‘Your Black Friend’ takes on woke racism

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 11:58pm

You could easily mistake Ben Passmore’s “Your Black Friend” for a light read; after all, it is only 11 pages long. However, through skilled artistry and strong language, the mini-comic is as poignant and relevant as it is visually pleasing. Its cover draws you in, boasting playful pastels and bouncy bubble letters, looking more like a middle schooler’s doodle than an open letter about racism and Black alienation in America. Its characters are spot-on caricatures of people you have known or seen or been, depicted with a balance of humor and criticism.

“Your Black Friend” is a brief yet intensely powerful testament to what racism looks like among “woke” millennials. In word and image, Passmore creates a work that is simultaneously personal and collective, encompassing his own experiences while capturing the experiences of others. Written entirely in the second person, Passmore actively engages in a critical and much-needed conversation about race in today’s America. The comic involves the reader in an unconventional way, pointing to them as it begs and pleads that you, and only you, recognize the pervasiveness of racism in our culture. Passmore’s narrator grapples between two poles of racialization, one being not Black enough for his Black friends and the other being too Black for his white friends. He lives in racial limbo, where his own existence is measured and metered by his peers rather than himself.

Passmore uses a distinct color palette of soothing pastels of blue, purple and pink. Even the most troubling and gruesome of scenes is inked with bright and whimsical hues, washing over the darkness and dread of the comic’s content with a paintbrush soaked in millennial pink. Just as the comic washes over the serious with a façade of brightness, the façade of woke-ness masks the sometimes unintentional but inherent racism that lies beneath.  

“Your Black Friend” attacks the millennial post-racial myth head-on with tact and humor. Like Jordan Peele’s (“Key and Peele”) terrifyingly relevant and award-winning social thriller “Get Out,” Passmore’s comic confronts the self-serving nature of white guilt, turning alliance into a selfish and preoccupied excuse for sympathy. Passmore addresses the performance of linguistic “blackface” among his white friends. He explores the desire to try on “Blackness” like a costume, a hipster in full minstrel guise in a desperate attempt to reconcile white privilege in a country built on racism. Passmore manages to capture a similar feeling of alienation and fear without directly evoking the horror tone of Peele’s masterpiece.  

Passmore effectively uses the comics medium to communicate his message and personal experiences. He fills the small comic to the brim with jarring colors, expertly formatting the pages with text and images that inform and complement one another. Passmore’s use of arrows and comments throughout make the comic feel more organic, as if the author is allowing a snapshot into his own diary. From run-ins with the cops to eating a po-boy at a coffee shop, Passmore walks the reader through the 21st-century Black experience in a 21st-century white world.