|From My Black Friend, page 2, panels 1-2.|
More a graphic-essay than novel, what we comic book collectors might call a "one-shot", Your Black friend is best described as "sharp, informed social commentary in the form of an open letter on race and being black in America." (Goodreads) Indie publisher Silver Sprocket, in a formal description picked up by other online sources, tells us that this is Passmore‘s "necessary contribution to the dialogue around race in the United States, Your Black Friend is a letter from your black friend to you about race, racism, friendship and alienation."
Perhaps not surprisingly, despite it's brevity, Your Black Friend is very challenging reading, and experience that is very likely to be shaped by one's own background and openness to facing difficult realities. Both Passmore's contemporary, colorful and engaging art, as well as a natural, organic, writing styles combine to craft a dialogue that resonates for the reader looking to engage. At the risk of sounding like that white friend that Passmore astutely suggests "express their undying enthusiasm for 'Black Lives Matter," Passmore objectively illustrates (in words and pictures) the self-defeating thoughts by many sides of the conversation that result in meaningful communication failing before it begins.
As a 49 year-old, white male reader auditing my own experience, Passmore has me pegged. In doing so he has my attention. The missteps Passmore presents, I think, are not intended to further deepen the white guilt that he astutely notes as problematic, but rather to prompt these moments of genuine reflection. For example, as a high school teacher of a primarily white student body with a (thankfully) growing level of diversity, I do find myself sliding into 'black' presentations thoughtlessly." This is a mistake, as Passmore notes I may have been "totally unaware of." I am now.
So where does this take us? As Passmore shows in the closing pages of his essay, which mirror the events in the open, often it seems to leave us as a community and culture right where we were in the first place. In between the framing device, Passmore opines insightfully, but the commentary appears to ultimately have little impact. At the end of the day, the "nicely dressed white woman" with the "Eat, Pray, Love vibe" and the white friend reading a Yoga Book remain peacefully blind (and mute).
Oddly this reminds me of my past experiences at school district opening days. Annually, teachers start the school year with a tremendous presentation preceded by "professional development" attended by a small group of administrators and select teacher-types. The entire district takes two hours before students arrive for the school year, to set the theme for the year to follows. Smaller building level trainings are sprinkled in for the whole body of teachers to participate in... and by June little is meaningfully changed within that system. Briefly though, maybe we feel better about ourselves...
I strongly recommend this graphic essay for all audiences, but especially white folks, well-intentioned or otherwise. I don't know about you, baby, there must be a better way. As the author notes in the panels above, "What white ppl fear most is making things awkward'" and perhaps the first step is accepting the invitation to be awkward.