like Smoke Signals and read books by Sherman Alexie to get an authentic view of the Native American experience. According to Hawke’s author note Indeh was originally a screenplay that he had no luck getting it to the screen. Instead, Hawke connected with Greg Ruth and created a graphic novel based on Hawke’s study of history.

The Issue of Representationdiversityinchildrensbooks2015_f
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center found in their survey of 2015 children’s books there are painfully few representations of American Indians in books written for children. In addition to the sheer lack of books, the actual representations are warped most of the time.

My “Knowledge”
My scholarship focuses on representation of marginalized people in graphic novels. That is a big group of people and includes many communities I am not a part of, and have little knowledge about. When I read a graphic novel that centers a marginalized community I am not a part of I have to do some extra work and ask questions of myself as a reader. I usually begin by making a list of what I “know” about the community, and this “knowledge” includes my own biased views, stereotypes and family lore. For this books I wrote a list about Apaches;

  • Apache live in the southwest desert.
  • They live on both sides of the boarder.
  • According to my grandfather when the Anasazi abandoned their lands half when north and became Pueblo, Apache and Navajo indians. The other half went south and became Cora (my family) and Huichol.
  • My tio Jesus (HEY-sus) – who was actually my great uncle on my grandfathers side – was called el Apache or el indio by our family.
  • Apaches were great fighters and basically kicked our (Mexican) butts in 2 wars. First, in 1821, just after Mexico gained independence, and then again around 1880.
  • The 1880 war where Geronimo and Chato rose up and kicked Mexican butts.
  • Mexico has never had a great army.
  • The first Mexican battles against Chato and his Apache warriors – and I am never sure who the players were or what side my family members were on – took place in Chihuahua where my tia Theresa’s family originated.
  • Apaches are awesome fighters, can live on nothing but dust, and never forgive their enemy.
  • All of the stories I heard are about Apache men – never women.
  • Although I suspect there are different bands of Apache, I have no idea what those bands are or where they are located.

Reading the Words and Images
The inside cover is a two page black and white spread depicting a level of violence I would usually just skip over. Men with hand guns, rifles, bows and arrows killing and being killed. I spent some time on this image and came to realize that the White men – as signaled by their clothes and equipment – were dead or being killed whereas the Apache were the ones doing the killing. In one section an Apache seems to be turning from killing one White man who lays on the ground towards another who is struggling with two arrows in his back. The Apache has no shirt on, and there is blood spilling off the knife in his hand.

There is an extremely complimentary foreword written by Douglas Miles, owner of Apache Skateboards. Miles is a member of the Apache nation.

The beginning of the books is difficult to place in time. It seems to jump from “present” to “past” but there is no way for me, as a reader, to orient myself to the time period.
The book opens with Cochise telling two boys, Naiches (his son) and Goyahla, a creation story while standing in a stream. This fades into a first person narrative by one of the boys who states, “Many of our people had lost much in the massacre …  … but I had lost all”. This line is set beside the image of a person’s forehead and one open eye, their long, dark hair flowing across the panel from right to left, with blots of something that could be ink or blood.  (p.9, pn. 3).

The next page has a banner “Seventeen Years Later – Mexico” and a single panel makes up the entire page. A man sits close by a woman who appears dead and bloody. The story in the text is that of a man who had to bring 100 ponies to win permission to marry. The panels alternate between a light grey past filled with intimate closeup of the man and woman and his collecting the horses, and what seems to be the present violent death of a woman. There is no clear perpetrator. There is no other person aside from the man who seems to be the narrator. I was not sure if he had killed his wife or if his wife was killed by unseen forces.

As I read further, it became clear there was a mass killing and this man, Goyahla, had survived but his wife and daughter were killed. He sets a funeral pyre alight (p. 20) but on the next page it is not on fire and a hawk or eagle lands on the pyre and tell Goyahla that he will be impervious to guns (p. 22-24). He asks permission to lead a war party against the Mexicans who are, according to the text, responsible for the deaths of his family. For the next few pages Goyahla and Cochise raise an army from among the Bands of the Apache nation.

The next two-page spread (p. 34-35) is another bloody, violent scene full of smoke, running horses, and death. What struck me about this and many other pages within this book was the way the violence is portrayed, and by whom and upon whom the violence is being inflicted.

p34-35-annotated

What I want readers to see in this example is that the Apache are on the move, shooting and killing unarmed men, women, and children. Thus far they are the ONLY violent actors shown.

On page 39 Goyahla is shown in the act of scalping someone. On page 41 he rams a knife through a mans chin and into his skull. On page 42 and 43 Mexicans are seen as bleeding victims with arrows and spears protruding from their bodies. On the second panel of page 43 a dead baby is seen floating down a river. The image is tied in with the sequence of the Apache killing unarmed Mexicans.

The book continues in this manner. Neither White Americans nor Mexicans are seen as the actual perpetrators of any level of violence. The images in the book are almost always of the aftermath of massacres or killings by the army on the Apaches. The military are responsible for the hanging deaths of a groups of Apache on page 94-95, but the immediacy of the act is not shown, only the aftermath. Again and again White soldiers are depicted threatening violence and the American government makes and breaks promises and treaties, but the direct image of Whites perpetrating violence on Apache bodies is not seen, over and over again.
– On page 136 an army officer shoots a horse in the head to use it as a road block. On page 137 a bullet comes from outside the panel, from an unseen shooter, and goes through an Apache’s head.
– Pages 146-155 show the killing of Magas Coloradas, an Apache leader who was shot and beheaded by US army soldiers. Coloradas’ death is not shown. Instead, the panel (p. 151, pn. 4) shows Lieutenant Gatewood’s reaction to hearing the shot outside his tent.
– There are Apache heads on pikes (p. 163) but no image of them being beheaded.
img_0309

– During a series illustrating a battle at Skeleton Cave in Arizona (p. 174, pn 1-3) the US soldiers have rifles in panel 1, a bearded man says “Buck, see that fella up front?”. Panel 2 shows an Apache with a rifle being shot several times. Panel 3 shows 4 other Apache, one with a rifle, being shot. But, again, the perpetrators of the shooting are not depicted.
This separation of violence and perpetrator is ONLY afforded to the US and Mexican soldiers and not to the Apache. The Apache are seen, within panels, as the direct perpetrators of violence against friends and enemies alike.

This graphic novel is a problematic text. In my scant review of the literature under “further reading” (p. 231) and my research into the specific battles shown, this book shows an extremely biased history as told by White americans. The fact that ONLY the Apache are seen as direct perpetrators of violence against women, children, unarmed and armed men is a huge concern for me.

To answer my colleague who asked if Indeh is a good graphic novel to use in her secondary history and social studies education classes, I have to say no. It is yet another example of a distorted, overtly violent and damaging portrait of an angry and brutal Apache Nation. Don’t bother buying it. The authors don’t need to be rewarded.

EDIT – please see Debbie Reese’s excellent review which focuses on the historical accuracy of the book, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Pins and Badges, Oh My!

So, the presidential election happened. That’s a thing. It has been a week and a day and I am still thinking and reading and talking and listening. God, I am listening, even when I feel like my veins are on fire, I am listening.

I’m an academic. And, in academic writing we stress the need to provide context (see the first paragraph), be explicit with the issue or problem, and define our terms.

Problem statement – Liberal White america responded to electing that man* with pins. Marginalized america responded to the outpouring of pins with variations of, “What the hell?”, “That’s not enough.” and “?!?!*^%^###!!!{}”. White america is now freaking out about our response to the pins.
White america – When I refer to White america I am purposefully referring to White, middle/upper class, cis-gender, straight, abled, neuro-typical  Americans. It is short hand. It is a generalization.
Marginalized america – Yeah. That’s the rest of us. It is short hand. It is also a generalization.

I am uniquely positioned because of my identity an an out, Latinx lesbian who looks vaguely beige (my father is Mexican and my mother is White american). I have always lived on the borderlands of White america.
Here is my answer to my White american friends asking me about our reaction to the pins, and to White America in general. The pins themselves are not “a strong message”. But they are not nothing, either. They are a first step for many in White america and first steps are important.
My worry (mixed with fear and frustration) is that history, very recent history, shows that a majority of White america does not hold the issues that directly effect me and my family (fill in all the isms – ALL OF THEM) in any kind of regard.
As a group – and again, this is a fact of population and voting records – the majority of White america does not share my beliefs, or consider my life or my rights. Period. I’m not saying White america doesn’t consider me important. No. I am saying that me and my family are not considered.
That’s it. That is what being Marginalized america means – not considered.
I have been told by friends, people I respect, (all of them White america) that the pins are a starting point. I am trying to believe that. I am trying.

TRIGGER WARNING – WHITE AMERCA
The following is going to be hard to read.
Gerd your loins, fortify with chocolate or pumpkin spice, but keep reading. 

My anger and the anger you are seeing from Marginalized America is simple. Why wasn’t Black Lives Matter a starting point? Or the Pulse shooting?

Where have you been, White America? We are under direct threat and you are showing up with pins? Let’s be clear. The pins are not for us. They are for you. And once again, White america, you have centered White america and marginalized us.
Where were you when this election was all going down? 4 months, 6 months, 2 years ago?Lifetimes have passed while we waited for you to take note, to consider, to act. And many of the liberal White people in my life now acting all “I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!” Yes, White america, we, the marginalized people are a bit miffed with you.
Because, White america, we told you this was real. We have been telling you … Watts, Crown Heights,the LA Riots, Stonewall, The UFW, Selma, Tijerina and the land grant movement. Look at history that does not center you, White america, and you will see, we have been telling you. And if you between the ages of 15 and dead, and you don’t know about those events I mentioned, that is about you White america, not me.
And many people in White america are frustrated with our response to the pins and are saying, “But what am I supposed to do!?!?!”
See, here’s the thing. We are telling you what you are supposed to do, but you don’t like the answer. I’m going to tell you and you are not going to feel good.
You should have shown up a while ago. You should have been listening to us. You should be listening now, but instead you are acting with the monolithic power you have always wielded to colonize, to overpower and to condemn. You are still not listening.
When we say, “pins are not enough” you need to listen instead of defending. Many of us in Marginalized america see the pins as a way for YOU to identifying YOUrself as “I am not with him (POTUS elect)” or “I am not one of those people”. This is a classic defensive move made by White america not to be associated with the action of your own race. If you find yourself making this particular move, speaking more than listening, writing more texts or tweets or facebook messages rather than reading, or trying to find a Marginalized american to relieve your guilty stress, please stop. Go and read Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s article, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism, over at The Good Men Project.
When we call out White america for it’s actions, you need to stop giving us a litany of your personal accomplishments. This is also a classic White Fragility move Dr. DiAngelo refers to as
Individualism: Whites are taught to see themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a racial group. Individualism enables us to deny that racism is structured into the fabric of society. This erases our history and hides the way in which wealth has accumulated over generations and benefits us, as a group, today.  It also allows us to distance ourselves from the history and actions of our group. Thus we get very irate when we are “accused” of racism, because as individuals, we are “different” from other white people and expect to be seen as such; we find intolerable any suggestion that our behavior or perspectives are typical of our group as a whole.
When we say “we need your voice” you need listen to the words Marginalized america has already written and said. Learn about our history, our struggles and White america’s responses, and then amplify what we are saying and give us credit for teaching you. Stop excusing yourself from the conversation because it is hard. We know these are hard conversations because we have been having the same damn conversation for hundreds of years (please see American history referenced above and all over the web). We know it is difficult to talk about these things. There are resources that Marginalized america has worked on for years. We are willing to share. Here are some concrete ideas about how you can use your voice;
  • Listen and Learn – Black Lives Matter has put in a huge amount of time and effort into building a national coalition focused on developing a Black centered, civil rights engagement organization, focused around an inclusive agenda against all social  injustice. They are an entirely inclusive organization. The fact that so many in White america do not know this says more about White america than it does about BLM or Marginalized america.
  • Voice – I have been doing social justice/diversity/gay agenda-ing for many years. I am not asking you to do what I do. I’ve got my agenda covered. You get to have your own.
    I am asking you engage with your sphere of influence, whatever that may be, and push the conversation outward. Have the uncomfortable conversations with the people who said “Oh, I don’t know. They are both so bad” and then did not vote. Find a way into that conversation, because your people don’t believe Marginalized america.  White america does not see us, believe us, or take us seriously because our experience runs counter to that well known and comfortable narrative. We need White america to amplify our voices.
  • Amplify – White, straight, men, take care and listen carefully for ideas and comments made by people that are NOT like you. White, straight women, listen for ideas and comments made by people who are NOT White men and women. And, everyone else, keep that line of listening and amplifying going.
    And, this often gets lost — GIVE THE ORIGINAL SPEAKER HER DUE CREDIT!!! See how women in Obama’s White House did it.
And, I know that by pointing out that you are showing up a day late and a dollar short makes you feel bad. And I know your first reaction is going to be to defend and deflect and to tell Marginalized america that we are wrong to react and feel the ways that we feel and say the words that we are saying.
If you find yourself talking more than listening, or loading up on the “I” statements, or feeling picked on, take a deep breath and listen even more. As Christine, a White american friend said to her male White american colleague, “Your whole job these next few weeks is to be the literal, physical receptacle of the rage. You stand still and take it. You carry their burden these next weeks because it is too fucking much to bear. You witness their pain and SHUT THE FUCK UP.”
Look White america, my house is on fire because of the POTUS elect. You need to take some of the heat.

* (I will never put his name on any social media site because a) I do not want to add to the name by providing more trending power; b) we know who I’m talking about; and c) today, in this piece, right now I am not addressing him or his actions.