Comics, Classrooms, and Caricatures

Good afternoon, friends. I came across this article from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and thought I’d pass it along. It discusses how graphic novels can be used as educational tools, taking a specific look at the graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

American Born Chinese uses racial stereotypes as one way of addressing discrimination and identity in America. While the book is not banned, some consider this inappropriate. Given that I have not read it, I cannot say how race and racial stereotypes are handled. Thus, I was wondering what you, my lovely readers, thought about it.

Can stereotypes and their regrettable history (particularly in comics) be used to facilitate a conversation or a teaching moment or are they better off left as skeletons in the closet? Are stereotypes perpetuated more by their inclusion in a dialogue that could make people uncomfortable or by sweeping them under the rug in the hopes that they disappear?

We’ve touched upon these issues before in the review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (listed as a suggested novel pairing for educators using American Born Chinese). Many of the challenges involving The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian accuse it of racism, as the book uses the social and economic realities of Junior’s community to tell his story as he attempts to cross educational and social barriers. Similarly, the sweeping Arizona law mentioned in said review sought to avoid conflict about race by basically outlawing all books that address the matter (as well as the fact that non-white characters and people exist).

Context and intent are not always clear-cut enough for school policy and their reception can vary by perspective. So what’s a school to do? Did your school try to address discrimination or stereotypes? What tools did they use to do this? Did they succeed in your opinion? Were mistakes made by teachers, parents, or other educators involved? How might these mistakes have been avoided?

What do you think of using comic books and graphic novels as educational tools?

Suggested reading and resources:

CBLDF Education – Educational resources from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Review: Ichiro – Reviews by Lantern’s Light takes a look at the graphic novel about identity, loyalty, and history

‘Part-Time’ Lovers Are the ALA’s Full-Time Friends – My review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Blacklisted – My review of the Spider-man comic addressing 9/11, be sure to check out the Superdickery link for a comparison of how minorities are portrayed in comics then and now

Also, check out Superdickery in general for an eye-opening look at old comics and their not-so-politically correct covers.

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About boundandgaggedbooks

Shannon is a freelance writer and folklore buff. She has a degree from Hampshire College in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion, with an emphasis on epic/oral traditions, their anthropological implications, and their modern counterparts. Her work can be found in Fabulously Feminist, Wolf Wariors: The National Wolfwatcher Coalition Anthology, The Concord Monitor, Redhead Magazine, and The Climax.

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