Please take note that Dr. Walter Greason, will be presenting the keynote address to the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists at their awards luncheon on June 22nd.
The address will focus on the legacy of T. Thomas Fortune, one of the most prominent African-American journalists of the late 19th and early 20thcenturies. Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, one of the leading black newspapers of his day, and was known for using his newspaper as a vehicle to speak out against lynching, black disenfranchisement and other injustices.
Dr. Greason has received considerable recognition for his work with the restoration of the T. Thomas Fortune House in Red Bank, among numerous other projects. Recently, Brookdale Community College had its annual Wilbur Ray Memorial Scholarship Dinner, and they honored six organizations that have a significant impact on the communities of central NJ. Three of them are connected to Dr. Greason:
1. The T. Thomas Fortune House and Cultural Center in Red Bank
2. Freehold Bethel AME Church
3. Court Street School Community Center in Freehold, N.J.
Dr. Greason received three awards for his work on these projects.
Well done, Dr.Greason! This is a very fine body of work! Thank you for distinguishing the School of Education!
Tina R. Paone , Krista M. Malott, Nicole Pulliam and Jordan Shannon
This study explored the experiences of counselor students of color in two multicultural courses in a master-level counseling program. Participants revealed their feelings surrounding a need to assume a ‘teaching role’ with their White counterparts, to challenge racist and stereotypical viewpoints. Positive and negative experiences associated with this role were expressed. Findings are drawn upon to suggest more inclusive counselor education tactics.
Black women’s progress often collides with media stereotypes about them. However, media can also contradict these stereotypes. Crystal Emery’s 2016 documentary, Black Women in Medicine, highlights stories of successful black women doctors. Black actresses who portray doctors on fictional television shows, such as Grey’s Anatomy’s Chandra Wilson and How To Get Away With Murder’s Corbin Reid, also have the potential to inspire women to join the medical industry. If these manifestations did not exist in our media, young black women might not view medical careers as viable options. As Dr. Jocelyn Elders, the first black United States’ Surgeon General, said to filmmaker Crystal Emery, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Yet, even when a black woman earns the credentials required to become a physician, racial and gender biases still cause others to look at her with skepticism when she introduces herself as a doctor. Dr. Tamika Cross experienced this during a flight to Houston and she shared the details of that encounter on Facebook. In response to her post, the hashtags #TamikaCross and #WhatADoctorLooksLikepropagated throughout social media as more doctors began sharing similar incidents.
Reyes appeared briefly in issue 65. Her cameo occurred halfway into the book when the story transitioned to a hospital emergency room in the Bronx. This scene included a multi-ethnic group of doctors discussing a live television news report about a fight between Mutants and the military. The doctors were debating whether or not Mutants could be trusted. Reyes walked into the conversation and was asked for her opinion. In response, she made the following vague remark after loosening a surgical mask from her face: “I think a Mutie is a Mutie is a Mutie. It’s time someone stopped talking about the problem — and finally did something about it.” Afterwards, the story immediately transitioned away from the Bronx hospital and Reyes did not appear again until the next issue.
Although brief, Reyes’ first appearance and first statement were significant. Her comment about Mutants was inspired by Gertrude Stein’s famous quote “A rose is a rose is a rose.” Stein’s readers assume “she was suggesting, perhaps, what a rose is not.” A rose is not the actions that you perform on it. A rose is not the emotions it evokes in you. A rose is simply a rose. Similarly, applying this same train of thought to Reyes’ comment would lead us to assume that she is also implying that a Mutant is simply a Mutant; they are not the fearful emotions that non-Mutants project onto them.
Yet, Reyes had an ambivalent stance on Mutants. Her suggestion that it was time someone “finally did something about it” was vague. On the surface, it may appear that she supported the belief that all Mutants were menaces. However, when interpreted with the Gertrude Stein quote as its inspiration, the reader can assume that Reyes wanted someone to prove that Mutants could, indeed, be trusted.
Nevertheless, much like an African American who might choose to pass for white, Reyes chose to keep her Mutant identity a secret from her co-workers. Similarly, readers were unaware that Reyes was a Mutant but it was clear that she was a physician–she wore medical scrubs, a surgical mask rested off of her face, and the staff addressed her as “Dr. Cecilia Reyes.” Her mere existence contradicted the stereotype that black women cannot be doctors. A black woman is a black woman is a black woman.
In issue 66, however, Reyes did not experience racial discrimination. To the contrary, she was portrayed as a confident doctor who was in command of her operating room. This could be a positive glimpse at an ideal situation in which black women’s hairstyles are not an invitation to question their abilities. Conversely, it could be seen as a lost opportunity to examine their common struggles with racism and sexism in the workplace. Yet, Reyes did encounter discrimination because of her mutant abilities. A mutant-hunting robot, a Sentinel, appeared at the hospital and attacked her. At that moment, we learn that Reyes has the ability to create force fields and fire projectiles at her opponents.
After Reyes was saved from the mutant-hunting Sentinel by fellow mutant, Ice-Man, she explained why she became a surgeon:
I was six years old, holding my father in my arms as he bled to death on the sidewalk. There was nothing I could do. Then. But I promised myself – and him – that the day would come that I could do something. That same night, I fell asleep reading my brother’s science text-book. Maybe it was just a devastated child’s way of dealing with a tragedy she couldn’t understand…but from that day on, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.
Illness or the death of a loved one is a motivation that Reyes shared with other aspiring doctors, including other black women. Additionally, she came from a poor neighborhood and become a doctor in spite of the false stereotypes that assume only students from high socioeconomic status families can become doctors. Like Dr. Sanneta Myrie, the 2016 Ms. Jamaica World, Reyes chose to return home to practice medicine. This is consistent with numerous other black doctors who return home to treat “populations that are traditionally underserved in medicine.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Cecilia Reyes is the only active black super heroine physician from a major comic book universe. In 1985, Dr. Midnight was introduced as DC Comics’ sole example but her character was killed in 1993. Independent comic publisher WildStorm Productions introduced us to Micro-Maid in 1999 but all of WildStorm’s titles were cancelled when the company closed in 2010. Dr. Cecilia Reyes, then, is the only lasting example of a black super heroine physician and she has appeared in approximately 500 issues.
While Scott Lobdell–the writer who introduced Dr. Cecilia Reyes in the world of comics–does not examine sociocultural topics relating to the lives of black women physicians, he does reveal Reyes’ Afro-Puerto Rican background in later issues. This provides an opening for exploring critical topics relating to hair textures, skin complexion, socioeconomic status, and heritage amongst Afro-Latinx groups. Although it can be refreshing to depict black women with locs in comic books practicing medicine without discrimination, it can also be empowering to see them model how to overcome the adversity black women still face even after earning their credentials.
This month, I interviewed Dr. Jonathan Gayles, Associate Professor of African-American Studies and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Learning at Georgia State University. He is the producer, director and writer of White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books—a groundbreaking documentary exploring early black superheroes. He received his PhD. in Applied Anthropology from the University of South Florida. His primary areas of interest include the anthropology of education, educational policy, black masculinity, race and ethnicity and critical media studies. He recently finished his second documentary film entitled The E-Word: A Documentary on the Ebonics Debate, which examines the context of the national furor in response to the Oakland Unified School District’s Resolution on Ebonics. Released in April 2012, White Scripts won numerous awards, sparked the creation of the NYPL Schomburg Center’s Black Comic Book Festival, and helped clarify an emerging scholarly dialogue around race and comic books in the United States. As our blog series has demonstrated, the documentary’s themes remain salient to current debates. Follow Dr. Gayles on Twitter @JonathanGayles.
Julian Chambliss: Your documentary, White Scripts, Black Supermen ushered in a new era of scholarly engagement around race and representation in comics. Can you talk about the scholarly narratives that prompted you to pursue making the documentary? What was being said and what was your hope in creating the documentary?
Jonathan Gayles: All the “scholarly narratives” that I encountered prior to even conceiving a documentary film on black masculinities in comic books placed comic books within popular culture and critically engaged comic books as we do other popular culture genres. Jeffrey Brown’s work on Milestone Comics was an important initial point of reference – particularly his assertion that black superheroes represent a “potentially threatening cluster of masculine signifiers.” Stanford Carpenter’s workon the forces that influence what is eventually made available to comic book consumers helped frame my initial examinations of the topic. Adilifu Nama published Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (2011) as I was completing the interviews and I was extremely fortunate to be able to include him in the film. Mark Anthony Neal’s New Black Man (2015) has, for some time, provided me with a critical lens in relation to the performance of black masculinity. It was great to include him in the film, if only for a moment. The historical perspective offered in your ownwork is particularly important as well. This is not an exhaustive listing.
Without exception, the aforementioned scholars situate these images within broader historical, anthropological, sociological, and artistic contexts (among others). Comic books and the images contained therein are attached to serious social phenomena that render comic books worthy of serious critical consideration. Ultimately, this became the aim of the documentary: a serious interrogation of the manner in which black men are represented in comic books and the degree to which this representation reflects broader understandings of race and gender.
Chambliss: Your anthropological training and work on masculinity deeply informed the documentary. What still needs to be done in terms for exploring ideas linked to masculinity and blackness?
Gayles: I remain enamored of Athena Mutua’s conjoining of black and men into the “single social position” she names “blackmen.” This category reflects the specific and concurrent raced and gendered reality of black men (blackmen) in this nation. The history of the United States makes it extremely difficult to disentangle the race and gender of blackmen. I think that there is considerable potential to do more in this area. This includes the social construction, representation and performance of black masculinity. Even in what we might call “intentional spaces” in which the black community resists hegemonic notions of race and gender, the responses of blackmen can mimic this hegemony in ways that privilege only blackmen at the expense of others in the community.
Returning to the notion that what we see in comic books are tied to serious social phenomena, we must continue to explore the real-world consequences of the formulaic and racist representations of blackmen as being inherently threatening that extend back through slavery, Jim Crow, and to the present. In truth, much of the documentary engages the way in which this threat is mitigated in the representation of the earliest black superheroes.
Chambliss: Questions about community, identity, and agency are deeply rooted in the superhero genre. What have your conversations around the documentary made clear in terms of how the audience negotiates these ideas as comic fans of color?
Gayles: The “Black Age Movement” in comic books is key here. This movement represents a broad and expanding community of fans, illustrators and writers that has moved beyond critique of “mainstream” representations of people of color in comic books to creating their own universes, characters, story lines and communities. For me, joining this community is perhaps one of the most important outcomes of the documentary. The patterns of representation that the documentary highlights have been in place for so long that there is a sense of resignation that this is what we should expect from the “mainstream.” This resignation does not mean that we accept the images or the premises upon which they are built, but rather that we should no longer be surprised, for example, when War Machine is the first casualty of Civil War II, just as Giant Man was the first casualty of Civil War I. While Adilifu Nama offers some very interesting interpretive “recovery” of some of these early superheroes, most in this community are not interested in doing such work.
Chambliss: Your documentary makes clear the challenge linked to black masculinity intersecting with power, even if it is imaginary. However, you did not touch on women’s representation in superhero comics. Why not?
Gayles: I wanted to! My initial outline included a chapter on the representation of women. My interview protocols included questions on the representation of women as well. In reviewing the transcripts, it became clear that the most coherent documentary would focus on some of the earliest black men in comic books. The fact of the matter is that during the time period that the film engages (late 60’s to mid 70’s) there were far too few black women in comic books – both as characters and creators. Of course, this remains true today. Even in the largely indie arena of the “Black Age,” most of the creators and characters are men. Additionally, the documentary form can be more limiting than traditional long-form academic manuscripts. Film distributors in the higher education realm have a strong preference for films with a running time around 60 minutes. As a result, I made a decision to pursue depth instead of breadth. If I am honest, I sometimes linger upon this decision with a bit of regret.
I have considered a separate project on the representation of black women in superhero comics. Ultimately, White Scripts was, in some ways, personal for me and I believe another scholar or filmmaker will bring a similar personal focus to a project on the representation of black women in comic books. A more important point is that there are many black women that we can critically engage—beyond (and before) Storm. From vanguard characters like the Butterfly, Bumblebee, and Storm to more current characters like Amanda Waller, Spectrum (it’s hard to keep up with her name changes), and Moon Girl, a project (documentary or otherwise) that focuses exclusively on the representation of black women is beyond necessary. There is also Martha Washington, who is a fascinating character. I would love to see more work on her as well. With the Black Panther film scheduled for a 2018 release and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ provocative storyline in the comic book, such a project could also concurrently consider the Dora Milajae’s history in comic books and cinema. Considering the degree to which the comic book genre is marked as a predominately masculine space, this project would be more than necessary, important, and interesting—it would be disruptive.