`Boondocks' isn't racist -- it's targeted for its ideas `Boondocks' ideas are what stir critics

July 10, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

READ THIS paper's "Letters to the Editor" page, and you'll learn that the controversy over the syndicated comic strip "The Boondocks" has not abated. One letter writer even challenged me to write a column about how the strip is detrimental to the image of blacks.

Here's an alert for all those upset over "The Boondocks." All your protests have done is gain Aaron McGruder's comic strip one more fan. "The Boondocks" is now the only comic strip I read on a regular basis.

The strip's detractors have called it racist and demeaning to blacks. Well, lawdy, lawdy, such observations are kind of in the eye of the beholder, aren't they? I felt the television show "The Jeffersons" was demeaning to blacks. I'll take the character of Huey in "The Boondocks" over the buffoonish George Jefferson seven days a week and twice on Sundays.

As for the charge that the comic strip -- and, by implication, its black artist -- are racist, I feel compelled to note there are two kinds of black racists. The first kind are those blacks who harbor racist sentiments against whites, Asians, Hispanics and other racial groups. These blacks exist, despite our puerile denials that blacks can't be racists because we have no power.

The other kind of black racist is the person declared a racist because he or she utters those things whites don't want to hear. My guess is McGruder is in this category, because "The Boondocks" regularly makes points whites don't want to hear. And some blacks too, for that matter.

In the series of strips in which the Huey character is on "Klanwatch," routinely stopping whites driving through his neighborhood, McGruder at one point needles interracial couples. A black guy married to a white woman questions Huey's car stops. Huey suggests he just might investigate the guy's wife. When the guy protests that she's married to a black man, Huey coolly cracks that "she might be deep cover."

In the series lampooning "Gone With the Wind" -- that landmark film which espoused the notion that slavery was the best thing to ever happen to America's colored folks -- McGruder sought to arouse the ire of those GWTW fans who feel the flick's theme music should be the country's national anthem. A girl wants Huey to play "Gone With The Wind" with her. After initially refusing, Huey agrees. The girl says she'll play Scarlett O'Hara and has Huey play Rhett Butler, even though he clearly doesn't have the ears for it.

Huey tries to weasel out by asking if he can play slave revolt leader Nat Turner instead. When the girl says no, Huey then gets into Rhett's character.

"Boy, I sure am tired from whipping slaves," Huey quips. "Where's the lemonade?"

Huey is a much more "militant midget" than the character of Michael Evans from the television series "Good Times." As the July Fourth holiday approached, McGruder's Huey character told a neighbor he wouldn't be by for the traditional cookout, that he would be fasting to remember all his ancestors who were still slaves as of July 4, 1776. When he tells the neighbor's daughter the same thing, she accuses him of seeing "the down side of everything."

"Like chattel slavery?" Huey answers. "Yeah, I'm funny that way."

It is such commentary that has inspired opponents of "The Boondocks" to call for its banishment from the pages of The Sun. Those who don't like the strip could simply ignore it, of course. But that's not the way troublesome blacks who utter things we don't like to hear have historically been treated. Troublesome blacks can't be ignored. They have to be silenced. Young McGruder should take some pride in this. He's in good company.

Robert Abbott, the publisher of the Chicago Defender in the early part of this century, was called a racist when his paper reported lynchings, criticized racism and urged Southern blacks to move North. Southern law enforcement officials banned the Chicago Defender in some parts of Dixie. W. E. B. DuBois, scholar, co-founder of the NAACP and editor of its newspaper, The Crisis, landed in hot water with government investigating agencies when he wrote an article charging the Army with racism.

A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and civil rights giant, was also charged with racism for attacking discrimination in America. The Messenger, a publication Randolph edited with Chandler Owen, was considered by the federal government spy apparatus as "the most dangerous of all Negro publications."

Many whites -- and some blacks -- of that era weren't prepared for the things Abbott, DuBois, Randolph and Owen had to say. Not much has changed, in some respects. Today folks charge "The Boondocks" with being racist and demeaning. Maybe they aren't prepared for what Aaron McGruder has to say.

Pub Date: 7/10/99

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