Not Dismissing Problems in Dumbing of Age

racism not cartoon villainy dumbing of age“I’ve never seen this happen, so it isn’t a real issue,” is a line spoken way too often in geek culture. Unfortunately, with more and more types of people being recognized as consumers, more hate has reared its head. Geek culture has been progressing and has become more accepting than before of the increasing audience, but this hasn’t always been quick or easy. The previously mentioned line is at the heart of this slow process.

With more groups present, however, more experiences are available to the group mindset. Having members of various ethnic groups, genders, and sexualities provides more experiences than a single person can have on their own. However, it is not impossible for someone to speak on an experience they haven’t personally lived, as long as it’s handled with care.

David Willis, probably best known for his Shortpacked! strip about false equivalence, has been doing a pretty decent job with this. Another comic of his, Dumbing of Age, is a “slice-of-life” comic set at Indiana University chronicling the lives of many of his characters from other works, re-imagined as college kids. It’s like a reboot that exists parallel to the normal universe. In this comic, he explores issues like dating, struggling with one’s own religion, various college struggles, sexuality, parental issues, and race. For example, during the past year, he introduced a transgender character, an action which was met with much praise.

Spoilers for Dumbing of Age ahead.

The issue I want to highlight concerns David (Walky) and Sal Walkerton. Throughout the series, there have been some clues hinting at tension between them. More specifically, these mixed race twin siblings experience different treatment from their parents: Walky is treated better because he is “whiter,” not in skin tone, but other physical and mental attributes. Sal calls him out when she realizes he doesn’t notice this. Cue some fan outrage.

Dumbing of Age Walky fights SalWhile many fans were intrigued by the subplot and saw it as a chance to learn about a phenomenon they hadn’t previously experienced themselves, many comments were vitriolic. Commenters insisted that racism is impossible in an interracial couple, or that “parental instinct” would override bigotry. Now, I’m not here to scold people for being ignorant; I myself was not aware of feminism or the need for it when I was much younger, for example. It just hadn’t occurred to me. But when the topic was brought to my attention, I had to consider that there were experiences that I just hadn’t had to face myself. Just because you haven’t seen someone be discriminated against in some way doesn’t mean that they are making it up.

This is the kind of openness that helps the geek community thrive and grow. The vastness of the internet and amount of people online should only promote such things. Interestingly enough, Walky has, with some encouragement from a friend, started to question whether his parents may actually hold some biases. He showed growth despite some stubbornness. His struggle is understandable in some capacity. Nobody wants to be wrong, and it can be rough to admit that your worldview may have been a bit narrow. But as I said, it’s fine to be unaware of something problematic, it just isn’t productive to assume that it isn’t. All said, I can only hope more webcomics successfully attempt to tackle topics such as this so that more experiences can be shared.

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  1. Pingback: Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Complexity of Faith in Dumbing of Age | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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