Saturday, April 6, 2013

Incognegro by Mat Johnson

Incognegro.   A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson.  Art by Warren Pleece

My students have been reading different graphic novels in their English classes surrounding the theme of revolutions.  One of them happened to leave Incognegro in my class and must have forgot where they left it. So naturally I picked it up and decided to read it.  I could never resist the temptation of a book lying unread in my classroom.

In the author's note Mat Johnson states "he grew up a black boy who looked white in a predominately African American neighborhood.  As a blond African American child, he didn't fit in.  So Mat played a game with his cousin where they would go incognegro or undercover to be "race spies" where his skin color would be an asset to the African American community.  After I read this, I was hooked and I took the book home for the weekend.

"Between 1889 and 1918, 2522 negroes were murdered by lynch mobs in America.  That we know of.  Now, since the beginning of the 30's, most of the white papers don't even consider it news."  Pg. 1.  Incognegro takes place during Jim Crow period when the newspapers no longer covered the large amount of lynchings happening in the South. A light-skinned African American reporter from the North heads South to investigate a lynching.  He passes as a white man when he is Incognegro.  He takes pictures of the people at the mob lynching parties as they pose with the murdered victim and takes notes on who committed the crime.  Then he heads home to Harlem where he writes the story and publishes it.

Incognegro is a page turner, although it is sometimes hard to turn those pages when you know a lynching is going to take place or something bad is going to happen. At the heart of the story lies two brothers, one from the North who is light-skinned and one from the South who is dark-skinned. Incognegro finds his brother looked up in a Southern jail, the next in line for a public lynching.

Incognegro is well-written and beautifully illustrated in black and white tones.  Based on the true story of Walter White, former head of the NAACP, it brings forth an important story that is an neglected part of American history missing from the textbooks.  It also comes straight to us from the front lines of the
war for equality and contains a powerful story that we all need to know and remember.

Incognegro bravely confronts the enemy and joins a revolution to change the meaning of race.