I can’t remember what those kids were doing in the first Boondocks comic I saw, but I do remember exactly what passed through my mind when I read it: “How the hell did this get into a daily newspaper?”
I stopped reading the comics page a long time ago. It seems that whoever is in charge of what to put on that page is given an edict that states: “For God’s sake, try to be as bland as possible and by no means offend anyone!” Thus, whenever something like Doonesbury would come along, it would be continually censored and, if lucky, eventually banished to the editorial pages. The message was clear: Keep it simple, keep it cute and don’t be challenging, outrageous or political.
And keep it white!
It’s odd, considering all the black ink that goes into making up the comics section (and color on Sundays) that you rarely see any black faces on that page. Well, maybe it’s not so odd after all, considering the makeup of most newsrooms in our country. It is even more stunning when you consider that in many of our large cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, where the white population is barely a third of the overall citizenry, the comics pages seem to be one of the last vestiges of the belief that white faces are just…well, you know…so much more happy and friendly and funny!
Of course, the real funnies are on the front pages of most papers these days. That’s where you can see a lot of black faces. The media love to cover black people on the front page. After all, when you live in a society that will lock up about 30 percent of all black men at some time in their lives and send more of them to prison than to college, chances are a fair number of those black faces will end up in the newspaper.
But to be honest, the newspapers don’t just show bad black. They have “good” black people they cover too! Like Clarence Thomas. And Condoleezza Rice. See, they care.
Oops. There I go playing the race card. You see, in America these days, we aren’t supposed to talk about race. We have been told to pretend that things have gotten better, that the old days of segregation and cross-burnings are long gone, and that no one needs to talk about race again because, hey, we fixed that problem.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, the “whites only” signs are down, but they have just been replaced by invisible ones that, if you are black, you see hanging in front of the home-loan department of the local bank, across the entrance of the ritzy suburban mall or on the doors of the US Senate. (Ninety-seven percent Caucasian and going strong!)
Except for the occasional op-ed, where is the discussion of any of this in our daily newspapers? Fortunately, and hilariously, it is on the comics page in the form of Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks. With bodacious wit, in just a few panels, each day Aaron serves up–and sends up–life in America through the eyes of two African-American kids who are full of attitude, intelligence and rebellion. Each time I read the strip, I laugh, and I wonder how long McGruder is going to keep this gig going. How long can The Boondocks get away with the things it says? How far will he take it tomorrow? How on earth can the most truthful thing in the newspaper be the comics?
Of course, The Boondocks has had a rough road to travel. It has seen its share of censorship. Papers have been deluged with angry letters. Some have moved it to the editorial pages. A few have dropped it. But fortunately for all of us, more newspapers than ever now carry The Boondocks. And these papers are not just in urban (read: black) areas but in places like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dubuque, Iowa. The strip has crossed over into the vast American mainstream, proving once again that the best art finds its way to all people regardless of their background. And when you have a society where 44 million people work for a living but have no health insurance, where millions have lost their savings and pensions due to Wall Street scandals, where no one feels secure that his job will be his job a year from now–well, those aren’t race issues (although African-Americans are the ones hit the hardest), those are bread-and-butter nightmares facing all Americans who are not privileged to be in the upper 10 percent. They are issues of class, and once the discussion turns to class, those in charge seek to shut it down as quickly as possible. Why? Because class is what will unite white and black and brown in this country and, God forbid, if that day ever comes…well, let’s just say the powers that be will be wringing their hands over much more than some smartass comic strip.
So until that day, let The Boondocks go on its merry, subversive way (“Hey, it’s just a cartoon”) and hope that, somewhere down the road, when we all live in a more just America, we will look back and say that, in the beginning, the revolution wasn’t televised, it was on the comics page.