Birth of a Klansman

A local artist sets out to "Bum Rush" history

Night Rider is a glorious hybrid of Captain America and Thor. A muscle-bound superhero with a chiseled jaw and sculpted frame, he fights for truth, justice and the American way.

Check that — he fights for truth, justice and the white American way. Night Rider is a Klansman superhero, who fights oppressive villains like the Treacherous Three: Rastus, Uncle Ben and Chief Wahoo. This protector of the Aryan nation is the star of Dawolu Jabari Anderson's fictional comic-book series, which will be unveiled today at an Art League Houston exhibit called "Birth of a Nation: Yo! Bum Rush the Show."

Anderson's show features large-scale comic-book covers of his Night Rider series, which he concocted as a fictional tie-in to D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation. The film depicts Southern KKK members as heroic liberators and African-Americans as a menace to white Americans. As horrendously archaic and un-PC as it may be, The Birth of a Nation is still considered a landmark of American cinema and is listed as one of the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Films of All Time.

Anderson, a founding member of the local Otabenga Jones & Associates artist collective who'll have his work featured in the Whitney Biennial later this year, insists that his "Birth of a Nation" isn't an attack on the movie. Rather, it's an examination of the establishment vs. black power (hence the title "Bum Rush the Show," taken from a Public Enemy song). "It's more of an attack on the notoriety of The Birth of a Nation," he says, "and the institution that still exists that gave this film credence back then. It's not an attack on D.W. Griffith, or the Klan, or even the white power militias that exist today. It's attacking the power structure that encourages these organizations to strengthen, while they'd destroy any black organization that would try to exercise these same rights."

Anderson's comic books follow the seemingly noble Night Rider as he battles each member of the Treacherous Three. It wasn't hard for him to find villainous nonwhite Americans for his story. Chief Wahoo is actually the mascot for baseball's Cleveland Indians. Uncle Ben is that friendly gent on your box of rice. And every Cream of Wheat package you've ever seen displays the smiling Rastus. "I didn't have to make up Sambo images — they were already there," says Anderson. "I just stripped them of all the PC makeup that's on them now and showed them for how they were intended to be: negative stereotypes. Yeah, the story is fictitious, but I tried to keep the characters as accurate to historical events as possible."

Sadly, for our history, they're dead on.

Anderson hosts an opening reception and artist talk beginning at 6:30 p.m. Exhibit runs through March 3. 1953 Montrose. For information, call 713-523-9530 or visit www.artleaguehouston.com. Free.
Jan. 20-March 3

 
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