YOUNG, GIFTED, and BLACK…
Those are the words many of us love to cherish, love to say, love to absorb, and love to sing. But what happens when one is young, gifted, GAY, FEMALE, and black? Does that get the same praise from society when that is equated? Enter Dr. Sheena C. Howard, author of multiple books, a Howard University graduate, and now our very first black female Eisner award winner. I was SO proud of this sista when she won. Facebook would have thought I WON the way i was carrying on, lol. I cried, to be honest. And then, shortly after, unfortunately, that same news found me becoming a bit bitter. I know so many people in the black comics community, globally, and yet, it was honestly barely spoken on. Yes, a few uttered it on their pages and websites, but it really WASN’T THAT MUCH. It was a bit disheartening, to be honest. I was confused as to why, and i sometimes still am. Dr. Howard is Vice Chair of the Black Caucus (NCA), Assistant Professor of Communication at Rider University and Founder of NerdWorks. Let’s take just a few minutes to take a look inside the mind of a queen destined to shine with all of the predetermined odds not suit to fit her favor…
Dr. Sheena C. Howard
Professor at Rider University, Owner of NerdWorks, an organization that advocates for women of color in the arts, as well as media literacy and positive representations of minority communities.
BOOKS/ NEWS OUTLETS/ COLUMNS you’ve created and/or worked on::
I am a Huffington Post contributor, I have made appearances on PBS, CCP-TV, The Washington Post as well as written guest pieces for the Trentonian and Trenton Times. I am the first editor of Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, author of Black Queer Identity Matrix, and Critical Articulations of Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation. I am the producer of the upcoming documentary titled Remixing Colorblind, which focuses on race, racism and race relations from the perspective of 18 – 22 year olds – “young Millennials”.
As you ALREADY know, i lost my mind when you won your Eisner award. MASSIVE congrats to you and Ronald L Jackson II on that beautiful win. With that being said, let’s address that little baby elephant in the room: Not much noise was made about you winning. why do you think it was almost kept quiet::
I do not think it was kept quiet. Of course, I would like it to be promoted a lot more but primarily so that other segments of society are aware that this book exists. There are so many people, both artists and educators, that would benefit from using a text such as Black Comics to inform them of history as well as the challenges we have faced and continue to face around representation and comics as mythology for the Black community. The noise that the Eisner award did bring was above and beyond anything I ever expected anyway so without any expectations on what the response should be, I cannot say it was kept quiet. It has opened up a lot of doors for me, along the lines of having a voice for the various communities I am a part of being an LGBTQ person of color.
As the first Black female to win an Eisner award, I would love to have more recognition from my hometown of Philadelphia. I currently reside in Philadelphia yet no news outlet or paper in Philadelphia has written a single line about the Eisner award win for the book Black Comics. I find that baffling.
Please give a brief description of BLACK COMICS- POLITICS OF RACE AND REPRESENTATION::
“Black Comics” seeks to bring to light the contributions of African American artists, writing African American characters. The book traces the history of Black comic strip artists both male and female, delves into the cultural gatekeeping of the comics industry and social media economics/ production models which live outside of publishing with mainstream comic publishing companies.
You have stated recently that you didn’t grow up reading comic books. What exactly drove your passion to writing BCPORAC?::
Black Comics was written out of a passion for representation as it relates to the Black community. I wrote my dissertation on the Boondocks comic strip, with a huge focus on Black comic strip artists. I found that there were not very many resources for me to utilize that allowed me to delve into the history of Black comic strip art and Black representations in the medium of comic strips. I wrote the book, Black Comics to fill that void in literature and scholarship. I wanted it to be a one stop shop for people who needed a place to start in regards to being introduced to Black cartoonists dating back to the mid 1800’s. The book became bigger than comic strips as a wide variety of writers, with a lot more knowledge of the comic industry than me were able to contribute to the text.
Being the very first black female Eisner winner is a HUGE deal. Has anything changed for you since then? Have you been given more offers, etc? Or do you still make your peanut belly and jelly sandwich the same exact way?::
Haha! I still make my peanut belly and jelly the same way. In fact, if one writes a work such as Black Comics expecting anything to change, they will be very disappointed. I will say, the book and its success has introduced me to some fabulous artists and opened my eyes up to the intersections of hip hop and comics as well as different forms of media and comics. It is really sad to see that across all mediums, people have had to and continue to struggle for recognition and acceptance of their work as people of color.
What/who were your creative inspirations as far as writers, journalists? Have you seasoned your critical thinking into theirs at any point?::
Audre Lorde is a big inspiration. I often think of what it was like for her to be doing the work she was doing, at a time when being Black and lesbian was an even more treacherous experience than it is today. I think about the courage she had to have to resist fear and advocate for her beliefs in spite of opposition. What she embodied encourages me to channel my anger with some of the oppressive and societal issues as a Black, lesbian female that I deal with on a day to day basis.
John Jennings is an inspiration to me as well. John Jennings created the cover for my first two books, Black Comics and Black Queer Identity Matrix. His talent speaks for itself but his generosity and his humility speaks volumes. As an artist he is exactly the type of person that anyone breaking into the field should aspire to work with.
Finally, I really like Ta-Nehisi Coates pieces with The Atlantic. Ta-Nehisi is a writer and journalist. His analysis of current issues and perspective on the intersections of race, culture and politics is refreshing. I do not agree with everything he writes, but his work challenges me to see connections between issues across the political landscape that are not readily apparent. I also appreciate his work because his perspective on a lot of things challenges me to draw on my education from Howard University as well as my experiences at predominantly White universities.
Your book, BLACK QUEER IDENTITY MATRIX, touches on race relations in the LBGTQ community. How effective has that book been with your students in that category?::
That book has been very effective in teaching gender communication and gender dynamics, it answers the question, “Why do we need to study and understand race, gender and sexual orientation as interlocking systems of oppression?” That book breaks down the disparities in the healthcare system as well as the inequalities that women of color face, in which sexual orientation complicates these conversations.
What backlash have you received from the black heterosexual community in your genre, if any? Has it affected your progression in a professional way?::
A lot of discrimination today is subtle, so you do not know if you were discriminated on because of your race, gender and/or sexual orientation. You can feel it and you know it, but you can’t prove it unless it is overt. The fact of the matter is, as a triple jeopardy minority, which I am in America, I have to acknowledge these biases and discriminatory practices as forces that will present challenges for me but I also have persevere in spite of these realities. It is not always easy. I get angry, often. I can give you very real examples of the discrimination I face day to day but I cannot use these things as an excuse for not achieving something. The comics industry is male dominated, but so is the area of arts in general. The microagressions are draining, people assuming I should not be in certain spaces because I am a Black, lesbian female is draining but for me, my only option is to believe in myself. Otherwise, I will be eaten up and bound by societies prescriptions of me and that is no choice at all. That is no way to live.
Out of all of the awards and honors you have received, which one matters the most, and why?::
Completing my PhD at Howard University means the most. Attending HU was one of the best decisions I have ever made. For all the talk around the necessity of HBCU’s, I can say as a product of one, that no other university instilled in me an appreciation and understanding for Black culture. It was not for HU, I would not have written the book Black Comics and I can say that with 100% certainty. Defending my dissertation was one of the hardest things I have had to do academically/ professionally but having the opportunity to pursue this path of comics by writing my dissertation on comics has changed my life.
Ok. Time for that QUESTION:: Do you think that sexism exists in comic book industry? (I will ask this EVERY SINGLE week, America, so deal with it, lol)::
Sexism is inherent in the way we socialize girls and boys to pursue certain fields. The art industry is not immune to this socialization. There is only one Black female that has ever had a comic strip nationally syndicated and that is Barbara Croft (Where Im Comics From) (Jackie Ormes was syndicated in Black newspapers only), so one needs to look no further when delving into a conversation about sexism and racism in comics.
Comics are marketed to boys in a way that they are not marketed to girls. This is a problem. Wonder Woman, Vixen, Storm paraphernalia needs to be inserted into girls chapstick packages, into magazines aimed at girls, female superheroines should be lining the stores but these tactics and marketing strategies are reserved for boys which is a way to socialize boys early and steer ones interest.
There is still an underrepresentation of women employed at publishing houses. When we look at Black comics strips specifically, the representation of women is horrendous.
Ok, less serious stuff- if you could have ANNNNY two literary characters of your childhood be your homies in REAL time, who would they be and WHY? Me?? I pick JEM, all things JEM, lol. She rocked. Violet from RAINBOW BRITE slayed as well::
Huey from The Boondocks (not really from my childhood though!) he is witty, smart, funny and angry. And Captain America, I love what he stands for.
Are there any new or upcoming projects/events you’re brainstorming?::
Yes, I am producing my first documentary this spring which will explore race by talking to young Millennials (ages 18 – 22) about their perceptions and attitudes of race and racism today. A synopsis is below:
This project will embark on producing a 45-minute documentary on young Millennials (between the ages of 18 – 22) attitudes and perceptions about race, race relations and racism in the 21st century. This documentary will extrapolate on conflicting quantitative data that says Millennials are a post-racial generation that views Whites and people of color as equitable and having the same opportunities across racial lines versus data that says Millennials across racial groups have stark differences in opinions around systemic racism, structural racism and access inequality. These attitudes and views (from the perspective of young Millennials) need to be explored, as it is rare that researchers and journalists actually ask young people how they feel about race (Apollon, 2011). Yet, most of us assume and quantitative data tells us that Millennials have moved past race and are more comfortable with diversity, more inclusive and progressive than generations before them. This dialectic is the main contention that this film will explore; it will do this through interviews with young Millennials, across a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds between the ages of 18 and 22. The Pew Research Center defines 18 – 33 year olds as Millennials – those who are born between 1981 and 1996. The narration of this documentary will be through a process that reflects on my own experiences with race from high school through college – moving from a predominately Black high school in Philadelphia, to a predominately White college in New York, to a college in Long Island, NY with a high population of foreign students and finally a predominately Black university in Washington, DC.
Where can we find you online? Links, Handles, Hashtags, Bribes::
Twitter: @drsheenahoward (most important)
Tumblr/ website: Sheenachoward.com
Facebook: Sheena C. Howard
FB Fanpage: Black Queer Identity Matrix
LinkedIN: Dr. Sheena C. Howard
Any last thoughts, screams, rants, praises, etc?::
Don’t let your reality limit your imagination.
Shout out to Brandon Easton who is doing big things, would love to work with him in some way one day. He was nominated for an Eisner last year for his work with Watson and Holmes. Shout out to John Jennings. Shout out to Ron Jackson (second editor and winner of the 2014 Eisner for the book, Black Comics)
MECCAcon Weekly is a weekly series of features, interviews, and highlights, all focused around comics and art, mainly centered around the AFRIKAAN diaspora community. We focus on the upliftment and advancement of arts thru various mediums. #MECCAconWeekly can also be found on our sister site, DARK MATTERS.
MECCAconWeekly is also a division of Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts – MECCAcon. MECCAcon is an annual convention every SEPTEMBER, located in Detroit, MI.
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