Joe’s Crab Shack, Mission Valley, San Diego, CA.
As Tupac Shakur once famously said to me, “There is no place called careful.” On the one hand, Tupac was right: There is not much room for error in America if you are a Black male in a society ostensibly bent on profiling your every move, eager to capitalize on your falling into this or that trap, particularly keen to swoop down on your self-inflicted mishaps. But by the same token, Tupac was wrong: There can be a place called careful, once one becomes aware of the world one lives in, its potential, its limitations, and if one is willing to struggle to create a new model, some new and alternative space outside and away from the larger universe, where one can be free enough to comprehend that even if the world seems aligned against you, you do not have to give the world the rope to hang you with.”
—Kevin Powell in Who’s Gonna Take the Weight: Manhood, Race, and Power in America
Posted by Ajuan Mance
This drawing and the next depict men who were sitting near me during the Heroes/Creators: The Comic Art Creations of Civil Rights Legends panel (see 1001 Black Men–#580). One of the highlights of the panel was the presentation by Andrew Aydin, one of the creators of the March trilogy, a collection of three graphic novels that tell the story of Civil Rights activist and current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Lewis.
Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte, Jr., San Diego Comic-Con.
This is the second time I’ve had to pleasure of seeing Phillip Boutte on the annual costume illustrators panel. The costume and production designers and illustrators exemplify what’s possible when artists refuse to abandon the idea that their passion can be their life’s work.
Since completing his degree in 2006 (at Cal State University-Long Beach), Boutte has worked as costume illustrator or concept artist on more than 25 major motion pictures.
This is a drawing of Stanford Carpenter as he appeared on the Heroes/Creators panel at the Comic Arts Conference, SDCC 2013. Dr. Carpenter is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Institute for Comics Studies, a cultural anthropologist, and a comic creator.
A face from the audience, Comic-Con 2013, San Diego Convention Center, Room 9.
This is a drawing of the videographer for the Brandon Easton panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2013. Part of the reason I chose this figure was because I had a clear view of him from my seat. Mostly, though, I was interested in the idea of capturing a Black male cameraman in the act of viewing Black male panelists.
Zocaló Cafe, San Leandro, CA.
My father could only sign
His name, but he’d look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.
—“My Father’s Love Letters” by Yusef Komunyakaa
There are moments when an event or series of events makes it difficult to go about your everyday life in the same way or with the same mindset as before those events transpired. These moments, be they heartbreaking or exhilarating, illuminate aspects of our lives, our settings, and the people around us in new and often transformative ways. The late Audre Lorde described this phenomenon as a shift in the “quality of light” by which we see ourselves and the world around us. The acquittal of George Zimmerman is one such event. So much about the tragic death that led to Zimmerman’s trial revolved around the historic gulf between how so many Americans see Black men and how Black men see themselves. And, although I am African American, the death of Trayvon Martin and the fact that it grew out of one person’s perception, based solely on his appearance, that this teenaged boy represented a threat has caused me to consider my own consumption of films, music, television programs, and other media that reinforce the notion that Black men are dangerous, deviant, and lazy, except in the pursuit of criminal enterprise or sexual conquest.
I do not subscribe to the “positive images” doctrine of Black representation (whose adherents tend to believe that the only acceptable representations of African Americans resemble the characters on The Cosby Show). An emphasis on so-called positive images of Black people imposes its own pernicious form of erasure, of all U.S. Black folks whose comportment, dress, and/or diction falls outside of the realm of what some people have deemed as the “proper” performance of Blackness. Still, I am also aware that, despite the breadth of representations of Black people produced by independent artists, writers, and performers of African descent, these richly diverse portrayals are most often overshadowed by the more easily accessible programming and imagery produced and distributed through major media outlets and corporations.
And so, for the next week or so, beginning with my next post, I am going to going to feature the words of some of my favorite African American male writers, with an emphasis on the ways that they have depicted Black men. After each of the next several posts, I will include a brief quote from an African American writer that captures his own vision of Black men. I’ll try not to repeat writers, although, as an African American literature professor, I certainly have my favorites.
I hope you enjoy this brief tribute to the ways that Black men see themselves and each other.
For my second 500 drawings I am interested in depicting those African American men that I have largely overlooked during my first 500 drawings. Among those constituencies that I am rarely depict are homeless Black men, which is kind of peculiar, because there are a number of homeless guys who I see and with whom I speak on a regular basis. This is one such person who I’ve run into a few times near the Safeway that’s across the street from the Fruitvale branch of the Oakland Public Library. We have exchanged hellos, but we’ve never actually had a conversation. I’ve never forgotten the way his too-thin frame accommodated a tucked-in sweater a bit too easily. The way the tongue of his belt hung down way past his pocket suggested that he was both dramatically underfed and dressed in the clothing of a much larger person. There is an unassuming dignity in the way he carries himself, and his gaze suggests that he’s seen more in his one lifetime than most people might encounter in three. I hope to print this drawing soon and to hand this gentleman a copy next time I’m in his area.