I just binge watched the entire first season of Luke Cage on netflix, and, all because of the really interesting, engaging and critical discussion between Dr. Henry Jenkins of USC and journalist Jose Antonia Varga at the recent Digital Media & Learning conference held at UC Irvine. DML has always been one of my favorite conferences for educators and technologists to meet and talk about critical issues that are at heart about how technology can and is used to enhance learning and education. The combination of dynamic sessions and passionate educators always is inspiring and presents a really cool realm of possibilities created by being part of this continuum of dreamers, thinkers, and creators, investigating and celebrating the universe…., er, I digress.
It was a treat to be able to listen to Henry and Jose’s dialogue that was presented as part of their long, continuing dialogue about critical issues that face the US and the world. For this session, they started the dialogue about white privilege, then went on to address global migrations and diasporas, and the nature of illegal immigration. Some of the questions and issues that they addressed were:
- How to make migration an issue in different communities, especially the LGBT community
- Interesting to consider that goods and commodities can move around freely, but people, often the people who make these goods, cannot.
- White people can travel around the world, often without documents, and are called adventurers, while people of color are illegal.
- The critical need for white people to own up to and understand white privilege.
- The role of digital communication in facilitating the true lives and experiences of people
- “Who gets to tell the story is an important as the story getting told,” Vargas
- Diversifying entertainment (who is behind the camera)
- The need for more empathy building and honesty in popular media
- Ways that we can help undocumented students in education and society
- Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC)- http://e4fc.org/
Then things got really interesting- they entered the realm of ways that graphic novels and comics can be used to address these issues. Jenkins discussed the nature of dreamers in society, the ones who think and dream of creating a better world for all people, and the ways that educators can help dreamers to facilitate their activities by building bridges between content and action, and that the superheroes can be used to build those bridges. Superheroes help readers look at and imagine all sorts of change- in action, theory and even sensibilities. After all, Superman is actually an undocumented resident.
Jenkins and Vargas went on to speak about the nature of diversity in comics, both the creators and the narratives, and they both looked to Luke Cage as an positive example. Not only are creators Black, the narrative highlights important Black thinkers, writers, musicians, and activists. Conversations in the barber shop where cage works bring up Oscar Peterson, Ralph Ellison, Miles Davis, Malcolm X, MLK, Walter Mosley and other greats. These names are not just dropped, they are integrated into the narrative in natural and organic ways that also contextualizes them in US society and history, showing them to be the important people they were (and are).
As usual, I left the DML with my head buzzing with ideas for education in general, and more specifically, about my dissertation- using graphic novels and comics in the classroom to teach critical issues about social justice, communal and individual identity.
As I reflected on these ideas, I began to think about the panel on diversity in comics that I participated in at the 2016 Long Beach Comic Con. I unfortunately arrived late to the session, and missed the names of the other panelists (and they all split to other events immediately after it was done. The discussion was already in progress when I did sit down, and after a few minutes, when there was a break, one of the moderators (there were 2 or 3), asked me to introduce my self, and I was genuinely surprised and pleased when I received a round of applause when I mentioned my dissertation topic. I felt that I was off to a better start.
It was a diverse panel- 3 Black men, a woman (possibly gay), and me. The moderators were a Black man, a White man, and a White woman. The discussion was rich and dynamic and pretty positive. One gentleman in the audience challenged the panel about the lack of Blacks in the industry, but said in a way that felt that he was not given the opportunities that he felt that he deserved. He also ragged about some of the creators who have succeeded, but in a way that downplayed their success. The panel pretty much agreed that we are at a time where we need to support those who can do their work, encourage it and celebrate it, even if you do not particularly like their work. It is important that if we want to create change, then we need to celebrate and support each other. One of the panelists then told his own story. He is a true comics geek and always wanted to create them. As he grew older, he found that the path was incredibly difficult, and that he may not be able to succeed. But rather then give up, he became a publisher and publishes the kids of comics that he wanted to make, primarily about the Black community (and super heroes). I really like this idea, and know of other examples where people modified their personal dreams in order to support and empower others, which also can be considered a great way to engage the community of creators and users.
All in all, it was a very positive discussion, with the participants showing great respect for each other and love of the medium!
But there was a fly here, that I’ve been reflecting and thinking about. At one point, the discussion shifted to the producers of comics and movies and the perception that many of these producers and agents are Jewish. The moderator of that moment, a Black man, leaned over to me and made a comment that can only be described as anti-Semitic. This so surprised me that I was stunned, and could not really respond, and I have been wrestling with it ever since. It seemed out of place at that point in the conversation, since we were all agreeing that in order to combat racism, sexism and hate, we need to work together and support each other. What it showed be was that people often find it difficult to let go of stereotypes, no matter who. I was disappointed, mostly in myself for not bringing up and addressing his comment at that time. But I was in shock. I also began to think that although this type of comment exists across all lines of color, race, and gender. It is the poison that corrodes our society. There are plenty of examples where people are the stereotypes, which often are pretty negative. But there are plenty examples of stereotypes of people who do good work, who reach out to collaborate to together build a better society for all. And I do believe that comics can help in this process!