Tag Archives: racism

Review: ‘Incognegro’ by Mat Johnson

After hearing a very interesting NPR interview with Mat Johnson, I decided I simply had to read Incognegro.  Mr. Johnson’s lives and experiences are clearly an inspiration for the superhero known as Incognegro as well as inspiration for his other writings. He describes himself as “mulatto”, being the son of an African-American mother and an Irish-American father.  The struggles of growing up being seen differently by different people is a struggle which I personally often thought about, even though I’m as Western European-American as you can get. As you may know, I’m an Adult Reference Librarian who maintains the adult graphic novel collection at a large urban public library.  You may also know that I’m a self-described geek and anti-racist and a family historian.

I’d seen the graphic novel come and go off the shelves.  My reading list was so long, I told myself I’d get there eventually.  After hearing that interview (linked above), I moved it up the list.

This graphic novel places us in the 1930s where a light-skinned journalist, Zane, goes undercover as a white man in the American South to investigate lynchings for a newspaper based in Harlem.  His newspaper publishes his work under the name ‘Incognegro’.  This means he goes without recognition outside of the office, which is something he grapples with.  He wants people to know that he’s the writer known as Incognegro.

Throughout the graphic novel, we are faced with uncomfortable realities about race in America, past and present. I find the straight forward unapologetically honest tone of this graphic novel refreshing.  The writing is grounded and the black and white artwork, done by illustrator Warren Pleece, doesn’t try to blunt the honest tone.

“Race doesn’t really exist,” Zane says.  “Race is just a bunch of rules meant to keep us on the bottom.  Race is a strategy.  The rest is just people acting.  Playing roles.  That’s what white folks never get. They don’t think they have accents.  They don’t think they eat ethnic foods.  Their music is classical. They think they’re just normal.  That they are the universal and that everyone else is an odd deviation from form. That’s what makes them so easy to infiltrate.”

Grade: 4.5/5

Other works by Mat Johnson:

  • Drop
  • Hunting in the Harlem
  • Hellblazer: Papa Midnite
  • The Great Negro Plot
  • Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story
  • Pym
  • Right State
  • Loving Day

-The McNabbist

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My White Privilege

She’d gotten pregnant at 15, had her child just three weeks after her 16th birthday, dropped out of high school, and got married.  A few years later, she was divorced and on her own with a three year old little girl.  She got her GED and worked jobs as she could find ones that would fit her schedule as a parent.

One day in mid-1980s, this struggling single mother decided to try her hand at creating a house-cleaning business.  Her knowledge of the emerging technologies of the time was limited.  She couldn’t afford printed advertisements.  Instead, she went door to door in some of the wealthier neighborhoods in the metropolitan area, greeting each person that answered the door with a smile, a flyer, and a description of the services she offered.  It was a rough start, but after a couple of years, she found her services in demand.  In 2016, her business had expanded to pet sitting, elder sitting, babysitting, and professional organizing and she can’t keep up with the demand!  While this woman is by no means wealthy or upper-middle class, she was able to buy a home for her and her daughter in 1987 and has since paid it off completely.

My mother’s story sounds like the stereotypical “American Dream”.  Anyone against any odds can make it in the United States of America!  However, that isn’t the whole story.  My mother is Caucasian.  Going door to door in these wealthy neighborhoods in the 1980s would have turned out differently if they’d been met with an African-American single mother in her twenties.  I do not doubt that some of them would have hired her regardless of her skin color; however, I am not quite sure that all of them would have.

My mother didn’t have it easy growing up and as a mother.  I need to give credit where credit is due. She had an emotionally and economically abusive father growing up.  She had an anxious, introverted daughter to raise, mostly on her own.  I’m not denying the sheer strength of my mother.  She is a force to be reckoned with.  She’s ambitious, doesn’t take no for an answer, and will never let a man rule her life.  If she wants something, she gets it!  She has one of the strongest work ethics I’ve come across. If she sees someone being nasty to another, she steps in. She’s also one of the most loving and giving people that I know.  So, Mom, I’m not trying to detract from the awesome things you have accomplished or from how wonderful of a human being you are.   YOU ROCK.

But, let’s return to the point of this blog post.  My mother had not only an incredibly ambitious drive and a very strong work ethic, she also had her white skin and I’m convinced this is part of the reason I had a mother who could support me.  She couldn’t afford to send me on the overseas trips my fellow students took when I was in middle school, but we had a home and when I went to university, she paid for my books and assisted here and there as she could.  So, I am privileged not only by my own skin color and a strong work ethic, but of being the daughter of a woman who was able to make it easier for me to get the education I needed to get a good job.

We need to stop lying to ourselves about the idea that everyone in this country has the same opportunities.  There is no level playing field.  I want to make it clear to my fellow white Americans, I’m not saying that having white skin automatically means you’ve had an easy life.  There are many ways in which we as individuals can be oppressed, mistreated, and hurt.  Admitting white privilege doesn’t deny this basic truth, but it does admit that our skin color gives us a benefit, both historically and currently, that makes a level playing field impossible until we begin to address the systemic racism in this country.

We are products of our past and present.  We can’t divorce ourselves from this truth.  We can, however, challenge ourselves (our misconceptions, our attitudes, our biases), and work towards a better future.

Thank you for taking the time to give consideration to my views on my own white privilege.  Thank you for your patience with my average writing skills. I’ve probably forgotten to say important things or wrote this in a way that shows my own privilege. I’m still working on becoming a better human being.  It’s a lifelong journey.

-The McNabbist

P.S.  I initially began writing this post with much stronger words. However, I decided that I wanted those white Americans who rarely discussed this issue or had never understood how privilege worked to read a less confrontational article.  It is my hope that to those for who this is a new and/or uncomfortable topic will find this a more educational and eye-opening read than if I’d worded it differently.  My feelings are very strong on this topic, but I felt it better to approach it in this way.

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