The Impacts of Racism Portrayed in Comics
“Mind your own god damn business, fuckin’ Ni**er!” (Hernandez, 142) says the character Hopey in Jaime Hernandez’s comic The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. While this sort of language for anyone in today’s society is incredibly looked down upon and should never be said to anyone in any context. Even for this essay, it is uncomfortable to type out this quote because of the history behind this word. However, decades ago people used this term freely and commonly without any correction. This sort of racism embeds within our society, and culture and shapes the future for better or worse. The outcome of racism is shown in comics such as Jaime Hernandez’s The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S and graphic novels such Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland where both writers express the impacts racisms had on society and culture through visual and narrative text.
Racism whether we like it or not affects everyone, some cultures a lot worse than others and ultimately shapes who we are. An example of this is segregation, where people are separated due mostly due to the color of their skin and/or their race. Segregation begins to create a culture and society that will ultimately define a certain race. An example of this is in the comic The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. This comic is set in a fake place however, the way this place is drawn, and the characters portrayed shows a lot about the authors culture. The location of the comic is usually set in a suburban area and/or a city. Within this place there is usually always Latinos, African Americans and very rarely white females or males (with the exception of Doyle). Additionally, there were times when the city or suburbs were drawn with graffiti and a bit run down. I believe the author drew this intentionally to represent how Latinos and other races lived in California back in his time. Now, not all Latinos, or African Americans lived together due to segregation, there was a few that were able to live outside of these areas. However, a majority of races are segregated into these types of suburbs and cities. This is an important representation because due to this segregation and this community culture begins to form. There’s a sense of community within these areas as well as close knit relationships between everyone.
However, problems also arise when communities begin to fight other communities and basically starting gang wars. When this happens, society then views people within this community as bad and dangerous and thus begins a cycle of people becoming segregated because others don’t want to be in a neighborhood with others that are dangerous and bad. This isn’t always the case and a majority of the time misunderstandings and accidents cause gang wars and this perception. A great example of this is within The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S there is a comic called The Death of Speedy Ortiz. In this comic it portrays a man named Speedy that gets involved with a woman that is dating a man from a rival gang. This leads to many misunderstandings and ultimately violence that leads to someone from Speedy’s community getting shot in the eye. Not only that there is an important panel in this comic where Jamie writes, “Every night we hear the sirens, the pops… fire crackers? Box cars coupling at the train station? Are we even certain? Do we even check? No…”(Hernandez, 125).
This panel shows so much about how things are in communities like this. People end up coming into these suburbs either because that their only option or due to segregation and deal with situations such as gang violence, theft, etc. and all they can do is hope that it doesn’t happen to them. This problem isn’t only seen within one race but within many and will end up classifying the culture of those individuals. Another example of this is seen in the graphic novel Cleveland. When Harvey Pekar describes the history of Cleveland he writes, “The early part of the 1900s saw efforts made to segregate blacks and keep them out of the suburbs. Some whites were threatened as their population increased, largely due to the increasing industrial jobs available in Cleveland.” (Pekar, 24) Which three panels after writes, “Blacks did not tolerate their exclusion from larger society, which lead to a great deal of social unrest, and in the 1960s two full scale riots.” (Pekar, 25) This section of the graphic novel does such an amazing job of showing just how bad segregation can be, in just four panels it was able to show the start of segregation and to what end segregation can lead.
Racism overall not only affects adults, but it also affects children. People tend to forget that creating a racist environment heavily impacts children. They grow up seeing and hearing racism and either think its ok or they later realize that it isn’t ok and decide to stop it by their actions. Cleveland does a great job of showing how this segregation impacts children. A very important panel in this book that shows the impact of racism is where Harvey is a child seeing other kids on his front porch and his adult self says, “I used to spend a lot of time on my front porch watching other kids play. They wouldn’t accept me. I believed my mother when she told me what hell black people went through just to survive, but did that mean I had to be ostracized? I guess it did.” (Pekar, 43) This panel really shows the impact of racism not only in the area but on children and the future. Due to segregation and living in an area where others hate your race, children see this impact and begin to take that outlook which again can be either positive (trying to bring people together) or negative (keeping that hate for their whole life and continuing the cycle of racism). It also shows that as an adult was when Harvey truly understood why the kids wouldn’t interact with him. It’s so important that Harvey adds this panel because so many kids are affected by this type of seclusion and end up hating others because of it.
Both Cleveland and The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S express how segregation due to racism impacted society back in the writer’s times. Another huge impact to both society and culture is the language. In The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S there are panels where the N word is used as a derogatory word against an African American man out of anger. I believe the purpose of adding this panel to the comic was in order to show how language was used during Jaime’s time. Derogatory language is also shown as graffiti on walls and buildings adding to how Jaime’s surrounding and the racism that was constantly around him was represented in his comic. An example is a panel in The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S where on a building wall you see writing that says white power and split wet backs (154). This language at the time was a regular thing and could be seen everywhere. Impacting lots of people in the process and in a sense telling them that this is who they are and nothing else.
Both comics do a great job at portraying the way racism impacted the lives of the writers and how it overall shaped the culture and society around them. It is important that these types of comics be read because it shows a lot about our history from a perspective from people that are normally shut out. Additionally, understanding the history of our past can help with how racism shapes our culture and society today. Knowing how society was decades ago and the impact it made on people can lead us now into a path where we avoid mistakes that lead to events such as rioting and gang wars. Currently, our society has shown improvement on language and what is and isn’t right to say but bigger issues such as segregation in communities are still an issue. Thus, comics such as The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S and Cleveland are a vital necessity in understanding how racism impacts our social and cultural lives.