Ben Passmore debuted Your Black Friend at CAKE a couple weekends ago, and he needed a long-arm stapler to bind them, so he asked if he could come over and use mine. So we’re sitting in my dining room, and I said
“I’m excited about this comic, the pages you posted online look awesome.”
And then Ben explained the origin, that he’s been reading a lot of Frantz Fanon, and thinking a lot about Pan-Africanism, and how he lives in this liminal state of being black, but not identifying with mainstream “black” culture. That he and another black friend have been having some long conversations about that precarity, and that this comic was based on those conversations, an attempt to talk about his own experiences being black in the 21st century U.S.
And in a normal conversation it would have been my turn to say something, ask Ben a question, or talk about my own thoughts or experiences. Anything! Anything could have come out of my mouth, but instead I turned red, and started sweating, and said “huh” through the lump in my throat and nodded, and picked up the comic and leafed through it hoping to find…I don’t know what. And then I saw at the bottom of the third page Ben had written “What white ppl fear most is ‘making things awkward.'”
And that’s totally true for me, I like to think that I’m with it and aware of my whiteness, and how it effects my friends who are not white, but in reality as much as I seek out literature and media that talks openly about race, I’m pretty scared to talk about it myself, especially with saying the wrong thing to my friends.
After a solid NINETY SECONDS of silence, as Ben kept stapling and I kept sitting there thinking to myself “say something, Neil! what is wrong with you,” Ben asked me a question about whatever, I can’t remember, but it wasn’t about race, and I felt like a complete and total inept idiot for a few days.
And then not only did he give me a copy of the comic ’cause we’re friends, he also left me 25 copies to sell through Radiator Comics! So now I’ve read it several times, and have written about it for the website, and am writing an email to Ben with my personal thoughts about what he wrote in this comic, but I wanted to say a little bit more here, I guess also to other white people…
People who are African-American -as well as other people of color- live in a country that is still rampant with white supremacy (and I’m not talking about people in white hoods). Black people don’t owe white people anything. Maybe writing Your Black Friend was cathartic for Ben, I guess I hope it was, and he talks about it as his part in a larger conversation we need to be having about race. But this 24-page comic is a gift that he was under no obligation to give to white readers, and we as white readers need to treat it as such. I’m really grateful to Ben for having made what I’m sure was a difficult comic to write, and put out in the world. I’m also really proud to carry it on Radiator. I hope it encourages those who read it to be more willing to follow Ben’s example.