Tag Archive: Racism


(Important Note: This post differs from others in that this will be a crosspost with the website “Girls Gone International”, an organization that has book clubs all over the world. Since I currently run the one in Stockholm, this post follows the formula of Book club spotlights on their site. Therefore the style of review is a little different.)

This August the Stockholm GGI book club had as their book of choice the novel ”The Woman Next Door” by Yewande Omotoso. The book has been long listed for The Bailey´s Womens Prize for Fiction, which as the theme for the August meetup, motivated the choice of the text. The Stockholm GGI meetup group decides the novels through a poll; “The Woman next door” won overwhelmingly so.

In attendance for the discussion were five female members of the club, not including myself, who is the organizer of this small band. Not all had finished the book, but it didn´t prevent the evening from becoming a lively and invigorating discussion regardless. A noted problem with the book, that was a focus for the discussion, was that while the writing style and language was easy to engage with, many found the two main leads distancing and unlikeable. This was noteworthy as the book is adamantly character driven making this a fundamental issue to the text and creating a difficulty in merging with the unfolding of the narrative and form. Yet, at the last, and on the whole, the attending members of the group all seemed vaguely positive about the novel despite this haunting flaw.

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The novel recounts a tale of two women living in Cape Town: Hortensia and Marion. Both women are in their eighties, recently widowed, and both are successful, but former, career women. Marion is white and has lived in South Africa since early childhood, Hortensia is black and has moved to South Africa only recently, after growing up in London and living in Nigeria as an adult. The two women hate each other passionately, and the novel builds on the antagonism between them while delving into their respective past lives. This recitation of their lives garners a number of topics and historical moments and touches on Apartheid, racial discrimination and dysfunctional marriages. While the novel is advertised as the two being forced to live together and therefore becoming more friendly with each other, it should be noted that the plot twist of the two of them having to live together is introduced quit late in the novel.

Those in attendance of the book club had a convergence of agreement that, what seemed the overriding theme of the novel, i.e. race relations, was the strongest part in the novel. The members of this group agreed that the novel discussed racism with understanding and nuance, and portrayal of the protagonists resonated with the reader. General accord in our group was that the subject was not only interesting but also an important one in the current epoch of the immigrant and the newly rising ethnic tensions of the world. That said, however, the growing mutual acceptance and redemption aspect in the novel, with Hortensia and Marion becoming less antagonistic with each other and finding a tolerant appreciation in their relationship, felt rushed, and faintly hallow to some in our debates on the story. The way the women warmed up to one another did feel natural, but that too little time was given to it to expand this budding appreciation into a full human understanding. Some pointed out that usually, in real life, the reason why people change is because they want to. And, in the narrative case of both Marion and Hortensia, the attendees were skeptical with the general feeling given in the text that these two embraced the notion of a change enough to reach an understanding and tolerance. In other words, there was the question of how believable the character development was.

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In the narrative itself, there existed the specific scenes we all particularly loved. The one that resonated and was most heavily praised in our unceremonious assembly was an unsettling scenario with Marion recalling being asked by her children why she buys a separate kind of toilet paper for her black housekeeper. This slice in the narrative exposes the deep seat of Marions prejudice and with the excavators of her bias’s being her own children becomes a scathing indictment of the false consciousness of prejudice. The attendees elaborated further on the aftermath of that scene, all agreeing that when it turns out that the housekeeper had been buying her own toilet paper and refusing to use the poor quality kind Marion had bought for her was, in the attendees words, ”Awesome”. Certainly, though we had misgivings about the enticements of the tale, this engagement that the readers had with this juncture of the story engaged the readers and was revealed the subtle believably of the text.

The narrative structure of the book is formulated on alternative point of views between Hortensia and Marion, as well as tells events and stories of both their lives in flashbacks. Because of this structure the novel was, at times, comparatively confusing to some of the attendees, me included. Some in our group indicated that they had at times had to return and re-read passages to understand who´s point of view we were reading. As for myself, the rapidity of change which the author imposed on the reader in regards to the narrative alterations felt exceedingly jarring and broke what intensity the flow of the story should have had at times.

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One of the narrative objects that was loved by the entirety of the company, including me, was the fact that the main leads were of a forgotten faction of our world: older women. It was very refreshing to read about women who were not young, and it was very unusual to read about older people changing their ways and not being fixed as per the clique of the older members of our society . This made the novel feel fresh.

Recurring words used at the meetup were: Interesting, important, hard, confusing and enlightening.

The discussion was very rich and we got a lot out of ”The Woman Next Door” and were glad we had picked it for the Month of August. An honest account of our world today.

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2017 is already half way through. A lot has happened this year; There´s been marching for Science and Women´s rights. Wonder Woman finally got her own live action movie. The Midterm election 2018 in the US is coming up. And the UK begins the stumble out of the EU with seemingly no plan. Since a little over a year has gone by, it seems like a good time to share some great books that are yearned to be discovered already this year.

1. ”Inexcusable” by Chris Lynch: This 2005 young adult novel centers on a teenage boy named Keir, who considers himself a proper, honest guy. The book starts with Keir arguing with a girl named Gigi, who accuses Keir of raping her, which Keir considers impossible, due to his (according to him) good nature and due to the fact that he loves Gigi. Thus Keir decides to set the record straight.

The chapters alternate between the present and the past with the voice of Keir narrating the kaleidoscope of temporal slices. His story is comprised of misbegotten attempts to explain his reputation, his actions and emphasizes his own wounded state. The language and tone of the narration is distinctive and memorable. Lycnh uses the trope of the unreliable narrator to raise questions of self-image, consent, violence and masculinity. While following Keir´s story, the book tackles and deconstructs ideals and norms regarding ”good guys”, abusers and how both are viewed in society. ”Inexcusable” tells us something that our black and white, victim-blaming society often neglects: that rape and sexual assault occurs much more frequently than we would like to admit, and is committed by what the social order wants only to dismiss as the ordinary behavior of men and boys. This book is perfect for lovers of unreliable narrators or for those interested in the issue of toxic masculinity. A brave book, with an also twisty narration to make for a great reading experience.

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2. ”Signs Preceding the End of the world” (2015) by Yuri Herrera: This slim volume of a novel is about Makina, a tough girl living in a crime-filled small town in Mexico. The book opens with Makina getting a request from her mother; that she go find her brother who migrated to the US and who dropped out of contact with the family thereafter. Makina embarks on her quest crossing the US/Mexican border without papers, encountering the world of the tentative and shadowy, a world where the immigrants face many dangers and strange characters.

Signs preceding the end of the world” tackles immigration and borders from a surrealistic, dark view. Makina throughout the book shows a strong, rough side and brutally defends herself against the many trails of racism, sexism and the place of the invisible other. Along her journey to find her brother Makina places herself as a handmaiden of help to many of the numerous people she encounters on her quest (including, even those who have shown her evil both ethically and sexually) and takes from even her meager and slight actions and possessions to be generous to all she encounters in her travels. Makina is a rare type of female character one encounters not often in standard literature or as protagonist in our normative culture: a tough, fiercely independent person who doesn´t let her independence make her indifferent to others around her. Makina is meant as a protagonist outside of the self- centeredness of our individually based culture who embodies a genuinely nice person who is simultaneously steadfast and believes in herself while not taking from others. With Makina as the pivot of this optimism of the possibility of social responsibility, the book shows how much violence, hatred and despair immigrants crossing borders have to endure and makes us wonder at the uselessness of this suffering.

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Not ignored in the text is the disconnection and separation that families experience by the growing machinations of neoliberal inequality which pressure the migrations while instigating nationalist crowds to blame the migrant community for problems created by this. Makina´s narration shows the gap created in social and income instability between her brother and the rest of the family, as well as high lights what the actual face global income inequality looks like in the midst of a community it raptures. The book packs a great punch despite it´s size.

The author, Yuri Herrera, lives in the US, writes in Spanish, and was born in Mexico, making this book somewhat #ownvoices.

3. ”El Deafo” (2014) by Cece Bell: This is a middle grade graphic memoir on how Ms. Bell at the age of four lost her hearing, leading to her needing the help of a hearing aid. The memoir follows her struggles with fitting in, being insecure about her hearing aid, learning to read lips, and navigating friendships and crushes. At the same time these many insecurities and upheavals that are occurring in her young life, Cece envisions herself as a superhero with the codename El Deafo, to help her cope with the slew and chaos of the difficult times of her adjustments.

Cece Bell wrote and illustrated this book herself, giving the text and graphics a lighthearted yet serious tone similar to graphic memoirs such as Raina Telgemeier´s”Smile”. The book tackles the difficulties of dealing with condescension, the feelings of the heightened obviousness of her different ableness in the device of the aid, and how small things like watching tv changes drastically due to her new hearing parameters. At the same time, while navigating this specific course laid upon her in the developments with her hearing, young Cece deals with problems many will recognize from their own childhood, like the painful PE classes we were forced to endure.

El Deafo” is able to navigate the pain of finding friends and of learning to accept oneself, all while using ones imagination to empower oneself. A heartwarming, as well as educational read.

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As mentioned, this is a memoir, and therefore has #ownvoices deaf representation.

4. ”Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society” (2006) by Holly Wardlow: This is a book I started reading for a class I took last year, but found interesting enough to continue afterwards. The book is a non-fiction anthropology text about an ethnic group called the Huli in Papua New Guinea. The book is a little over ten years old, so some facts may have changed, but nonetheless the book felt both exceedingly fresh, and very insightful. Wardlow spent years in the Huli areas in Papua New Guinea and her fieldwork concentrated primarily on the women of the Huli group. ”Wayward Women” discusses in particular female sexuality among Huli women, and half of the book solely discusses the women among the Huli who become prostitutes, or ”Passenger women”. While most non-fiction out there focuses on how sex work is done in desperation to earn money, or how sex work is something forced on the women, this book deals with women who choose to sell sex not because of money, but often, in many cases in the Huli group; out of a means of revenge against family injustices they have endured (often it involves rape). Wayward shows all the complexities in the Huli gendered discourse, never taking an easy answer to what she describes in her study.

An absolutely fascinating account.

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5. ”Exilens Dilemma” (2015) by Razak Aboud: This very petite volume of poems is unfortunately only available in Swedish, but the title means ”The Exiles Dilemma”. The poems discuss just this, the aftermath of escaping and seeking asylum. The issues masterfully explored in this slim text of poems include not only the social stresses of the exiled but the continually incurring loneliness, confusion, trauma and the separations of the migrant experience. The opening poem describes a narrators search for ”the sun of freedom”, but ends up washing dishes and not seeing any sun at all after coming to a new country. Other poems which leap from the pages with devastating emotion include an immigrant confronting a Christmas which chrysalises the feeling of emptiness and ostracization caused by both his loss of youth and home; and another gripping poetic narration when a doctor visit excavates the deadly past into the banal present of a health examination including the necessary medical enquirers “did they beat you and where?” and ”were you raped?”. The poems are exceedingly sad, yet beautiful in their crafting. The themes confronted in the power of the words are dealt with in grace, honesty, without fear. Each poem is devised as a small story that deals openly with the hopelessness of feelings confronting the refugee, the overwhelming of feelings which are packed with the chaotic attitudes that refugees meet; how they are often either invisible looked upon as deficient cultural beings, or perceived as a threat to the social. Especially poignant in the series is the somber feeling of being unseen in the midst of your fellow humans which runs decisively through the thread of the texts and exposes a melancholy feel even to those without any relatable experience to the plight of the exile.

A small volume worth the time for all.

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The author, Razak Aboud, has stated that these poems are based on his own experiences, making this #ownvoices for refugee/immigrant representation. He also writes in Arabic at times alongside Swedish.

6. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé(2017) by Morgan Parker: This collection of poems has been getting a lot of buzz, and for no small reason! Mark my words, these poems will completely blow you away.

Morgan Parker is a relatively new voice in the literary world, making her debut in 2015 with ”Other Peoples Comfort Keep Me Up at Night”. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé” is her second collection which Parker worked five years on. The title is taken from a saying inside the younger black community which Parker elaborating on the icon of Beyoncé as a representation of the myriad of double standards and struggles black American Women face in today’s society. Using Beyoncé as well as Jay Z, Nelly, and Earth Wind & Fire as referents Parker delves into the social power of the imaginary of pop culture to discuss issues of oppression and living in a myriad of specific social communities; Black, white, male, female, and where they diverge and intersect. In the poem ”99 Problems” Parker references Jay Z´s most quoted song to list actual 99 problems, which range from dating, oppression’s, drinking too much, being sexually pressured, and the very notion of a Black woman ”being strong”. In the poem ”What Beyoncé won´t say on a shrink´s couch” the narrator despairs that she is unseen (and unheard) when she says she´s tired. In her invisibility to asking for recognition of humanity she laments in song. In Parkers text ”All they want is my money my pussy my blood” a last gasp to point out the crisis she cries: ”I don´t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me”.

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The unseen theme of the black voice and life (#BlackLivesMatter) is also devastatingly exposed to in the poem ”The president has never said the word black”, in which Parker critiques former president Barack Obama for the silences he (even) occulted the Black with in order to be heard by the white. Strong and painful to even the hand that writes it this poem, the short text here captures the binds that exist inside politics and race.

Parker´s poems discuss both the beauty and pain of black womanhood, with poems that are as eye opening as they are alluring. The collection details the daily despair, fear, exhaustion, and power of being black and female while cautiously navigating a world that selects to objectify and hurt you. Yet still in the forest of the words the poems also have a wry, witty sense of humor, and an uplifting message that black women are, in fact, more beautiful than anyone can imagine.

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For people just getting into poetry, as well as being newbies to Black feminism, this collection is a must. Naturally, this book is also #ownvoices.

So those are some real good books read this year so far. What about you readers, what have you loved this year book wise?

“Adua” by Igiaba Scego

My third published article appear on the feminist site “Femtiden” last week. It is a review of a novel published in 2015 by the Somali-Italien writer Igiaba Scego. The novel deals with Italien history from a postcolonial viewpoint. Link down below:

http://www.femtiden.se/kreativt/romanen-adua-behandlar-tillhorighet-skuld-och-ensamhet/

The novel is fantastic. Highly recommended.

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“All lives can´t matter until black lives matter” – Huffpost Black voices.

Due to the recent shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, it seems necessary to say something on this blog. However, many people have written much better on this issue than I ever could, so here´s a list of articles tackling the issue of racially charged police brutality:

From Colorlines:

Philando Castile is the 123rd person to be killed by a policemen just this year.

Issa Rae, creater of “The misadventures of awkward black girl”, created a scholarship to fund Alton Sterlings children. 

Diamond Reynolds, the woman who witnessed her boyfriend Castile be shot to death while unarmed, spoke out.

Minnesota Governer called the shooting racist.

Huffpost Black voices:

5 self-care practices black people can use while dealing with trauma.

How the dehumanization of black people continues after they are murdered.

Polimic:

23 everyday activities punishable by death if you´re black in America.

Bitch media:

“We can live in a world where police don´t kill people”. (Infact, most european countries like Finland already do).

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#Sayhername:

In 2015, at least six black women have been killed by police.

Kimberlé Crenshaw is fighting for forgotten women. 

Why we should declare that black women and girls matter too. 

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Dear readers, I joined a group on Goodreads called Top 5 Wednesday. It was created by a bookblogger and booktuber called Ginger Lainey, and is now hosted by Sam from the Youtube channel “Thoughts on Tomes”. Check Sam´s stuff out, she´s smart and classy. The topic which engaged me is a couple of weeks old but I was inspired to write about it regardless: novels that deal with disturbing issues.

1.“Holy Week” by Jerzy Andrejevski: This polish novel was published in 1947, and tells the story of a woman of Jewish descent named Irena who during WWII seeks refuge in hiding at her former lover Jan and his new wife´s home. What follows is the haunting anxiety of waiting and precarious hiding, while the trio discusses gentile privilege, hopes and cynicism in the face of war and genocide. While Irena revolves around her anger towards a society that is determined to wipe her kind out, the wife of the hiding couple follows a different path of denial as she is pregnant and therefore can´t afford to believe that the Germans will never leave Poland. Jan, numbed by events is clueless in the face of the horrors of the regime, but he knows he must go on hiding Irena. The book, though occurring in a horrid past, really revolves around issues that resonate even today and has one of the most brutal, heartbreaking endings of all time. This forgotten gem of a novel not only discusses what it meant in those times to have privilege in the face of the ultimate oppressed, but also discusses the religious side of anti-Semitism and even touches upon the sexual assaults that Jewish women experienced during the war. The novel, while keeping the reader in a tight grip, makes the reader continually hold their breath to find out what happens to Irena and the polish couple hiding her. “Holy Week” was a pioneering work, and should be rediscovered by new readers.

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2. “The Hunger Angel” by Herta Müller: This novel is Nobel Prize winning Herta Müller´s magnum opus. It tells the story of a young man who is sentenced to a labor camp during Ceausescu´s regime in Romania. The man endures harsh, soul crushing labor while being essentially starved, like all of the other prisoners at the camp. The man, it is implied, is sentenced to the camp due to being of the German speaking population in Romania, much like many prisoners who find their sentences as the ultimate ghastly act of the absurd and arbitrary. Müller, through haunting poetic language and simple but deep symbols, exposes the reader to the constant hunger, the cruelty, and dehumanization that the labor camps were. Müller´s inspiration for the novel came from the witnesses that her own mother experienced, who was a survivor of such a camp, and a single other close friend who provided her with the majority of the research. “The Hunger Angel” is not only heartbreaking, but uncomfortably real. A must read.

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3. “Native Son” by Richard Wright: This novel is about a young man named Bigger Thomas, who is a disillusioned black youth during the US´s era of segregation. Published in 1940, the novel tackles the stereotype of the dangerous black man and, through its shocking but subtle social commentary, deconstructs the racist caricature imposed on people. Bigger ends up killing two women, the first by accident in a state of panic, the second one in an act of expression of his rage. The novel digs into Bigger´s mind and psyche, showing how systematic racism effects and damages a person. “Native Son” shows alcoholism, poverty and the horrors of condescending language that is tough to read, but is a document of an uneasy time and an exploration of how society creates its own bad guys.

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4. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov: A classic novel about a man who falls in love with a 12-year old girl, and then proceeds to first marry the child’s mother, only to (possibly) kill the mother in order to rape the child. One of the most beautifully written, but also wildly misunderstood, books to ever be written, “Lolita” is from a manipulative, sadistic mans point of view. The novel is filled with nightmare-like context, making the reader squirm while reading it and creates a space in the narrative where you feel like a actual sociopath is sitting next to you, explaining away his atrocities, tempting you to believe him, but every once in a while his narration slips and the true horror is shown. One of the most chilling scenes is when Dolores (the girl’s real name) sees a police car and tries to escape, only for Humbert (the man) to blackmail her into silence. Worth a read, but disturbing.

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5. “Prince de la rue” (“The prince of the street”) by Dominique Mwankumi: This is a picture book aimed for toddler aged children about two homeless young boys in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of The Congo. The story is based on the experience of many children in Mr. Mwankumis homeland. Shégué is a young, inventive small child (around 8-9) who makes a living by using thrown away objects and trash to make toys, which he sells. It is mentioned early that his parents simply didn´t want him and since his early childhood he has been living on the streets. The picture book has a clear, sad tone with beautiful, gentle drawings that feel like an art museum of its own. The book follows the boy’s survival tactics and the constant struggle to avoid adults who wish to harm them. Yet, despite this cruel situation, the boys strive to overcome their setbacks and the story implies that one day their luck may turn. A sad tale, but important and with fantastic art.

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A picture from the book

There´s my picks. Anyone else read a really good book with a really tough subject? Comment below!

Trigger warning: This post will have discussions of sexual abuse. Reader precaution advised.

This is my third post for Child Abuse Awareness Month.

My first introduction to Dr. Patton was when I read her piece in the Washington Post, “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?”. This article cast a critical eye on the heaps of praise a woman got for forcefully getting her son to leave a protest in Baltimore. Taken with Patton´s arguments, I ordered a copy of her memoir which delved into the subject of child abuse from the perspective of her own survival of brutal physical abuse. Patton is known for her work with children´s rights issues as well as race, which her memoir discusses in great lengths.

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The memoir opens up with college student Stacey suffering from flashbacks of abuse and deciding that the means to end her suffering was to kill the people responsible for the abuse, her adoptive parents. However, this plan did not succeed as she forgets to add bullets to her gun, and decides to abandon the plan. Motivated by the memories of her own past, and the desperate act that she felt pushed into is followed with the adult Doctor Patton’s research into the institution of American slavery; this begins the memoirs journey. Stacey Patton recalls all the times her foster mother beat her, with telephone cords and twitches; a pain so great she often thought she “will surely never survive this”. Such beatings were consistent through her childhood, with some of the beatings going so far as the young Stacey having to go to the emergency room.

When five years old, the young Stacey Patton was removed from foster care and adopted by a couple. The mother turned out to be an irritable, constantly angry woman who beat Stacey for the slightest and absent provocation. The memoir captures the sorrows and fears that abuse has on the mind; Stacey recalls crying herself to sleep many nights and being terrified when her adoptive father informs her will be late home as the absent father means she will be completely at the mercy of the violent whims of the mother. Ms. Patton mentions more than once that as a child, she feared that she might even end up dying one day as a result from the violence. These are feelings and emotions that many abuse survivors will recognize and the anxieties of a child locked in such a situation are beautifully, heartbreakingly captured.

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The scenes of physical abuse are not just directed towards a young Stacey. The memoir recounts how other members of her adoptive family beat other children for simply playing/pretending to be preachers or how she witnesses a classmate being beaten by his mother for calling a white girl “honky”. Even at an early age Stacey questioned these actions, where we can see the beginning of the seeds to her later activism.

Her years in school were tumultuous and troubled, since the teachers only saw Ms. Patton as a slow child, to which Patton states: “Let me tell you that your mind is changed if you are beaten every single day”. The text is tragic in its description of abuse, but what makes “That mean old yesterday” a diamond in the rough is that Ms. Patton not only details her years of abuse, but also finds a link to her situation and to the horrendous legacy that American history has had on its own disenfranchised people, with special concentration on the Black American community. Using the springboard of her own brutalization Ms. Patton delves into the abuse of children and offers a critique of societal norms when it comes to violence and children.

The memoir is about the double oppression and marginalization of being a black child. When speaking of her adoptive family, where her silence and capitulation are enforced, the young Stacey lives with both fear of abuse from the hands of the mother, and a terror of being abandoned by her. Stacey as a young girl learns from her parents that her thoughts and experiences are secondary to the adults. Adults are the ones that call all the shots. The memoir discusses how violence seems common place in the house holds around her. Which through the books narration on the history of slavery gives a certain historical explanation to the violence. Institutional racism and racial violence has forced Black Americans to live in the constant shadow of white terrorism. Patton argues that this leads to a mindset that is reflected in that the parents try to protect their children by giving rough upbringings to make sure their children won´t end up dead or hurt by white supremacy. two running themes in the memoir are best expressed in a scene where Stacey and her foster mother visit a hair salon.

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While the women there all critique white paretns for being too “soft” on their children, and explaining how beating their children will ultimately protect them, a single black woman offers a counter opinion. She expresses that this rationalization dates back to the days of slavery, where slaves beat their own children in hopes it would spare them from the punishments from the slave owners. The woman explains that her own parents did not use corporal punishment on her, which shows that this kind of upbringing is possible. The salons other women silence and dismiss her, but the young Stacey feels hope after hearing her words. For the first time Stacey witnesses that someone is actually speaking up for children.

In that scene, Patton illustrates what the whole book is about: how history has shaped and still plagues us today, how children are marginalized and how, without knowing it, speaking up on injustice might spark someone to reconsider their views, to inspire someone or give comfort to someone. The scene greatly shows that speaking up is worth it, even if it seems like the opposite.

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The most disturbing parts of the memoir are however the scenes where Stacey is sexually abused. The mother had an unhealthy obsession with the small child´s genitals, having rituals where she “inspected” and touched the girls private parts. This trauma is further shown when the young Stacey tries to insert a tampon for the first time and has horrible flashbacks to the mothers unwanted touching. Later when Stacey, after hearing a testimony from another young girl who has been molested, states that no one could really understand what it felt like, “when someone treats your own private parts as if they are not your own, but someone else´s playthings”; this line is one of the most poignant, heartbreaking ways of writing about the damage done from sexual abuse that I have ever read.

Ms. Patton states in all honesty that it took her years to realize that she had been sexually abused and in her memoir she is shown denying the abuse more than once. This form of sexual abuse is one that is not often discussed or talked about; that of when the molester of a child is female. And in addition, when the violating touching doesn´t seem to come from pedophilic desires, but from the non-sexual desire to completely control, humiliate and/or hurt the child. Sexual abuse of children takes many shapes and forms, and this form where the motivation is other than desire is one that should be more discussed and talked about. Some parents, in their tyranny, go so far to control and frightened their children that they demand control over everything and therefore they commit illicit touching.

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As a final note, a fair warning that the book dives into slavery and the history is heavily disturbing. However the importance of speaking of these crimes cannot be underestimated; racism against Black Americans is so deeply rooted that even today, violence against Black Americas perpetrated by White Americans is at horrific proportions’, which unlawful killings by policemen and mass incarnation being a huge part of everyday racism. To discuss race in America, one must be honest with the bloody history. The past must be visited to move forward.

Ms. Patton depicts her college years as a place of learning but also a place of sorrow. There she for the first time clearly encountered everyday racism. The white girls Stacey shared her dorms with belittled and verbally humiliated blacks, her literary and historical canon was entirely white, and her teachers were not always varying of any racist comments the white students made. Stacey went into a depression. The turning point was when she one day opened up to one kind teacher in which she was able to find a kindred spirit who willingly listened to her point of view.

As a reader, I was moved by how just one teacher could offer so much comfort by just listening and believing the struggles Stacey was going through. Even if the memoir didn´t state this, it seems that if anything, sometimes when people of color speak out and talk about their experiences with racism the right thing to do is to listen and believe them. Your place is not to tell them they are overreacting or misunderstanding, your place is to show support. Something so simple, yet so rarely seen.

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As a last small note, the book also shares Stacey´s skeptical views on religion and on god. In the memoir she identifies as non-believing. It´s always great to come across books with skeptics and other non-believers; if any of you readers can recommend me any other memoirs with skeptic/non-believing narrators please tell me.

A fantastic memoir, with lots of provocative and insightful views into many important, complex issues. “That mean old yesterday” is a sharp critic on all forms of violence against children, as well as a explosion of the poison and destruction that white supremacy and racism has had on black lives, destroying the myth of there being no constitutional racism anymore. Check it out, it´s more than worth it.

Stacey Patton also has a website about alternative parenting ways free from violence. It´s called “Spare the kids”, go check it here.

Over at the YouTube Channel “Screenjunkies” there was a lively discussion about film adaptations, regarding a panel discussion of what were the most and least well made adaptations of comic genre and, its close companion, the Graphic novel*. The video panel discussion ended with a question to the viewers regarding what comic/graphic novel they would most like to see get adapted to film. After pondering this question for a while, I came to the conclusion that only naming a few would not be fair, since, within the entire history of Alternative Comics, some truly remarkable stories have been told, and, in their breathtaking and compelling sweep of ideas and vision, would lend themselves well to a big screen incarnation.

1.“Shortcomings” by Adrian Tomine: A cynical look on race, Tomine’s masterpiece centers on the unsympathetic Ben. His girlfriend Miko accuses him often of being ashamed of his Japanese heritage, which she in returned is extremely proud of. She also accuses him of having an obsession with white women, which Ben laughs at. However, once Miko decides to leave for New York for a couple of months, Ben decides to replace Miko with a white woman (proving Miko´s discomfort to be accurate). When all does not go as planned, Ben flies to New York to meet Miko and becomes obsessively jealous when it turns out Miko is dating someone else.

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“Shortcomings” is about flawed people engulfed in a racist society, mixing character study with harsh social commentary. Ben in his hypocrisy claims he does not want to be a victim, but simultaneously has become so unlikeable and hypocritical because of the white supremacist emasculation of Asian men. Miko has her own prejudices as well, but ultimately finds empowerment in her pride. The comic also addresses race fetishazation, and explores the myth of White normativety as desirable. A film adaption that would also include the comic’s social commentary would be a brave move, but no doubt an ultimately enjoyable film.

Cover of "Shortcomings"

Cover of “Shortcomings”

2. “X-Day 1&2” by Setona Mizushiro: This manga is famous among those who like their manga and anime more close to “real life”. The plot centers around three students and one teacher who due to personal difficulties, decide, via an internet chat room, to blow up the school they attend and work at. The biology teacher, using the pseudonym “Jangalian”, due to being stalked by the principals daughter; is engulfed in a sense of powerless exasperated by the unending claims of the school’s principal that Jangalian has slept with his out of control daughter (he hasn´t). The school principle continually foists the blame for her behavior on the victimized Jangalian. Mr. Money, a male student, has an abusive mother. 11, a former popular athlete, is entrapped in the insecurity that other women continually strip her of boyfriends and friends, and Polaris is crippled by shyness unless she wears gothic Lolita clothes, which the school prohibits.

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While the beginning of this Manga feels like it will be a dark terror story, the four start to reach out to each other and common bound circumventing the planning the attack through friendship. Mizushiro doesn´t shy away from depicting youth sexuality and loneliness, and boldly illustrates four lost souls who find solace in each other. The characters captivate and possess you, making the reader cheer for the melancholic protagonists to overcome their situations. With protagonists like these, this adaption could very well become a classic Anime movie.

Read left to right, dear folks!

Pages from “X-Day 1”. Read left to right, dear folks!

3. “Tuuli ja Mursky” (“Wind and the Storm”) by Tiitu Takalo – In a time where every woman is in one way or another affected by the misogyny of rape culture, it seems like an appropriate moment for an adaptation of a Graphic novel which addresses every aspect of that said culture. The comic centers around a group of young feminists who discover the fact that one of their members, Miira, has been raped at a party. Miira doesn´t want to report the horrid incident of abuse to the police, but still wishes her rapist to be exposed. Her friends do what they can by putting up posters, talking to people who had attended the party, and so on; but after being constantly shut down and silenced in their quest for justice, the young women grow angry and begin to consider more lethal means.

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The comic discusses repressions and prejudices victims of sexual abuse face, and the rampant misconceptions people have of the rapist and the culture that empowers their acts of violence. The boy who perpetuates the abuse to Miira in this tale, is an unquestioned friend and wildly known to be a pleasant fellow resonating the plot of the story with one of the most popular misconceptions about rapist/sexual abusers as a repulsive persona, mean-spirited and outside of society. Holding strong with the truth of rapists in a rape culture this comic confronts us with the reality of the nice fellow simultaneously hiding the most abusive of tendencies.
Miira had passed out at the party and the collection of friends find that many of the people involved in their inquiry try to convince the group that the incident was Miira fault, ignoring the fact that her abuser intentionally choose to extremely violate both her body and trust.

Cover for "Tuuli ja Myrsky"

Cover for “Tuuli ja Myrsky”

The novel also addresses how rape culture affects men. The male ally of the group talks about how men are also afraid of walking alone during the night but due to the extreme pressures of an overburdening Macho culture are not allowed to admit such a simple fact. He also subjects within the story, when confronted with the rapist and his actions, merely berates the rapist for his behavior, stating that the abusers actions makes all men look like would-be rapists and chews the rapist out for ignoring the sphere of pain the act caused in action and aftermath to the actual victim of the molestation.

Ms. Tiitu Takalo

Ms. Tiitu Takalo

This Graphic Novel is regrettably underrated and is an exciting story that subverts the Rape-Revenge genre, while also addressing the issue of sexual violence in an in depth and serious manor. The issues it discusses cannot be more relevant and urgent, and the comic, while it should become more of staple stock to the lovers of the Graphic Novel genre, would do superbly as a filmic work.

The posters, saying: "Warning! Rapist!"

The posters, saying: “Warning! Rapist!”

4. “My friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf: This is a chilling graphic memoir that came out just couple years ago. The story focuses not on the author himself, but his former classmate, Jeffrey Dahmer. In a society which obsesses over serial killers and the atrocious crimes they commit, “My Friend Dahmer” shifts the focus from the gruesome killings to an investigation of a teenage Dahmer who pointlessly grows to adulthood to become a monster. Backderf, who had acquaintance with Dahmer, puts together his own memories as well as memories Dahmer gave in interviews, envisioning for us a lonely, weird teenager who already at a young age showed disturbing behavior. Despite the red flags that even a teenage Backderf recognized, the adults revolving around the teen Dahmer didn’t ever pick up on the deviant behaviors, neither did they interact with him to exasperate his deviations. We find a wildly out of control Dahmer, in an attempt to get rid of his fantasies of necrophilia and killing, turning to heavy drinking, and where Dahmer’s only laughter is found with students who through their clumsiness hurt themsleves and others. Yet no adult ever intervenes.

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The story is powerful in it´s message: the troubled child didn´t have to end up killing people. Backderf wisely says that while our sympathy for Dahmer must end when he started killing, it should be still be noted that he once was a troubled teenager who adults failed. In this extreme case, “My Friend Dafmer” makes a convincing case for social and psychological support for children and teenagers. Ignoring young ones with problems will not make the problem go away. It will only be a problem which will lead to more evils. In worse case scenarios, ignoring a child who is having difficulties may cost innocent lives; a truly unnecessary sacrifice.

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5. “Epileptic” by David B.: Here is another memoir which does not star the author. Instead the story concentrates on the plight of the struggles of David B’s epileptic brother and the labor of a family attempting to cope. It depicts a happy childhood until one day, Davids brother Jean-Christophe gets a seizure. This leads the family to seek hills and mountains for a cure and, as time goes on, makes a once cheerful child into a bitter, mean spirited youngster and a depressed adult. This graphic novel starts off with a child’s perspective, where imagination and stories run wild and, as it unfolds, turns towards the surrealistic, where we find David and Jean-Christophe entrenched and entrapped within a fantasy in order to merely communicate. Jean-Christophe is put through several trials, in which he often is met with ableism. When he has seizures, people stare and make insensitive comments, as if he is childishly acting up or merely play-acting for attention. Jean-Christophe, in his spiral of suffering, becomes isolated from his peers, and as a teenager, while in the simple act of befriending a small boy, finds himself instead being accused of child molestation. David notes how the stigma of his brothers struggle haunts him into his adult life, when he recounts a conversation with a girlfriend which ends with the ultimatum that if they have a child, he has to make sure his genes are perfectly healthy since she “does not want any of his families illnesses”.

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Image from “Epileptic”; illustrating the prejudices aimed at David´s Brother

The book is spell-binding and tragic in its depiction of family life and society, where everything always seems to go wrong. David´s depictions are cryptic, but also loving towards his unfortunate, impossible brother. A truly remarkable read, it would no doubt be a film that would give animators free hands to simultaneously make wild drawings while also clutching the viewers hearts.

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6. “Elfriede – en dystopi” (“Elfriede – a dystopia”) by Åsa Grennvall: Now here´s a graphic novel that would be a real challenge to adapt. “Elfriede”, unlike the other graphic novels on this list, does not tell a straight story. In fact this tale is entirely a character study. It follows a middle age woman named Elfriede, who is extremely cynical and bitter about the world. She takes us through her job where she condescendingly describes her boss (whom according to her shouldn´t be able to get his job done but somehow does), how she tries not to get involved when a female co-worker ask for comfort and advice regarding her physically abusive boyfriend (since Elfriede´s attempts to help her before only end up with the co-worker getting angry at Elfriede and going back to her boyfriend anyway), and how she hates her happy-go-lucky friend. She talks about her children, who she hopes don’t hate her as much as she hates her parents. Elfriede speaks frankly of how she is doing a countdown to her death and how she believes humanity is doomed due to it´s own ignorance. This story should fail, but due to Grennvalls gifted talents it is instead a work of genius in its unique concept and visualization. Elfriede’s life becomes fascinating in a tale where the reader is brought to understand Elfriede and dreadfully notices that Elfriede has legitimate points within the context of her life.

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Bitterness is a very uncommon theme in fiction, which is a shame because, if used well, can make for a uncomfortably interesting read and an fascinating exploration of what we are in an indifferent world. “Elfriede – a dystopia” is a good testament of the many alternatives of life and our emotional responses to it, and a film adaption would make an interesting addition to the animated exploration of the existential.

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7. “Smile” by Raina Telgemeler: Remember when you were a teenager who hated the way you looked? Well, then you should definitely read this graphic memoir “Smile”. This tale follows the struggles of the protagonist with her dental care, where, after an accident, her teeth need intensive management and repair. Raina feels painfully insecure about her reconstituted teeth, and her teeth become the focus of fear about being different from her fellow classmates. Raina faces a lot of peer pressure and frustration when growing up, while also feeling the pain of bracelets which engulf her teeth and expose her as different in the mere acts of smiling or talking.
This graphic novel is an honest memoir that shows Raina at times as unpleasant as the worst about her, but also as sweet and secure at the oddest of moments.

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The best parts in the memoir, though, are the details about her friends, who, instead of being a reserve of comfort and connectedness, belittle and seem to find joy in bossing her about in her new outsider state. Though it takes time, as Raina grows older within the story, she acquires the strength to say no to her friends and in her blossoming confidence is even able to find less toxic friends.

This memoir is funny and very relatable and speaks to the growing pains that ring so true to many young girls and women. Now, with Young Adult film adaptation’s so popular, this tale, with its insightful teenage explorations, would make perfect sense to adapt to the filmic media. As an extra bonus, Ms. Telgemer has recently published another graphic memoir titled “Sisters”, which I for one can´t wait to read!

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8. “Moomins: The policeofficer´s nephew” by Lars Jansson: Technically cheating since this is a comic strip, but this supposedly younger readers graphic tale would be an interesting and extremely brave adaptation. Over at Flavorwire this “storybook” is found listed this as one of the children´s books that deserve a re-boot, and indeed, while the cartoon show which was based on the books is good, it still lacks a lot of the more philosophical and political themes which the Moomin books are famous for. The comics, while not always as good, were at best as sharp as the original stories. Especially we can note this comic series springing from the originals, where the police officers nephew comes for a visit to Moomin valley and decides he suddenly wants to become a policeman himself. Unfortunately this leads to a slew of over-enthusiastic actions leading him to harangue and arrest the innocent populace of the tranquil valley. To thwart the worst of the Nephews actions his Uncle claims there is an illegal drug trade in Moominvalley, hoping this will distract him. Yet instead of diverting the authoritarian behavior of the nephew it only makes things worse.

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This comic is as bizarre as it is funny and takes enormous risks, inside of this genre, in making references to both marijuana, cocaine as well as opium. Naturally, this comic is a critique of the social ideal of the police officer having definitive, unquestioned power within all encounters and situations, and of the drug panic which our society reacts to blindly (and criminalizes). While it can be argued that perhaps this comic is not exactly for young children, it still could pass for young adults and adults. The comic isn’t afraid of poking fun at authority while keeping the Moomins pure hearted and kind towards the misguided nephew. It is a truly odd, fun read and would most likely stir debate and laughter as a film.

Not from the same story line, but still funny!

Not from the same story line, but still funny!

9. “Army of God” by David Axe and Tim Hamilton: This is journalism in the form of comics, similar to the work of Joe Sacco (author of the classic “Palestine”). A little while back there was a lot of controversy over the video “Kony 2012”. Most reactions and opinions were spontaneous, though heartfelt, but few really got to get a clear picture of the ideology and actions perpetuated by the Kony “movement” in the Congo. In this comic, two journalists give a short introduction to the Congo´s modern history, what exactly the “Lord Resistance Army” (Kony´s terrorist group) is, about the international movement to stop “LDR”, and most importantly tells the story of few of Kony´s victims. It would be a great documentary film if adapted, and a much needed one, since it is hard to get real, concrete facts and information about the horrors LDR have committed.

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10. Nearly the entire comic output of Nina Hemmingsson: Ms. Hemmingsson is a Swedish comic artist who has become famous for her short comics about a socially inept young woman. Her collected works include “I am your girlfriend now”, “My beautiful eyes” and “It´s hard to be Elvis in Uppsala”**. Her works are witty, dark and hilarious. Addressing gender stereotypes and norms, her work details in a personal and bizarre fashion telling of the tireless exploration of characters pushing against convention while continuing the battle of being themselves. In a film adaptation it would be a interesting experiment of following multiple story lines and situations, bursting with awesome social commentary.

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For example, the story “I dated a Buddhist”*** is a sharp, funny commentary of white westerners who practice a form of “Buddhism”, simultaneously watering it down and not being entirely understanding about the real roots of the faith (i.e. committing cultural appropriation), all the while using their “enlightened faith” to elevate themselves amongst their peers and depress-shame others who inadvertently find themselves in their company. Another story depicts a young girl getting on a buss after a riding lesson. The driver makes a comment about all girls loving horses to which the young girl responds to gently point out that boys can also like horses and horse riding. This insight gets the young girl shut down in the conversation as soon as she indicates the sexist assumptions and absurdity of the discussion.

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One of Hemmingssons strips……” The young man encourages the older woman to express herself, the woman conveys her frustration and suggests a sexual liasion between them. The man quickly notes that some self-censorship is still advised.”

A common core to the story arc of Hemingsson’s tales is the positioning of the weird and wondrous protagonist to reflect the conditions of real life in a melancholic yet hopeful way. In the end of the day, a film version of these kind of stories would be great. Who doesn´t need some laughter nowadays?
So there´s my list. What do you readers think? Any other comics/graphic novels/graphic memoirs you would like to see a film adaption of?

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*For anyone interested, the very best comic/graphic novel adaptations done to date are “Persepolis” and the television adaptation of “The Boondocks” (specifically season 1 and 2).

persepolis** My own translations.

*** My own translations.

Today is Martin Luther King Day!In honor of this day when we celebrate this great man, it should be reminded that the struggle wasn’t easy for Dr. King. In fact, the FBI tried to blackmail Dr. King into killing himself.

4 ways Martin Luther King was even more radical than one first thought. For instance, he denounced the Vietnam War and supported reproductive rights.

Go read and listen to Dr. Kings’ Nobel Peace Prize speech here.

The Great Angela Davis on Martin Luther King.

Scot Nakagawa over at Colorlines: “My debt to Dr. King”.

Take Care/ Maaretta

Langston Hughes (b. 1902-1967) is one of those writers that don’t need an introduction. Mr. Hughes was the author of several plays, dozens of poems, two biographies as well as a slew of other writing projects. Rarely has there been a writer who could deliver such strong wisdom, wit and a sense for justice in his prose. His short stories and poems speak of the nuances and horrors of racial hatred and discrimination. Hughes’ description of a sole black student in the poem “Theme For English B” captures the alienation that’s been magnified by race, and his poem “Madam and her Madam” (where a hard working black maid calls out the white woman she works for after the latter claims there is no barriers between them) speaks of the utter obviousness and destructive naivety whites embodies in a white privileged society. Langston Hughes work spoke of hope and tried to often empower the oppressed in his poems, such as in his poem “Democracy”. In his most famous short story collection, “The Ways of White Folks”, Hughes tells stories of segregation from the point of view of both whites and blacks, the ongoing theme as the title suggest being the ways whites oppress in era of Jim Crow.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

One of his most powerful short prose pieces is “Poor Little Black Fellow”, which tells the story of Arnold who at a young age becomes an orphan and is adopted by a white rich couple. Arnolds is black and his lost parents were servants. Arnold, or Arnie as everyone calls him, grows up realizing he is not allowed to do nearly anything. Throughout his childhood and youth Arnie experiences being denied the same rights as the white children. He doesn’t get to join the scouts; he doesn’t get to play with the other children and is not invited to any parties. The Church, which his adoptive parents attend, use him as a symbol of “Christian charity”. Everyone in the story displays a superficial tone of exaggerated niceness to Arnie since they know he can’t be a part of anything. Their kindness is patronizing, not really helping with Arnie´s problems as a toxic bearer of blackness in a world of hidden white oppressions. Indeed, Mr. Hughes shows in this story that kindness can in times be worse than maliciousness. By being nice, the whites are able to deny Arnie any forms of equality or rights. Arnie knows in a way that the kindness is fake, a way to rationalize the racism he faces, but is powerless to say anything. Being extra nice to Arnie does nothing but put Arnie down, since he is not treated as a normal kid. Even worse he is used by his adoptive white parents and their friends and neighbors to make them feel better about themselves, while contributing and continuing the dehumanizing segregation and its hidden ideology.

"Painting Of Black Child" by Maria Saldarriaga, painted on porcelain

“Painting Of Black Child” by Maria Saldarriaga, painted on porcelain

But once Arnie starts to reach adulthood, Arnie and his adoptive parents take a trip to France. There Arnie starts to become immersed in political activism and social milieu (notably “party’s”). He begins a journey where meeting people for the first time gives him the feeling that the kindness he receives isn’t patronizing and degrading, but actually based on him as a person. He even falls in love with a white French girl and plans to marry her.

"Slow Dance", by Brandy Kayzakian-Rowe

“Slow Dance”, by Brandy Kayzakian-Rowe

He wants to stay in France, where he is treated equally and not shut down by faux-kindness. However, when he tells his parents about this plan, the white rich couple for the first time quit being “extra nice” and show their true colors to Arnie.

"Langston Hughes", a painting from the Brooklyn Art Project

“Langston Hughes”, a painting from the Brooklyn Art Project

Hughes uses France as a strong contrast to the US; while one country features segregation, the other provides hope and rights. Many black intellectuals in fact did move to France before and after the civil rights movement, such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright. While France did offer more rights to people of color at the time, the French did their share of also the separation and exotic-fication of blacks in their society.

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The black French writer Frantz Fanon spoke of how, in his opinion, the French didn’t fully allow for blacks to be black in their own way nor did they fully understand what it was like to be “imprisoned in ones skin color”. Indeed, the French had a subtle, but emphatically problematic way of viewing Africa and Africans, believing them to be the “pure emotional ones”. Blacks were categorized at times as all African and there were cases where whites would tell blacks to behave “more African”. Mr. Fanon wrote an entire book on the account of racism in France, most notable the book “Black skin, White Mask”, where he deals with the psychological aspects in racism. Also, the time Hughes is describing in his story is the same time when Algeria was still colonized by France. So while the basic truth Hughes describes in his story ( that France offered some basic rights for the black Americans while the US still lived in the mind set of Jim Crow) this does erase certain more troublesome aspects of the French racial mindset from that time as well. None the less, Mr. Hughes uses this contrast between the two countries (France is more of metaphorical country in Hughes story than the real France detailed by Mr. Fanon) in a clever way to also show the difference between patronizing and humanizing.

Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon

“Poor Little Black Fellow” is a great literary document of the 1930’s. It is also a great example of how racism is more and more insidious than the explicit and obvious malicious and cruel actions engendered in the prejudiced social world. It’s also denial, which Arnie´s adoptive parents are guilty of. Prejudice and hatred take different shapes. Just because one is acting nice it most certainly doesn’t mean the actions are not harmful. This niceness, as described by Mr. Hughes, can be a way to exercise ones privilege and of looking down. Making someone less of a person is exposed in a grammar of oppression regardless of ones tone or being “polite” about it. This story is the perfect example of this, and should therefore be read by everybody who thinks everything will be okay if we are just nice to each other. If only it was so easy, but true kindness comes in the form of true equal rights, opportunity and freedom, as Langston Hughes illustrates.

(Spoilers for both “Frankenweenie” and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)!)

As a director and visually insightful storyteller, Tim Burton has been a critical darling as well as an icon and initiator of Popular Goth Culture. Successful as a director, writer and producer, Burton has done some truly fantastic films, such as “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989) and “Edward Scissorshand” (1990), with the latter film being a film classic and arguably still his best work to date. After 2005, Burton has had a bit of a creative decline which can, perhaps, be pinpointed in his being too overly productive (Looking at his resume at IMDB, it’s stated that Mr. Burton made two films in both 2005 and 2012) and stuck in the trap of his own brilliant style and quirky narrative deployments. His current work has also grown towards the habit of filming adaption’s of previous existing films, novels and plays, and many of his critics have claimed this to be an ongoing error and a major cause of his fall from his high style.

Tim Burton working on "Frankenweenie"

Tim Burton working on “Frankenweenie”

However Burton is, and has always been, good in plying at the fresh fields implied in the adaption’s he has tackled. His darkly comical version of “Sweeney Todd” was extremely engaging and fascinating, as was his vision of the comic book hero Batman. Making his own personal interpretation of already existing ideals is not necessarily a bad move. The problem lies more in that Mr. Burton doesn’t seem to always think through the interesting aspects of the stories he re-creates.

Adding to the faults which have motivated criticism of Burton’s work since the new millennium, and which can be seen in his latest work “Alice in Wonderland” and “Frankenweenie”, Burton has begun to rely more on demonizing marginalized groups in the guise of shaping his villains and uses the soft narrative contrivance that conflates the normal attractive, or beautiful, guise with that of the good person of the narrative.

Victor and Sparky

Victor and Sparky

“Frankenweenie” is a re-make of a short film Tim Burton made when he was just starting out as a film maker. The story centers a young boy, Victor, who through a logic-free science brings his dog back to life. The story begins with showing Victor being a loner who instead of wanting to have friends prefers the company of his dog Sparky while making inventions and homemade films, starring of course Sparky. After introducing their protagonist, who at this point should be mentioned is white, cis-gendered, male and non-disabled (his character modeling is made personify the cute, i.e. fits our society ideas of what is a decent looking person would entail), the viewer gets a glimpse of his schools class: they consist of a heavily over-weight boy named Bob, a Japanese-American boy named Toshiaki, a girl with pale hair and giant black circles around her eyes, a boy who is most certainly a person of color (possibly having roots in the Middle east) named Nassor and a hunchbacked boy named Edgar. At first it’s a refreshing scene, seeing so many different types of children; especially seeing children of color and disabled children, since these groups are often ignored in mainstream films and media. But very quickly it turns out the roles for all these children are the roles of antagonist. Everyone is a bully. Victor is the victim.

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

The Weird girl, the one with pale hair and the sullen eyes, warns Victor that something will happen to him in the near future since her pet cat has had a vision. The vision being that one of its feces is shaped like a “V”; apparently the cat Mr. Whiskers has had feces in the shape of a letter that each student’s name begins with and shortly after something big has in fact happened to the kid in question. Victor blows this warning off since he doesn’t believe in this odd take on a superstition. Fair enough, however Victor is rather dismissive of the Weird Girl (who doesn’t even get a name) and openly shows her with his hostile body language that he doesn’t want to talk to her. He just says curtly “sure” and quickly leaves. I myself am a hard-core atheist and find superstition illogical, but for the sake of goodness, when someone is just trying to be nice and warn you without being offensive, you should at least be polite back.

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After this exchange with the Weird Girl we see Edgar, another of Victor’s classmates approaching to ask of Victor a favor. Edgar, in this scene, is shown having trouble understanding personal space, so Victor being uncomfortable with how close Edgar gets to him appears reasonable to the viewer. Nevertheless, Edgar has approached Victor to simply suggest that they work together on a science project since neither of them have any friends. Victor responds simply that he wants to work alone, while crawling away from Edgar. Why? This revulsion is never explained. Edgar is not being mean. He is simply stating that they could work together since both are friendless. Victor denies the request but no reason is forthcoming, though Edgars socially “odd looks and behavior” seem swimmingly obvious.
The pivot point of the narrative of “Frankenweenie” comes when Sparky the dog is run over by a car and killed and we follow the trajectory of grief this brings to Victor. Victor’s obsession with Sparky’s death is transfigured when, during a science lesson, he is enlightened by how the muscles of even the dead respond to electricity. This inspires Victor with the plan to attempt the same technique to bring his dog back to life (as even Mary Shelly was inspired by the like experiments in her day to incorporate them into her “Frankenstein”). Victor succeeds in reanimating his pet, but wisely decides to keep the fact that he has awoken his dead dog a secret. This attempt at concealing the reanimated falls apart when Edgar spots Sparky chasing a cat. Edgar then proceeds to blackmail Victor into showing him how he brought the dog back to life. If Victor doesn’t show Edgar how he was able to bring his pet back to life, he will tell everyone about Sparky. Victor then reluctantly demonstrates the technique with a gold fish.

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Before this point, the film was a typical Burton kid film: comfortable macabre with a light heart. A boy brings his dog back to life because he loves his dog so much. But then Edgar starts blackmailing Victor, bullying him into bringing a gold fish back to life. Edgar happily goes to school with the re-animated gold fish. It is then reveled that all of the other students are bullies: after Edgar blackmails Victor, he is cornered at school by Nassor who threatens him. Nassor makes it clear that if Edgar doesn’t tell him what he’s hiding, he’s in trouble. Simultaneously, Toshiaki and Bob are shown bickering about the upcoming science fair. Bob claims Toshiaki is the “smart one” out of the two, stereotyping the over-weight Bob as naturally stupid and Toshiaki as the naturally smart and science-obsessed one. Toshiaki is also shown being sinister and malevolent, as illustrated when he decides that a proper way to win the science fair is by forcefully strapping Bob to a small rocket and launching it off the roof, all while speaking in poor English. Toshiaki in short embodies every negative stereotype against Asians imaginable.

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While it is refreshing to see a children’s film with a diverse cast, it is unfortunate that the entire diverse cast is in fact demonized. The only character that belongs slightly to a marginalized group and is not demonized is Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, who is an immigrant (but, he is not a Person of Color like Nassor and Toshiaki. Make of that what one will). Mr. Rzykruski is shown being an energetic and supportive teacher who is falsely accused of inspiring children to do deadly experiments. This results into an awesomely funny speech while he tries to defend himself, which will be linked below. (The science teacher’s design is strongly modeled after the deceased legendary actor Vincent Price, who worked with and strongly influenced Mr. Burton. Mr. Price was a major inspiration for Tim Burton’s first short animation, “Vincent” (1982)).

Mr. Rzykruski is the one to tell Victor he should become a scientist, which brings up another major problem with the film.

Whether it was intentional or not, the film sends the message that only white, “decent looking” men should be involved with science. The science replacement teacher the class gets is a woman, who formally taught PE. One of the students proclaims she knows nothing about science, to which she then snaps that she knows enough. The problem here is that there is an extreme lack of women in science as well as their being many harmful prejudices against women that make it difficult for them to take place in science. By having the female teacher being mean and ignorant of science is not progressive. It is also an outdated stereotype that strong women are mean.

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In the films climax all of the kids Victor has interacted with decide to bring an animal back to life. After Victor’s secret is reviled Toshiaki, Nassor, Weird girl, Edgar and Bob all try to bring an animal back from the dead. After blackmailing and threatening, the kids enter Victor’s room, looking for the device that brought Sparky alive. The children all decide to experiment and to try to bring an animal back to life. Edgar brings a rat back to life, Toshiaki his pet turtle, Nassor his hamster and Bob sea creatures. Weird Girl tries the technique on a dead bat, but accidently mixes the creature with her cat. As one can predict, all of the creatures become uncontrollable monsters that start wrecking and terrorizing the city. The only explanation that is given for the significant different results of bringing the animals alive are that one must “love” the science or experiment. The explanation does not hold up, for Toshiaki and Nassor brought back their pets; sounds like there was a hint of love in that experimentation. True, they are more concerned with winning the science fair, but they actively chose their own pets instead of random dead animals. Weird Girl most definitely loved her cat. And lots of great science has been driven and performed by curiosity and ambition, which Edgar and Weird Girl probably were embodying in their own experiments. So the message of the film is that only white, non-disabled, thin males should do science. Everyone else – People of Color, women, the disabled – will only cause trouble. The film hammers home the message by even having Victor figure out how to destroy all the monsters and save the town. The person who no doubt has most of the privilege saves the day, proving that only white men can do science and fulfill its consequences. The statement about “loving science” becomes only an excuse for prejudice.

TOSHIAKI-IN-FRANKENWEENIE

As a side note, it’s also worth mentioning that the meanest adult in the film is a bald man. He bullies his “pretty” niece and yells constantly at Victor. So people who fit our society’s ideals of “unattractive” are also bad since beauty and looks is what marks out the parameters of a good person.

Another case in point is the work of “Alice” by Tim Burton which moves along the same direction in the demonization of marginalized groups. In “Alice In Wonderland”, the villainous Red Queen is given an abnormally large head. The Mad Hatter in the film revels that residents fighting against the Red Queen use a slogan that goes: “Down with the Bloody Big head”. Even worse, the White Queen is hinted at being a bit dangerous (has served human fingers in a jar), yet she’s the one the audience is suppose to root for and the happy ending is encapsulated in the storyline with her being crowned Queen in the instead of her repugnant sister the Red Queen. The film implies that the White Queen should be the ruler, since she’s “prettier” and the lack of attractiveness on the surface pierces deep into the soul (causes or is caused by is never fully explored). Using the Red Queens looks (which may be a form of disability) as a way to critique her is placed on the viewer as a “given” and hints if not commits ableism. It also hammers home the message that only the attractive should be in positions of power and visibility.

The White Queen and The Red Queen

The White Queen and The Red Queen

This rejection of the outliers of accepted “looks” in Alice (the Red Queen has a “misshapen” head) along with placing the hunchbacked Edgar in “Frankenweenie” as a villain and mostly to blame for the problems in the film (he’s the one to push Victor to show him the device and then tell about it to others) makes a disturbing new pattern in Burton’s film. Indeed, the man who once defended people’s rights to not fit into our society’s norms now appears to be demonizing the very same.

The menagerie of children in “Frankenweenie” are supposedly a reference to different horror films, with each character being a reference to classical horror genres and it is no surprise that Burton wants to express an ode to these influential and important classic horror films. The problem lies with the ill conceived and notable disregard of the historical context of these films. The majority of these films were made in times when a lot of marginalized groups were completely deprived of rights, dismissed by the society at large, seen as problematic to majority culture, marginalized by negative imagery, and were nearly always portrayed negatively in cinema. So casting these old stereotypes into his film does not work without insight to the historical ethnicity and becomes double edge sword cutting towards the highly offensive. You simply cannot have a privileged person being the victim and all the marginalized groups being villains. Yes, even the privileged can have difficult lives, but that does not take away the fact that we still live in a highly hierarchical world where those of marginalized groups struggle to be engaged equally in the social, cultural and political. When Victor is the hero and is shown as the only one we should like and the only one who should be allowed to do science that hierarchy is strengthened. And that is fairly harmful, if not irresponsible.

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Tim Burton has been and remains an important filmmaker. There is no other director quite like him. In his earlier works, Tim Burton has even strongly defended outsiders and probably doesn’t mean to be offensive. It is crucial that he should start thinking more about what roles he gives to marginalized characters; then he will once again be on top of his game.