May!

Thu 6/11/2020

My goal with these monthly updates was to spend less time on social media and to do more writing this year. I was about halfway through May and had the thought, "Ugh, what am I going to write about this month?" Things here are very much the same as they were in my March and April updates: We are still on pandemic lockdown, my work for CCS is still very intense as we try to get all of the summer workshops online, Claire's work slowed down so she is taking on more childcare duties (which allows me to keep up with my increased day job responsibilities), my daughters are climbing the walls a bit, but hanging in there. With a complete lack of leadership at the national level, it seemed to me that not much else would change for the rest of the summer, and perhaps the fall (...and beyond).

Then, on May 25th, George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. Hundreds of years of racism and murder and police brutality against black people in this country, compounded by everyone being cooped up for months because of the pandemic (which negatively effects people of color to a far greater degree than white people), finally reached a boiling point which lead to demonstrations and protests in more than 75 cities around the USA (and world).

I am furious that black people continue to be murdered by the police with little or no repercussions for the officers involved, or the racist systems that fund them. Like many white people right now, I'm figuring out ways to turn this anger into direct action, and to commit myself to the lifelong process of being antiracist.

Black friends, I'm trying to be a better ally. I'm ashamed when I think back on specific moments (growing up, in college, in art school) where either I was being racist, or someone else was, and I did not stop and try to correct the situation. I let you down and I'm sorry, and I vow to do better moving forward.

White friends, below are the steps I've taken so far and the areas of my life where I believe I can actively work to break the racist patterns that I have lived in and benefitted from my entire life. Hopefully you are taking similar steps. If not, perhaps some of this will help you think about ways you can get involved.

1) Show Monetary Support
When Trump was elected Claire and I sat down and looked at our budget. We cut back on unnecessary expenses and used those freed up funds to make reoccurring monthly donations to the NAACP, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, which we have continued ever since. I have now added Black Lives Matter to that list. I will continue to raise these donation amounts whenever it is financially possible for me to do so.


2) Educate Myself
I'm trying to learn more about my own inherent racism and how to be actively anti-racist by reading (and/or listening to) books written on this topic. Back in April, my sister Courtney had a book group where we read So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo and then had a discussion about it afterwards. This week I finished White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. Up next is Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. Each of these books is helping me understand the racist history of our country, what I've been doing wrong, and what I need to start doing moving forward. There are a ton of anti-racist books lists out there. Pick one and jump in!

I'm also trying to read more books and comics by people of color in general! And following more black creators on social media, etc!

3) Educate My Children
I do not remember ever having an open conversation about race with my parents. I'm watching videos, reading articles, and discussing with Claire how we will have those ongoing conversations with our daughters (currently 2 and 4). For starters we are taking a close look at the media they are being exposed to on a daily basis.

A year or so ago I was very embarrassed when, in a podcast I recorded I asked my daughter what was her favorite song on a compilation VHS tape of Disney musical numbers which she had just watched, and she responded "Zipp-a-dee-doo-dah." Nobody said anything to me, but just the same I felt a deep shame. Afterwards I thought, "Why is this #$%&ing tape even in my house? Why am I letting my kid watch this??!" (and like, why is there a giant Song of the South rollercoaster that opened at Disneyland in 1989 and that is still in operation today???)

Anyway, Claire and I went through all our kids VHS tapes (mostly Disney movies from my childhood) and removed the ones with racist depictions of people of color, including: Dumbo, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and a bunch of Sing-A-Long tapes, which included scenes from The Aristocats, and other offensive stuff. This process also changed how I see other animated films that are racist through their exclusion of people of color. Films like Tangled or Klaus which are 100% white, not just in all the main characters, but also all supporting characters, all background characters. What does this tell your kids, when people of color are simply excluded from a story? We also sought out Disney movies like The Princess and the Frog and Moana, in which most of the characters are people of color.

We have a bunch of diverse picture books in the house by authors who are people of color, and/or that feature children of color, but we definitely still need more. When the girls are learning about something new (for example, potty training), we get a bunch of books on that topic, and we make sure that every story time includes at least one book on that topic. Claire and I decided that from now on every story time will include at least one book with diverse characters, so that our daughters are seeing and empathizing with people of color through the power of storytelling every day. We have yet to navigate the Santa Fe Public Library's curbside pickup system, but I'm saving some of the great diverse children's book lists that are going around right now, and I'm excited to load up on a bunch of books next time we're there.

4) Leverage my Positions of Privilege
I work in higher education, at an art school (The Center for Cartoon Studies), spaces that are predominantly white. The CCS board of directors met and released this statement, committing to being an actively anti-racist institution. I'm currently in a lot of meetings with administrators, faculty and students at the school, and we are talking at all levels about how to change our curriculum and practices to better support cartoonists of color at our school and in the the comics community at large.

5) Continue Diversifying My Comics
Last week one of my previous CCS students, Josh Kramer, posted a link to a 2015 blog post I wrote about diversity in Isle of Elsi, which I had not yet launched as a webcomic at that point. Re-reading it, I see my early efforts in making my comics more diverse. (The post includes a link to a free Photoshop color palette of skin tones which cartoonists can use to add more people of color to their comics). I still have so much work to do in my comics to make sure all readers feel represented, especially in Isle of Elsi, which is for kids.

6) Make Mistakes, Learn From Them
As you can see above, I've made plenty of mistakes in my life, and will sadly continue to do so. (I'm probably doing this wrong right now!). These conversations are uncomfortable, so I'm trying to get better at being present in that discomfort, listening to feedback and trying to improve. Hopefully together we can all tear this racist system apart, one interaction at a time!

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