DOWN ON THE BOONDOCKS
by David Sisler
Huey and Riley Freeman, residents of The Boondocks, a comic strip by Aaron McGruder, were perfectly happy on the south side of Chicago. The move to comfortable, well-off Westwood was their Granddad's idea.
"I always dreamed of owning a house someplace beautiful like this. A nice quiet place where I can retire and live the rest of my life away from the problems of the city, with really big oak trees in the yard, and lakes nearby to go fishing," he said.
He concludes his explanation to Huey and Riley, with what may be the unwitting motto of this comic strip, "I don't have to like any of these people here and they don't have to like me."
Riley was comforted by the fact that, in his words, "I'm the hardest, baddest thing for miles. And I can run amok here without fear."
Jazmine Dubois, who has a white mother and a black father, moves in next door. Huey makes it his mission in the ‘Wood to convince Jazmine that she is black. The little girl with green eyes and light brown, frizzy (her words) hair — incidentally, the first person in the strip to smile — explains, "My mother is one-quarter Irish, one-quarter Swedish and one-half German. And my grandmother on my father's side is part Cherokee, and my grandfather is mostly French, I think, because he's from Louisiana. And his father was from Haiti, I believe, which makes me..." Huey interrupts and declares, "Which makes you as black as Richard Roundtree in ‘Shaft in Africa.'"
In another strip, Jazmine asks — and so far Aaron McGruder has not answered — "I resent racial categories. Why must I be forced to chose between my parents?" Why, indeed, Aaron? After another attack by Huey, demanding that she be black, Jazmine sighs, "I just want to be human." It would be nice, Jazmine, if we would realize ultimately, that is all we are.
Readers get their first look at Huey's inside motivation when the boy meets Thomas, Jazmine's father. Thomas responds to Huey's name by asking, "Did you know there was once a pretty famous person named Huey?" Huey declares, "Perhaps you are referring to Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-defense and an icon of the black power movement of the late sixties and early seventies."
"Actually," Thomas answers, "I was thinking of Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News. Pop star of the mid-eighties."
"Before my time," Huey says. Evidently the late sixties and early seventies is the time which is fresh in the mind of the strip's 24-year-old creator.
The Boondocks, we are told, is full of satire and ironic wit. Supporters call it "funny," "perceptive," and "keenly intelligent." The rest of us — and so far the letters to the editor in The Augusta Chronicle (through June 16) are 25 to five against — see it as demeaning, offensive, mean-spirited and blatantly racist.
Early in the strip's development Huey announces to his white neighbors, "I represent your darkest fear. This is one black man who will not be demasculinized. I'm nobody's pet Negro. Is that understood?" In another episode, Riley, who packs heat, hates cops, and does not fear jail, wants to "jack" a Lexus and escape back to Chicago. Where is the humor? Where is the satire?
A recent editorial politely pointed out, "If you don't like this strip, it probably isn't being written for you." Because The Boondocks supporters rave that this strip is the new Calvin and Hobbes or the new Bloom County, I have read every installment looking for the wit of Bill Watterson or the satire of Berke Breathed. Since I have found only one successful example, I must be one for whom Mr. McGruder is not writing.
The satire did work in one Sunday strip which features a young upwardly mobile urban professional white male driving happily home in his fancy red convertible, only to be met by a scowling Riley standing on the street. The yuppie sees Riley and gasps, "Oh my!" Riley, with his perpetual "thug mug" says, "Nice car." The man studders, "Huh. Oh.. Uh.. Thanks," and walks into his house, looking back over his shoulder. Riley says, "Well, that oughta keep him awake tonight."
The message of that installment is missed by the people who say, "All blacks are..." or "All Mexicans are..." or "All Irish are..." or "All whites are..." They will never recognize themselves in that cartoon, and will probably never change. They will continue to live with, and perpetuate, their misconceptions, their stereotypes and their racial hatreds.
Oh, I missed one: "All Jews are..." Jesus, God's Son, our Savior, in case you have forgotten, is a Jew.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 6/19/99
Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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