Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Cities should shovel sidewalks—some do

You might think drivers and pedestrians have equal rights to free travel, but in Minneapolis, the city shovels streets and leaves sidewalks to property-owners. The result is that sidewalks are often challenging for the able-bodied and impassible for people with wheelchairs or strollers.

If the city took on the job, that would change—and the cost to taxpayers would be barely noticeable. As noted in Down shovels: the city should clear the sidewalks -
Sidewalk plowing appears to be one of the great bargains of municipal governance. Winnipeg, for example, manages to keep its sidewalks free from snow and ice for $2 million a year, or less than $7 per household. Try finding a teenager willing to shovel your driveway just once for $7, let alone a whole season.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A question identitarians don't ask: Why are poor white people poor?

Identitarians say poor women are poor because of sexism and poor people of color are poor because of racism, but they don't talk about why poor white people are poor.  Yet the number of white Americans who fail to benefit economically from white privilege is huge. In 2012, Robert Ross wrote in Poverty More than a Matter of Black and White:
Collapsing poor and black as if all poor were black and all blacks poor turns the “poverty” problem into a “race” problem.

The white poverty rate does run much lower than the black rate, just under 10  percent, one-third of the black rate. But the white poor outnumber the black poor considerably, 19 to 7.8 million. White people make up 42 percent of America’s poor, black people about 28 percent.

The basic numbers don’t change when we look at people living in extreme poverty, in households making less than 50  percent of the meager poverty line. Of the 20 million people who live at this alarming level of want and deprivation, about 42 percent are white, 27  percent black.
Because class mobility in the US is so limited, the ratio of white and black people in poverty has not changed since 1967, when Martin Luther King said,
In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.
The identitarian understanding of capitalism implies that poor white people are too stupid to compete even though they have white privilege. Some identitarians admit that; see Two examples of black identitarians mocking poor white people. The idea that the poverty of poor white people proves their inferiority is probably as old as the idea of race. We have an example from 1833: Fanny Kemble wrote in her diary, "The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as 'poor white trash'."

ETA: Every group in poverty has a unique historical reason for being there. Yet Martin Luther King knew the solutions are all the same: end poverty with Basic Income.


Mass Incarceration: New Jim Crow, Class War, or Both? – People's Policy Project:
Overall, this study supports the view of Cedric Johnson and others that mass incarceration in the United States is primarily a system of locking up lower class men—one which ends up disproportionately imprisoning black men, since they are far more likely to be lower class than white men. Racial disparities remain among certain incarceration outcomes, which are consistent with findings of other studies on this topic, but it is nevertheless class that is the predominant factor.
The Panthers Can’t Save Us Now:
At the heart of contemporary organizing is the notion of black exceptionalism. Contemporary Black Lives Matter activists and supporters insist on the uniqueness of the black predicament and on the need for race-specific remedies. “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise,” #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza explains. “It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity and our resistance in the face of deadly oppression.”1 “When we say black lives matter,” Garza continues, “we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgement [that] Black poverty and genocide [are] state violence.” This essay takes aim at this notion of black exceptionalism and lays out its origins and limits as an analysis of hyperpolicing and, more generally, as an effective political orientation capable of building the popular power needed to end the policing crisis.

Friday, January 26, 2018

On servants, sidekicks, and partners, or why I don't put Lothar, Kato, and Tonto among the first superheroes of color

Superheroes have three kinds of companions, and the difference matters, especially when the hero is a white man and the companion is not.

The first is the servant, like Lothar and Kato when they first appeared. Servants may be very capable, but they rarely act on their own. They do what they're told. The relationship between a hero and his (or, rarely, her) servant may be friendly, but there is never a hint that it's a relationship of equals.

The second is the sidekick, usually a boy like Robin, Bucky, and Ebony White, or an adult like Jimmy Olsen, Tonto, and Doiby Dickles, or a love interest like Lois Lane and Steve Trevor. Sidekicks may be the hero's social equal, but they're not the hero's equal in ability.

The third is the partner, a character who is effectively the hero's equal in every meaningful way—see Superman and Batman, Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Captain America and the Falcon, Luke Cage and Iron Fist...

In the 1960s, heroes' servants were upgraded. Lothar and Kato became more like sidekicks than servants, and Chop-Chop became a full member of the Blackhawks. Since then, their writers do the best they can to make them partners, but even today, the best you can say about Lothar, Kato, and Chop-Chop (or Chopper or whatever they call him now) is they're treated with the respect a writer would give Lancelot or Will Scarlet, but they're still not King Arthur or Robin Hood. This attempt at creating a team from old newspaper heroes shows the problem: the white guys are clearly the heroes and Lothar comes fourth in importance:

So for me, Lothar, Tonto, and Kato are major characters in the history of superheroes, but they're important steps toward the creation of superheroes of color rather than fully-realized characters in their own right.

That said, Kato has effectively eclipsed the Green Hornet, thanks especially to Bruce Lee's TV performance. If I was publishing their comic, I would title it Kato and the Green Hornet.

Boosting Tonto and Lothar to full partnership status is more challenging—giving them equal billing would be a start. Lothar's enormously strong and an African prince as well; there's no reason he can't be as interesting as the Black Panther. But Tonto is saddled with a name that means "fool" or "moron" in Spanish, and while I suspect that came out of ignorance rather than malice—the name may have been inspired by the Tonto Basin in Arizona—it's a problem. I would be tempted to reveal that Tonto was also a man on a mission, so when he teamed up with the Lone Ranger, he chose a false name that amused him. When he completes the mission—perhaps by finding the people who killed a member of his family—he could reveal his true name.

Possibly of interest

Ask the Archivist: Meet MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN includes a very early example of Lothar saving a white woman in her boudoir, which had to have been considered daring in its time.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Forgotten Native American superheroes: the Bird Man and Buckskin

Golden Age comics tended to romanticize American Indians, which is why there were at least two Native superheroes in the 1940s.

I'm sorry to say I understand why both were forgotten.

The Bird Man should've been great. Bird Man @ PDSH describes him:
The Bird Man, winged hunter of the plains and descendant of an ancient Native American god, was gifted with the ability to fly and the keenness of a bird of prey. His wings were said to be as durable as steel.
But the art and the writing are bad even by the standards of early comic books, and his costume is as minimalistic as the Sub-Mariner's. The only thing I like about him is his bow and arrow: a long-range weapon makes sense for someone who flies.

More about the Bird Man:

Don Markstein's Toonopedia: The Bird Man

The Golden Age Bird Man

Buckskin, when described, sounds less interesting than Bird Man:
Seeking to inspire his students, Robert Blake wears a blue buckskin costume and mask, becoming the hero known as Buckskin (or sometimes Buck Skin Blake). Trained by his grandfather, a former Indian scout, he has no powers but is a skilled fighter and woodsman. He was sometimes aided by his trained eagle, Talon.
But he had better artists and writers, and perhaps more importantly, a better costume. If I was writing a story using Golden Age superheroes of color, I might find a way to merge these two, maybe by giving the Bird Man Buckskin's costume and pet eagle. Or maybe I wouldn't. The Bird Man and Buckskin are essentially Native versions of Hawkman and Wildcat. They could make a fine team.

One of Buckskin's stories (which I hate for its anti-union jingoism) is reprinted here: Four-Color Shadows: Buckskin-Super Mystery Comics-1942.


Forgotten Asian superheroes: Alani the South Sea Girl and Mei-Ling the Girl Commando

Technically, Alani the South Sea Girl and Mei-Ling the Girl Commando are both pulp heroes or action heroes rather than superheroes, but in the colloquial sense, they count: they wore distinctive clothing and fought for justice. If Tarzan and Blackhawk are superheroes, Alani and Mei-Ling are too. If you think I'm cheating by including a jungle hero and a paramilitary hero in this series, that's fine—but I'll note that in the comics, jungle heroes and paramilitary heroes often fight beside characters who meet anyone's definition of a superhero, and in cases like the Black Panther and the Punisher, they blur the lines or shatter them.

Alani the South Sea Girl was drawn by one of comics' first black artists, the great Matt Baker. She was an early eco-heroine; as noted at South Sea Girl, she...
...was the ruler and protector of a chain of volcanic tropical islands in the South Pacific called the Vanishing Isles. She teamed up with Captain Ted to prevent oil tycoons from taking over her islands. She has no powers, but is strong enough to swim through a typhoon, can kill a shark easily, and is a knowledgeable mariner.
Though Alani is colored "white", the dialogue makes it clear she is not. In Seven Seas #4, Alani has agreed to replace a prima donna actress in a movie. When the actress tries to kill Alani, Cheeta, Alani's pet jungle cat that the actress has abused, attacks the actress. A bystander shouts, "He'll kill the white woman!" Referring to the actress as a white woman only makes sense if no one thinks Alani is white.

More: The Comic Book Catacombs: South Sea Girl in "The Vanishing Isles" (Leader Ent.;1946)

The Girl Commandos' name suggests they were counterparts of the popular Boy Commandos, but they were an international group of women like the Blackhawks—with one difference that matters in any history about comic book characters of color: The writer treated Mei-Ling, their Chinese member, with respect, unlike the Blackhawk's Chop-Chop who, for twenty years, didn't even get to wear the Blackhawk uniform.

Interesting factoid: The Girl Commandos strip was only drawn by women, first Barbara Hall, then Jill Elgin.

ETA: There may be an interesting piece to be written about early comics, race, and newsprint coloring using Mei-Ling: her color varies. Sometimes she's pink like the Caucasians, sometimes she's yellow, but she may most often be orange or brown. Colorist mistakes and limitations of the technology explain some of the inconsistencies, I suspect, but not all. Villainous Asian characters were fairly consistently colored yellow.


Mei-Ling of the Girl Commandos.

Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep!!: Golden Age Idol--Who Needs The Blackhawks?!?


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The first black superhero: Lion-Man or the Black Phantom?

I side with the people who say Lion-Man, who appeared in 1947 in All-Negro Comics, is the first black superhero, but I see the problems with that claim. He didn't wear a mask and he didn't have superpowers. Still, he meets two of my requirements: he goes into action using a fantastical name instead of his legal one, and he was published in color.

Lion-Man at Public Domain Super Heroes describes him:
This Tarzan-esque adventure story begins with this foreword: “American-born, college educated, Lion Man is a young scientist, sent by the United Nations to watch over the fearsome ‘Magic Mountain’ of the African Gold Coast. Within its crater lies the world’s largest deposit of Uranium – enough to make an atom bomb that could destroy the world. Lion Man’s job is to report on the doings of any treacherous nation that might seek to carry away any of the lethal stuff for the purpose of war." The Lion-Man's mischievous sidekick was a young war orphan named Bubba. They fought the villainous Doctor Blut Sangro, an evil figure, and his guide, Brossed the Beachcomber.
Kristopher Mosby argues at Darker Masks: The First African American (Costumed) Superhero? that a superhero needs a costume. For the first black superhero, he proposes the Black Phantom who appeared in 1964. The Black Phantom wears a proper superhero's outfit, and, inverting the '40s cliche of white hero and ethnic sidekick, his partner is a white boy.

The Black Phantom was published in a black and white fanzine, so if you think that invalidates him from consideration as the first black superhero, I understand. He continues to be an interesting contender for the title.

For more about Lion-Man:

Before there were RiRi Williams and Black Panther, there was Lion Man

ETA: The Black Phantom's first and, sadly, only adventure is shared at The First African American (Costumed) Superhero? It's better than you may expect.


The Red Mask, the first black masked hero or a white man who passed as black?


Some readers argue that the Red Mask, a dark-skinned man who was clearly inspired by the Phantom, was the first black comic book superhero. Some insist he was a white man who acquired a dark tan after staying in Africa. The mystery of his identity had not been revealed when his newspaper strip was cancelled in 1936. He is Schrodinger's black masked hero.

But even if the writer intended to reveal him as white, the white cast thought he was black. Either way, he's an unusual character in the very white history of masked adventure heroes.

The following is a chronological arrangement of all the parts of his story that I've found online, drawn from Stripper's Guide: The Comics of Syndicated Features: Adventures of the Red Mask and Out Of This World: Early Black Comic Book Heroes: The Red Mask. Sadly, the scans of his first adventures are in muddy black and white, but the dialogue is clear.





#26, the Red Mask's final appearance:

The series was reprinted two years later in Best Comics, but their covers aren't helpful for deciding the Red Mask's race. The interiors kept him dark-skinned, but after the first issue, he looked white on the covers. Via Comicvine:


Out Of This World: Early Black Comic Book Heroes: The Red Mask

Stripper's Guide: The Comics of Syndicated Features: Adventures of the Red Mask


Forgotten superheroes of color: Moon Girl, the superwoman from Samarkand

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Forgotten superheroes of color: Freezum, the Inuit master of cold

Contemporary comics creators who want to revive public domain heroes are mostly stuck with white characters. One way to get some diversity, of course, is to reinterpret old characters rather than revive them. I tend to prefer that; see Dear DC, Please Keep Captain Marvel Black!

But if you want to be faithful to the Golden Age comics, you can still include some superheroes of color.

Freezum is one. If you look past his pidgin speech, you'll see that he functions as the equal of his partner and mentor, Sub-Zero. Not only does he master his abilities quickly, in the first threat that arises, he saves Sub-Zero.  Here's his origin from Blue Bolt v2 5 [17] (Novelty Press) - Comic Book Plus:

(click images to enlarge them)

You can revive him faithfully and still make a few changes. This is the first page of the last appearance of Sub-Zero and Freezum:

Freezum's English ought to have improved, and the green parka should only come out for superheroing. (But in defense of the parka, Sub-Zero also seems to have only one outfit in his closet. Superheroes tend to be sartorially challenged.)

I can't decide if Freezum's name is stupid or charming. In a revival, he could inherit his mentor's or be given an entirely new name for heroing.


Two examples of black identitarians mocking poor white people

On Facebook, I said,
Many identitarians feel entitled to speak disdainfully of poor white people because, in their ideology, poor whites have white privilege and therefore must be responsible for their poverty.
I can't remember when I first noticed how common "classism" is among well-off identitarians—maybe in the '90s. But in the FB discussion, Victor Jones provided a couple of examples.

Cardi B tweeted:

And Comedian Godfrey shared a video:

Privilege is something people desire, but I doubt either of them want the privilege of the people they're mocking.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Obama, Derrick Bell, and the race reductionism of Critical Race Theory

A history of neoliberalism and identitarianism should include this moment:

And data from this: How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth.

And, of course, Adolph Reed's observation about Obama in 1996.

Relevant: The Man Who Changed Middle-Class Feminism, or Derrick Bell and Critical Race Theory, Where Racism and Anti-Racism Intersect

ETA: "Barack Obama's speech on April 5, 2006 at the launch of The Brookings Institute's Hamilton Project where Obama says that "most of us are strong free traders" and praises the goals of the Hamilton Project."

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Amber A'Lee Frost summarizes socialist feminism

"The whole point of the socialist project with regards to feminism is to create the material conditions under which women can regard male bullshit as an avoidable trifle, where every man is an option, and if they're unappealing, you can sashay away to greener pastures." —Amber A'Lee Frost

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Step It Out, Nancy vs. Step It Out, Mary —on the folk process and Holly Near's misstep with a Robin and Linda Williams' song

Back before the internet, many songs effectively had no writers. If a song seemed traditional, people shared it assuming that's what it was. Albums were sometimes released with songs miscredited as "traditional" or with no credits at all.

Two of my favorite writers ran into this problem. Charles Vess decided to do The Book of Ballads, a graphic album with adaptations of folk songs written by fantasists, and asked Emma to write one. She chose one she loved, "The Black Fox".

Charles did the art, and just as the book was about to go to press, they discovered it wasn't trad—it was written by Graham Pratt. Fortunately, there was time to get permission and add an explanatory note in the book.

The same thing happened to Pamela Dean. She wrote "Owlswater" based on Stan Rogers' cover of "The Witch of the Westmorland", thinking it was trad, and learned after it had been bought that Archie Fisher wrote it.

And when Jerry Clark heard "Step It Out, Mary", he didn't know it was written by Sean McCarthy. It has all the elements of a great trad song: a European setting, a danceable tune, and a tragic ending.

Clark decided to write an American version with Robin Williams, which Robin and Linda Williams played. I love it for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is it shows how the folk process has always worked: songs from the old country are changed for the new.

In this case, the big change is the ending.

Holly Near covered it and engaged in the folk process herself: she added a final verse. Frankly, it's a mistake. She breaks a basic rule of great art: don't tell the audience what they're supposed to think. While "Step It Out, Nancy" has a feminist subtext, it's about another kind of injustice too, which Near's new verse omits.

But her version is otherwise fine, so here it is for your edification: