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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

REDEFINING THE RACIAL OTHER PT. 2

Now that I've investigated some of the basic components of Jean-Paul Sartre's concept of "the Other," I can speak more fully as to how I choose to redefine the term.

I've stated that the concept of "the Other," when applied to a human being of a different race than that of the subject, is a nominal one when compared to the near-total lack of congruity between human being and animal. 

I'll further specify that a given subject-- let's say the usual culprit, a White Male-- *may* be more estranged from the culture of a Black Male than he would from the culture of another White Male. Obviously anyone can think of real-world exceptions to this proposition, but for sake of argument I'll assert that this is a dominant tendency, brought on by the White Male's conscious or subconscious responses to persons who do or do not share the overt physical markers that he possesses.

The usual ideological extrapolation from this sort of set-up is to *presume* that because the subject is "shamed" or "repulsed" by the Other, that subject sets up a defensive perimeter around himself and tries to deny the Other any selfhood. The commonest result of this denial is usually termed "projection," and reams have been written about how White Males have projected their various fears upon other ethnicities, often though not always People of Color.

But there's a crucial element omitted by Sartre and all who follow in his wake: the possibility that the subject sees something in the Other that is literally there-- particularly some evil or at least undesirable trait-- because such traits common to both representatives of humanity.

I am not saying that no projection takes place. Though it's become de rigueur to view the character of Fu Manchu as nothing but a projection of British fears of "the Yellow Peril," I certainly wouldn't deny that such projection is an element of Sax Rohmer's creation, particularly since according to his biography, Rohmer didn't really know much about Chinese culture when he created the character. At the same time, that doesn't mean that every observation Rohmer was automatically incorrect, even if he lacked in-depth knowledge. What might it mean if a relatively modern Chinese citizen were to advance the same notion toward some members of his own culture that Rohmer does of Fu Manchu? Director Chang Cheh critiques one of his feudal-period characters for having the same torture-happy attitudes we see in Fu Manchu, as seen in my review of FIVE DEADLY VENOMS here-- and one certainly cannot suspect the Hong Kong director of "Yellow Peril" fears. This comparison raises the question as to whether Rohmer's creation was entirely rooted in facile "projection." 

As I said in Part 1, Sartre's concept of the Other is informed by a desire to rein in the forces of authority represented by European colonialism and capitalism. I suggest, however, that because of this ideological orientation, he could not see the same forms of evil as being either real or potential within the culture of the Other. To rewrite the injunction from the Gospel of Matthew, Sartre could see the beam in a Frenchman's eye, but none in the eye of an Algerian.

I've already discoursed here on what I consider the important difference between "a racial image" and "a racist image," and these distinctions can in turn be glossed by my meditations on "benign chauvinism" and "malign chauvinism," here. And with these distinctions in mind, I will proceed to cite an example of a "racial mythcomic" that would certainly never be honored by Black History Month.

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