Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Boondocks & White Spaces

The Boondocks, April 23, 1999
Among other notable results, Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks had the distinction of shining a light on two distinct white spaces--the suburbs and the funny pages of newspapers. McGruder was not the first African American comic strip creator, but few had ever gained the widespread attention that he did.

The appearance of a comic strip starring two (black) black boys was remarkable. Unlike the many black culture-less or black-lite African American characters who appear in mainstream commercials and on television shows, Huey and Riley Freeman were self-consciously black.  Their prevalent black racial identities were a reminder that the surrounding comic strips on the funny pages were almost exclusively white.

The presentation of Huey and Riley struggling to adapt to a new environment raised the issues that suggested the two boys were too black and that their neighborhood was too white. In one early strip, the two brothers are disoriented with the lack of distinct urban landmarks such as a basketball court and take-out restaurants.

In another early strip, Huey envisions himself as "a black freedom fighter" who "oppressors" should fear. However, an elder white woman chooses to overlook Huey's supposed fearsome status and instead refer to him as "just the cutest thing...just a big ol cutie pie."  Huey and Riley misunderstand aspects of their new neighbors and are thus feel out of place in their environment, abut they are also alienated because their neighbors understand very little about two black boys.

Interestingly enough, the differences and tensions with these white spaces--the funny pages and suburbs--helped make The Boondocks such a memorable and controversial comic strip.

Related: Aaron McGruder Week

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