If Ebony is as great a character as I and Matt Seneca (he started the fuss with a blog post here) like to believe, he cannot be a simple piece of ugliness that deserves to be kept in obscurity. Read Ebony and you’re reading about a person, and that’s the best antidote to racism there is: seeing that the other (if you’ll pardon the phrase) is also human.
It’s not just that Ebony’s human qualities mitigate the racism built into the character; they counteract it. In Ebony we have a racist antidote to racism. Bizarre, but such is life.
And Caroline Small had a passionate comment about her own experiences in the South and racism.
I think one of the problems in this thread is that people just aren’t accepting the extent to which socio-cultural racism, even racism the person doesn’t recognize, is still really truly honest-to-God racism.
I have a lot of personal experience with this: I grew up in a fully segregated town in the rural south. I knew a lot of people who, in all other respects, were tremendously kind and good-hearted, but who accepted segregation and a hierarchy of the races without questioning it.
I know many black people who, as poor rural children, were not dissimilar to the stereotypes of rural Southern blacks when they were children — but they grew up to be nothing like those stereotypes, once they had the opportunity to be something different. But the vast majority of those kind and good-hearted people couldn’t see that potential, and they couldn’t see the role that prejudice and stereotypes played in blinding them to it. I should say we, or I’d be lying, because I didn’t figure it out until college. We didn’t understand the damage segregation and stereotyping and low expectations and just plain not NOTICING did to “those people” and the possibilities they saw for their lives. We let ourselves off the hook because we knew we weren’t evil.
And we knew what the evil was too, so we meant it when we said we weren’t evil. When I was 6 years old, the Ku Klux Klan marched in front of my house on their way to an empty field where they were having a rally. This was back when they could still cover their faces, so it was the whole shebang — fire and masks and chanting. I was utterly terrified, sobbing — I can still conjure up nightmares just thinking about it. I wasn’t one of those people — so I wasn’t racist.
But that’s bullshit. I wasn’t violent. I didn’t take pleasure in scaring people, or in mob rule. But I wouldn’t have dated a black man. I didn’t invite my black classmates, many of whom probably had interests more in common with me than my white classmates, to my house to play or to a movie. I didn’t have any respect for black culture or cultural mores. I was put off when my classmates didn’t smell clean — and nobody ever mentioned to me (until I was in my late teens) that many of them didn’t have running water in their houses.
None of those perceptions changed until I went to college and left that environment, until I met people who helped me see it differently. I did not know any better. But my attitude and perspective were still completely totally fucking wrong. In every possible respect. And I would repudiate anything I did then that reflected that perspective.
So it really doesn’t matter to me if Eisner was a really great guy. It doesn’t matter if that was the culture he knew. It doesn’t matter if he made great art anyway.
Those attitudes are STILL RACIST and IT’S STILL HIS FAULT, just like all the little things I did and felt are still my fault. It’s not grey.
Thanks to everyone else who commented too.