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ISSUE 118 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/8/2004

The right to be hostile

By John Giannini
Contributing Writer


Friday, October 8, 2004

Last week the popular newspaper comic The Boondocks was censored from multiple newspapers including the Washington Post, New York Daily News and Newsday.

The offense? Aaron McGruder, the strips creator, included a racial slur in his series mocking reality and black exploitation television.

I have been a fan of McGruders work for some time, and considering the often biting nature of his comedy, last weeks series of comics did not surprise me in the least.

Boondocks is one of the only successfully syndicated comics created by a black artist; his strip provides the only black faces you will find on a comics page.

The Boondocks details the experiences of the Freemans, an urban black family transplanted into white suburbia.

McGruder uses the platform to deliver a bold and often hysterical look at race issues, black culture and the world in general.

Last week, The Boondocks ran a series in which rap mogul Russell Simmons started a new reality show entitled Can a N***a Get a Job? He gave an indolent, and often delinquent, group of black men and women the opportunity to win the management of one of his companies.

McGruder showed the candidates complaining about having to get up before nine oclock, getting into a scuffle in which knives were drawn and smoking marijuana in a board room, but the controversy centered around the strip run on Wednesday, Sept. 22, in which the two Freeman boys, Huey and Riley, are discussing the show.

You dont think a show called Can a N***a get a job?! makes black people look lazy and stupid?! asks Huey, who generally serves as the comics voice of reason (and black pride). No, responds Riley glued to the TV screen. It makes n****s look lazy and stupid. And as a n***a, this is okay with you!? We n****s appreciate the lowered expectations.

This was just too much for many newspaper editors. Some accepted the options provided by the McGruders syndicate including the removal of the knives from the knife fight and the replacing of n***a with ***** in the weeks comics.

But others opted to run an old Boondocks, and at least one editor refused to print the strip at all that week.

Now, I am aware that humor like this could very easily put a white boy like me in hot water.

McGruder, on the other hand, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in black studies, is black himself, and freely admits that much of the strips content is autobiographical in that it is based on real people and experiences.

The irony of this situation seems to be that so many predominantly white newspaper editorial staffs decided that it was unacceptable for McGruder to use the word n***a.

As black columnist Tony Norman wrote on Sept. 21, The Boondocks makes black people uncomfortable and white newspaper editors nervous. It is not a comic strip a reader can ignore like Beetle Bailey or Sally Forth.

This is certainly true, but last weeks strips don't seem to have offended many readers.

In a poll conducted by the Sacramento Bee, readers, many of whom are black, supported the papers decision to print Boondocks that week by a seven-to-one margin.

So why has this comic been banished from so many papers? I think the answer is that mainstream news outlets really are mainstream  anything that challenges the status quo too much, or too radically, will not be found there.

McGruders strip has been pitched out of the mainstream before, numerous times. Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, he was censored for mocking a speech given by President Bush, and then again a few weeks later for reminding people that President Reagan helped equip Osama bin Laden.

One paper even banned his daily comic strip because a character suggested that National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice needed some old fashioned lovn.

But it is not only views too far to the political left that are excluded by our papers, as some might imagine. As McGruder has shown us, frank racial dialogue isnt welcome either if it doesnt conform to the days standard of political correctness. Never mind that McGruder is satirizing the disrespect shown to black people in the media. Never mind that he, of all people, is aware of the connotations of the word he used to do it. Certain things are not welcome in the mainstream, and the word n***a is one of them.

The title of the first Boondocks treasury was A Right to be Hostile. But it turns out that being hostile in American newspapers is a privilege  one you wont keep if you speak up at the wrong time, or with the wrong words.


Contributing writer John J. Giannini is a first year from Zumbrota, Minn. He majors in philosophy.


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