Monday, February 1, 2010
Ebony White- pro's and con's
Ebony White is a mixed blessing. He is a brave, intelligent and loyal assistant to Will Eisner's hero, The Spirit. He is also, visually, a terrible ethnic stereotype which hearkens back to the "blackface" makeup of old minstrel shows. His appearance is so blatantly a racial caricature that, when asked to come up with a replacement for The Spirit , Jack Cole supplied his Spirit-like character(Midnight) with a talking monkey as a sidekick.
You may ask yourself, "Why would Will Eisner, artistic innovator, a man who knew the pain of bigotry (he was Jewish at a time when Jews were excluded from nearly as many things as black folks), depict a young, black man as a sub-human stereotype?". Well, not to make excuses, but it was common practice in the 1940's. Ebony is a "comedy sidekick", not unlike Doiby Dickles from Green Lantern or Woozy Winks from Plastic Man. The comedy sidekick is always drawn in a more cartoony style than the hero and usually has exaggerated speech patterns or mannerisms. Basically, Ebony is a broadly drawn comedy stereotype common to his time period and really shouldn't be thought of as any more offensive to African Americans than Doiby is to guys from Brooklyn.
So, yes, looking back at Ebony through the eyes of the 21st Century, his appearance may make you wince. But bear in mind, no malice was intended and Ebony's inclusion was a tiny, awkward first step forward to bringing African Americans into the mainstream of superhero comics.