Texas Governor Rick Perry’s private hunting ground used to be called Niggerhead. But don’t worry! His father, or maybe he himself, or certainly somebody anyway, had the name obscured. Eventually. Accounts differ as to when — could’ve been when they first bought the place, could’ve been in the mid-fucking-’90s — but the important thing is that he got around to it at some point, right? Plus we have the assurances of many local white people that no harm was intended: “It’s just a name. Like … vertical blinds.” Thank goodness that’s settled!
Because the news media has decided that the only racism that counts is the overt, movie-villain kind—systemic obstacles to racial equality in America, like systemic obstacles to any public good in the Greatest Country in the World, no longer exist—Niggerhead briefly became a bigger impediment to Rick Perry’s public image and presidential aspirations than, you know, virtually everything he’s ever done and said as a candidate for and holder of public office. But beyond its dubious evidentiary value to the long-settled question of whether or not Perry is a piece of shit, the name’s sudden entrance into the national conversation led to some interesting discussions of equally open, oblivious racism. As the political blogger Adam Serwer pointed out, for example, ever stop to think about the Washington Redskins? But in reading Gangsta Rap Posse #2, the latest in Benjamin Marra’s Traditional Comics line of self-published pulp, I thought of another egregious instance of bigotry hiding in plain sight, or at least in a plain brown paper bag: interracial porn.
Porn involving interracial participants is one thing — a fine thing, a normal thing, a who-even-cares thing. “Interracial porn,” a genre predicated on the grotesque notion that something about it is “forbidden,” is something else entirely. I’m (obviously, I hope!) not saying that there’s anything wrong with sex on film that happens to involve a white person and a black person. I’m saying that shouldn’t matter — or if it does, it shouldn’t matter more than whether you like girls with short hair or guys with chest hair or whatever. I don’t begrudge people their “types,” or their aesthetic and sexual fetishes. I mean, I like pale brunettes, while if you could somehow harness the masturbatory energy that the Tumblr blogging platform has collectively channeled to redheads you could put Big Oil out of business. But something tells me the pornographic subgenre of white women having sex with black men has very little to do with the visually pleasing contrast of their skin tones. “White dicks, black chicks” is a niche; “Black dicks, white chicks” is a cottage industry. In large part these videos draw heat from the idea that a white woman and a black man together is not just taboo, which in 2011 is a rotten enough idea to contemplate, but somehow dirty, even degrading for the white woman. When you have sex with a black guy, you’re super-extra-slutty, for some reason. In his song “Hell of a Life,” Kanye West (the voice of a generation if that concept is to have any meaning whatsoever) raps about wooing a porn star who’s concerned her salary will drop if “she ever fuck a black guy, or do anal, or do a gangbang — it’s kinda crazy that’s all considered the same thing.” Indeed it is! And this is before we get to either the racial epithets openly slung around in some of these flicks, or to the stereotypes they perpetuate about the monstrous nature of black male sexuality, or those stereotypes’ central position in the defend-our-wives-and-children mythology of slavery, the Civil War, the Lost Cause, Jim Crow, and on and on and on.
Gangsta Rap Posse is best described as an Elseworlds tale in which NWA actually were a bunch of drug-dealing, ho-pimping, Uzi-toting mass murderers. In this issue they blow up an LAPD tank with a stinger missile, execute dozens of skinheads and Klansmen at a white-power hardcore concert, and murder Bootsy Collins and George Clinton following a dispute over sample royalties. But they also fuck a lot of white women, in a way that universally breaks down the women’s preexisting personalities or decorum and reduces them to mindless sex addicts, used hard and soon to be discarded. “I can’t believe we’ve spent the last week holed up in this house on a bender of hardcore fucking and hardcore drugs with the world’s most notorious rap group, Gangsta Rap Posse!!” enthuses one big-haired, bikini-clad blonde to another, who responds, “It’s, like, a dream come true!!” A couple of panels later they’re shot to death in the crossfire of a gun battle with the LAPD, eliciting a dismissive “Later, bitches!!” from the fleeing GRP as their screaming, bullet-ridden bodies twitch in the air. Later the four-man group doubles up on a pair of Nazi punk groupies, converting them from the antagonistic racism to … well, whatever it is, it’s not antagonistic anymore: “I pretend I don’t, but all I really want is that big black cock!!” “I never want white dick ever again!” These women are subsequently chloroformed and sold by the GRP into sex slavery in Chechnya. Still later they take the wives of their record label’s corporate chiefs into the rest room at a party, where they penetrate one orally and vaginally, while the other is given oral sex from behind as she snorts a line of cocaine off one Posse member’s erection. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Los Angeles plots to have the group assassinated for gangbanging his wife. “I can’t satisfy her,” he confesses to the George Clinton stand-in. “All she wants are those big black cocks…” He hates them for it, but he also self-loathingly loves masturbating to the video the GRP shot of the event. They burst in as he cums to the video and murder him while his pants are still down.
Marra is running headlong into possibly the most problematic intersection of race and gender and sex that exists. He’s doing it with all the po-faced 1980s black-and-white-boom gusto with which he’s done everything else in his comics career: the knowingly crude and stiff and figurework, the absurdist bullet-spewing violence, an obviously digital thin and unvarying line that has completely eliminated shading and reveals nothing other than the desire to get images down as quickly as possible. This time around he’s added explicitly pornographic depictions of the sex act itself — mouths stuffed with veiny erections as far as the eye can see. And as was the case with the GRP #1, the lack of any overt racial caricature in the depiction of the Posse or the other African-American characters only makes it harder to get a handle on: Neither a collection of visual stereotypes nor an obvious parody thereof, they’re just four dudes (to the extent that anyone Marra draws looks like just dudes) running around reacting with cathartic violence to vile racists … in a way that brings their most vile racist nightmares to life.
My best guess is that, as with Craig Thompson’s Habibi and Orientalism, Marra is using Gangsta Rap Posse to treat the criminal, sexual, and revenge fantasies of West Coast gangsta rap as genre fiction. But he’s doing the same with racist reactions to that fiction. He’s made them both into one big cobbled-together Frankensteinian genre fiction, in fact. It’s like some weird cubist interpretation of racism, showing it from all angles at once. The book’s final three images are all violent tableaux: The Gangsta Rap Posse stands as one as they execute the kneeling, bare-assed mayor with a shot to the head; dicks in full view, they simultaneously urinate on the mangled, entrail-leaking corpse of the George Clinton figure; guns in hand and arms slung around one another, they smile for the camera in front of a lynched Klansman hanging from a tree, as a white woman in lingerie lounges seductively while pressing herself against one of their legs. Liberation, oppression, and fetishization all rolled into one. Black dicks, white chicks, nightsticks, racist hicks. Gaze into the abyss.