Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The Boondocks, and uhh, Black Studies
Whenever the subject is The Boondocks at the university, I'll reveal seemingly in passing that Aaron Mcgruder has black studies roots/routes.
"Oh yeah, you know Aaron McGruder majored in, uhh, African American Studies when he was in undergrad."
Or, in response to something that someone's said, I'll go: "It's funny you say that because when he was a student, I think Aaron McGruder was an, uhh, African American Studies major."
The "uhh" operates as a drumroll. Or a audible dramatic pause.
The hesitation also buys me a little time to plot my course of action in the developing exchange. After I drop this point about McGruder's major, I'm thinking in my head, what needs to be done to shift this discussion from a conversation about The Boondocks to a conversation about The Boondocks and Black Studies?
McGruder's comic strip and cartoon are populated by all kinds of ghosts and spirits. Douglass. Tubman. Malcolm. Huey Newton. Black activism. Intellectualism. Alienation. Struggle. Resistance.
Strip away the drawings and jokes and what you have somewhere at the core of McGruder's work is a syllabus or two, perhaps an entire curriculum on African American Studies. I mean, get to that: The Boondocks is the result of this artistically inclined young man showing up at the University of Maryland in the mid-1990s and deciding to pursue a field of study that focuses on the histories, artistic creations, and thought of black folks. The sagas of Huey, Riley, Granddad, Tom DuBois, Jazmine, and Uncle Ruckus are the continued remixes of distinct historical and cultural experiences in America.
Of course, I should probably qualify my points here and note that McGruder was most likely exposed to what we might view as a type invisible or proto-African American Studies curriculum prior to attending college. He was probably like the writer/blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates or the novelist Colson Whitehead in that way and had a family exposing him to all kinds of concepts related to black ideas and history.
By the way, what makes all those guys--Coates, Whitehead, and McGruder--such outliers in their respective fields relates to the fact that they got such early exposure to black thinking and African American cultural ideas. They all got a head-start on their requisite 10,000 hours.
But like any storyteller, I'm going to have to pick and choose and necessarily downplay some facts and information while highlighting other tidbits. So in discussions about McGruder on campus at least, it's always crucial to mention body of readings and ideas that he was likely pursuing and engaged with as a student.
I've always found that's it's worthwhile to have these talks with folks, you know, about McGruder, The Boondocks, race and representation, African American ideas and history, and uhh, black studies.