Colorization | comics, morrie turner

This is one of several posts where I share quotes and food-for-thought from Chang’s book – Who We Be: The Colorization of America.*
(earlier post: on Introduction)

morrie turner_All-the-kids-were

From San Francisco Chronicle article, Wee Pals retrospective at S.F. Library

There are five chapters in Part One, A New Culture, 1963-1979, of Jeff Chang’s Who We Be 

  • CHAPTER 1, Rainbow Power: Morrie Turner and the Kids
  • CHAPTER 2, After Jericho: The Struggle Against Invisibility
  • CHAPTER 3, “The Real Thing”: Lifestyling and Its Discontents
  • CHAPTER 4, Every Man an Artist, Every artist a Priest: The Invention of Multiculturalism
  • CHAPTER 5, Color Theory: Race Trouble in the Avant-Garde

As someone born in 1963, who enjoyed the comic strip Wee Pals and its Kid Power cartoon, I greatly appreciate Chang’s first chapter. I certainly did not know of (or understand) the meaningfulness of Wee Pals. I was a kid who read the comics and watched television with my little brother.

From a quick web search, here are a few other tidbits about Turner –

About this post. I share some excerpts (of which makes me ponder) from Chang’s work from Chapter 1 – Rainbow Power: Morrie Turner and the Kids. The subsections of Chapter 1 are titled as follows –

– The Animals and The Kids
– Confederate Flags and Rainbows
– The Value of Humor
– How It Feels to Be American
– The Kids Get Colorized
– The Price of Crossing Over

One of the joys of reading the Chang’s book is the occasional Wee Pals comic strip sprinkled throughout the book. In Chapter 1, there are two pages with 11 characters from the comic strip, as well as a few comic strips and one panels. Chapter 1 provides the historical backdrop while sharing Turner’s journey, experiences, and perspectives, as well referencing a few other cartoonists.

:: Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid became the first broadly popular cartoon character. … The Ting-Lings were “Chinese” only in the way blackface minstrelsy was “Negro.” … Cartoon Blacks and Chinese were not representations of blackness and yellowness. They were representations of whiteness – the laughs were found in what whites were not. … Outcault drew his boy with huge ears, buck teeth, and a big yellow nightie. ::

:: But in Wee Pals, Turner’s vision of multiculturalism aspired to be patient, innocent, unhardened. He knew that casting kids allowed him some freedom. If a Black kid was saying it, it was funny,” Turner said. “But if a Black man was saying it, it would be fighting time.”::

:: Most of Wee Pals‘s punch lines hinged on cultural misunderstandings and mistranslations. But conflict could be defused by common sense and collective action. ::

:: During the eighties, with the rise of multiculturalism, Black cartoonists made breakthroughs, including Ray Billingsley (Curtis), Robb Armstrong (Jump Start), and Barbara Brandon-Croft (Where I’m Coming From). All three had substantial success by Wee Pals Standards. ::

:: In April 1999, Aaron McGruder, a prodigy from Maryland’s Black suburbs, launched The Boondocks. In that uniquely hip-hop-generation kind of way, he seemed to want to impress people and piss the off at the same time. The Boondocks had one of the most successful syndicated comic strip launches ever, opening in 160 newspapers. But soon enough, some readers began complaining the strip was “racist,” “angry,” “gangsta-ariented garbage.” ::

:: In a time of turmoil, Turner’s kids had been earnest and lighthearted. Their message was that everyone wanted equality, they could work it out, and no one need be uncivil in the process. McGruder’s Kids were products of the hypocrisies of a post-civil rights America, armed and armored with irony and attitude. Toward the failed promises of the civil rights generation and multiculturalism, the shuck-n-jive of hip-hop capitalists, the fake racial innocence of the nation, they declared their right to be hostile. ::

* This is sparking ideas in me for colorized improv, environmental communications, and knowledge/ignorance discussions.

** Listen to Code Switch, Morrie Turner, 1923-2014: Drawing Gentle Lessons In Tolerance (2014)


Experiment | improv, race, food for thought

thatwasreallyfun210aboundarypushingaswell210a-defaultWhat do you get when you have an idea about bringing one’s culture into improv and an opportunity to do so for not more than 3.5 minutes?

Here is how I took advantage of that opportunity – Yo, Is this Racist or Not Racist? (aka YiTRoNR?)– That’s what I came up with.


Wait what? WHAT!?

My offering was a nod to the podcast, Yo, Is This Racist?, with its precursor and companion blog, Yo, Is This Racist?. The 3.5 minutes included –

  • an improv warm-up staple of Three Lines Scene
  • “flip cards” with racist and not racist to facilitate sharing one’s of opinion and perspective
  • optional audience participation
  • post-show food-for-thought

–  and admittedly, I did not follow my own rules toward the endby doing more than three lines,  however, as an experiment, I was glad to get it out there with the help of friends.

  • The final experimental product – Jump to the section below – “Serving up the Experiment – Yo, Is This Racist or Not Racist?” – to see the 3.5 minutes in action. Skip the rest.
  • Interested in what spurred this idea? – Read on for the details.

And while YiTRoNR was not quite bringing one’s culture into improv, it was in the spectrum and range of exploring and expressing race – social, cultural, and familial – as an improviser and an audience member.

The Idea: Colorized Improv

I have been brewing bicultural improv since earlier this year. Simply stated, my early thoughts were about creating a team that is predominantly composed of people of color, with bicultural experiences from which to draw.

In June, four un-panelists (Chang, Bell, Rodriguez, Mansbach) at a June book fair festival unknowingly reignited my interest in bicultural improv. Since then, my ideas of bicultural improv have been evolving into what I have been calling Colorized Improv, a nod to Jeff Chang’s Who We Be: The Colorization of America for the inspiration.

I have exchanged ideas with friends and colleagues not only in the SF Bay Area but also in Southern California and Chicago. To date, I am collaborating with Radhika Rao on creating and defining the general framework and elements, experimenting with improv formats, and conceiving workshop ideas and performance pieces. (More to come)

sal_shAn Opportunity to Experiment

In late September/early October, there was an opportunity to “showcase” anything for 3.5 minutes. This opportunity? The October installation of The Laboratory, hosted by Salvatore (Sal) Testa. The Laboratory was described as –

The Laboratory is an experimental improv show where 18 teams get 3.5 minutes to do whatever they want with no restrictions. It is going to be weird, and that’s going to be great. A set where everyone is a cat? Possibly. A scene where everyone says one collective sentence, one word at a time? We can only hope. A 3.5 minute of dating game? Probably. This will probably happen. 

(By the way, time permitting, Sal was very generous by letting additional teams (including those  who missed signing up or had an idea on the spot) to perform. Great host and producer!)

Raw Ingredients to Formulate The Idea

j_shThe Laboratory triggered in me the idea to create something that may be under the umbrella of the evolving Colorized Improv. I touched base friend Johnathan, who has shared similar ideas about having more underrepresented improv players, as well as scenes with cultural context. I also shared the idea with friends in Guam Improv. Here are the “raw ingredients” I worked with for creating YiTRoNR.

Improv warm-up staple – Using the improv warm-up exercise – Three Lines Scene – perform scenes that clearly are and are not racist, and perhaps scenes that are not so clearly one way or the other (arguably).

Identify / Flip cards – Guam team member, Ashley, suggested poster boards to call out whether a scene was racist or not racist. From this creative idea came other ideas from other friends for using flip cards to call out racist/not racist scenes: having the improviser self-identify; having one person serve as a kind of referee; having the audience identify; or some combination of the above.

Optional audience participation – Given the Laboratory format and surprise element, one of my friends suggested that audience members could verbally state racist/not racist and/or could use flip cards to do so. Other ideas included having and audience volunteer take part in the three lines scene or having a whistle blown for racist scenes.

Post-Show Food for thought – With 3.5 minutes, I wanted to experiment with improvisers and the audience. This included several ideas: improvisers purposely choosing to create characters or scene initiations that could be identified as racist, not racist, microaggressions, or implicit bias; improvisers performing that are predominantly people of color; audience members reacting to scene creations; and improvisers and audience members considering culture in improv.


Serving up the Experiment – Yo, Is This Racist or Not Racist?

Here is the food-for-thought.

And an award-worthy move at the end? Michael ripping in half one of the racist/not racist poster board!

If you are chewing on this, what ingredients would you keep? What would you change? What ideas come to mind for you – improviser and non-improviser – when watching this?

* The closing scene (beyond three lines)
was from a previously improvised scene
between Johnathan and me. 

Colorization | shifts, implications, cultural – introduction

This is one of several posts where I share quotes and food-for-thought from Chang’s book – Who We Be: The Colorization of America.*

Chang_quote -Colorization-describes

Jeff Chang (@zentronix, on Facebook, on web), Journalist and Author, hosted a June 2015 event at the Bay Area Book Festival – Who We Be: An Un-Panel About Our Colorized Futures.

cover_who we beAs mentioned in my earlier post – Colorize | who you and me be – Chang’s Un-Panel reignited an idea of bicultural improv, which has since evolved to the emerging Colorized Improv.

Who We Be: The Colorization of America, by Chang, is one of the books I am currently reading. Here are a few reviews –

Who We Be is described as –

… Chang explores race and culture, tracing the rice of multiculturalism over the last three decades. He remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual, and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress.

Presented in five parts –

  • INTRODUCTION Seeing America
  • Part One: A New Culture, 1963-1979 (Chapters 1-5)
  • Part Two: Who Are We?, 1980-1993 (Chapters 6-10)
  • Part Three: The Colorization of America, 1993-2013 (Chapters 11-15)
  • EPILOGUE Dreaming America

– to date, I have read through Chapter 8.

In the introduction, Chang’s description of this book includes –

It asks: Why, after colorization, has racial and cultural inequality remained largely unseen and undiscussed? It asks us to consider the fate of this still emerging cultural majority, and the fate of the nation itself.

As part of the INTRODUCTION Seeing America, Chang shares the quote above about colorization. Here are a few more quotes in this section that caught my attention –

:: But after the civil rights movement, race became a new kind of American problem. Seeing became increasingly important. … The visuality of race – with its national history of erasure and debasement – became critical simply because people of color would no longer remain invisible. ::

:: Here is where artists and those who work and play in the culture enter. They help people to see what cannot yet be seen, hear the unheard, tell the untold. They make change feel not just possible, but inevitable. Every moment of major social change requires a collective leap of imagination. Change presents itself not only in spontaneous and organized expressions of unrest and risk, but in explosions of mass creativity. ::

:: Cultural desegregation has changed America. We can be seen as a happy rainbow country. Yet all of our social indexes show rising rates of resegregation and inequity … Even as our image world expands at a profound rate, making us believe that every thing worth seeing is available to us, what sits in our blind spots may be more important than ever. ::

:: There is also a growing gap between what we think and what we say. Blindness and denial – personal and systemic – often stop us from speaking at all about race. ::

And finally, in the closing of the introduction, where Chang mentions Rodney King’s 1992 “Can we all get along?” (after the 1992 Los Angeles riots), Chang shares –

We could not answer then and still cannot now. King’s question reminds us how inarticulate we can be when the subject is race. If race beings as a visual problem, how do we overcome our misrecognitions and blindnesses? How do we move toward recognition, honest, empathy, and mutuality?

* This is sparking ideas in me for colorized improv, environmental communications, and knowledge/ignorance discussions.

** podcast Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, Jeff Chang on Art, Race, and Why Diversity Actually Means “Them”