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Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c


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Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c back

Ben Passmore

Price: 
17.98

Page 45 Review by Publisher Blurb

Fabulous title, glorious cover, you'll find the contents equally colourful.

"After Charlottesville, tons of Confederate monuments have come down around the country - but we still have the largest monument to white-supremacy in the country: the presidency of Donald Trump."

Vastly expanded hardcover edition of the former pamphlet - which was potent enough in its own right - this is ten times as long, with a far wider remit.

Within, Ben Passmore observes an America in which vocal, overt, organised racism - with its attendant intimidating, gun-toting marches further radicalising the easily brainwashed into acts of murderous terrorism - has been "legitimised" by Trump's refusal to decry it as criminal, instead embracing some of its thugs as "decent folks". Instead, it's the Antifascists who are cast as violent while the Klan classes itself as the oppressed underdogs under attack. "There's a war on whiteness!" screams one boss-eyed white-supremacist woman.

In the wake of which, Passmore also assesses the state of counter-racist political activism in the form of protests, and finds it lacking and inadequate to the task. ""Freedom of Speech" isn't worth much if it facilitates inactivity." Of Trump he goes on to say, "If the fight to remove racists made of stone and metal is any indication, we will have to use just as diverse tactics to overcome the real one."

"The spirit of this collection of comics," he writes, "is more a reflection of ideas... about how to be dangerous, how to be a failure, and how to laugh in the face of a world that wants to crush us... And we all fail, homies, it's okay. We just have to learn how to fail upward."

Personally I like it best when Passmore addresses us directly about politics and social politics, with a clarity, conviction and eloquence that is infectious. Partly because some of the more surreal stuff I simply didn't understand.

However, I did gross out mightily at the 'OK Stoopd!" hook-up featuring a feckless, defeatist, cannibalistic chicken, gobbling drumsticks from a bucket as grease drools from its quivering gullet. The cat asks:

"I gotta ask... you're chicken, which is solid, but isn't it weird to be like eating chicken?"
"These CAGE MONKEYS!? I was smart enough ta stay outta the fryer! It's their own lazy-ass faults! CAGE MONKEYS!"

So I don't suppose the chicken will be joining the protests.

I also laughed heartily at the Hand of God chatting to Jesus:

"Why doesn't anyone want to hang-out with us?"
"Cause you do weird shit."

The Hand of God does indeed do weird shit; right on the page, too.

The autobiographical 'Ally I Need is Love' from Passmore's time as a pedicab driver includes two glorious caricatures when he picks up a "tomb-faced" old white lady with an imploded head and a "tween smoke cloud". It doesn't matter how fast he pedals, that thick cigarette smoke encircling the girl's head - like clouds round a mountain - is not going to be blown away. Instead, it is Ben who is blown away when the old woman tries to pick him up, persistently, eventually coming out with...

"It's just that itz my birthday and I haven't been with a black man in so long..."
"THA WHAT? Get off my cab!!!"

But what happens next is as profoundly moving as it is unexpected. (I'm not sure we can entirely trust the final panel, but it is the most perfect and passionate punchline, rendered with love).

Basically, this: just because Passmore is laudably and necessarily blunt and uncompromising in his politics, please don't presume that he is either self-righteously self-satisfied or humourless. Above all, however, he exhorts: "Stay dangerous".

So back to 'Your Black Friend' which I originally reviewed thus:

A densely worded eleven-page opportunity to listen to a fresh perspective we'd all do well to see the world from, lest we assume that we all experience it the same way.

Your titular black friend has much on his mind from his extensive experience of being your black friend. He has plenty to say about that experience and he does so with commendable clarity, directness and level-headed balance; but he's not about to waste what little space he has by mincing his words, either.

He's going to say what he means and mean what he says.

The comic is bookended by your black friend "sitting in a coffee shop, your favourite coffee shop", eating a sandwich he's bought elsewhere "hoping that white guilt will keep the barista from confrontin' him about."

Let's see if that will work in his favour. Let's see if anything does, frankly.

"Your black friend listens to a conversation between a nicely dressed white woman and the barista."

The nicely dressed white woman is boasting about her speed in calling the cops after seeing a "sketchy guy" coming out of a backyard with a bike. The barista asks the nicely dressed white woman to describe the man.

"I dunno... black, tall, dreads, the bike was a 98 Gary Fisher w/ a big marlin on it, drop bars, disc breaks, a broken spoke and one of those Brookes racing saddles instead of the factory seat."

The nicely dressed white woman is curiously well informed, but no matter.

"Was that house on France Street? Did he have a big nose ring?"
"Yeah..."
"That sounds like Darren, he comes here all the time. That's his house. That's his bike."

The barista, beautifully drawn to be of a certain age yet far from behind the times, is shown to be more than a little alarmed. You could add exclamation marks to her protests.

However, this is what I mean by the calm clarity and level-headedness which runs like a vein or hallmark right through Passmore's many cultural and social observations exemplified by his own interactions:

"This is an important moment, your black friend has seen this many times: a white person unaware of their racism, blunders into a moment in which it is undeniable. He knows that this woman still will not see it, she is both afraid of black people and the realization of that fear. It will take the barista, seeming race savvy and familiar to the rich lady, to clarify what has just happened. But, your black friend knows the barista will say nothing. What white ppl fear most is "making things awkward"."

It gets better,

"Your black friend would like to say something but doesn't want to appear "angry". He knows this type of person expects that from him and he will lose before he begins. This' why he has white friends, he thinks. White ppl are allowed to be "angry" when he is expected to be calm and reasonable. He wishes he could make you understand this, and many other things...
"For example: your black friend wishes you understood why he hates it when the barista calls him "baby" like she is his "auntie", or any other black woman over the age of 50."

He has a damn good go at providing illumination during the nine packed pages that follow, in which he recounts numerous examples of feeling uncomfortable on both sides of the racial divide, even managing to fall through the cracks of fitting in when that division is narrowed. I liked this:

"Your black friend's black friends tell him that black-owned businesses will end racism but your black friend is sceptical that scented afro picks can be utilized as a political apparatus."

So will our black friend speak up in the coffee shop, do you think?

This comes with an exceptionally well timed ending, every element of which is set up right at the beginning.

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