bluestockings magazine is very proud and excited to feature Khari Jackson’s comic “We Build They Burn: The Impacts of white Supremacy on Black Families and Communities and the Foster Care to Prison Pipeline”. This comic is beautiful, brilliant and due to its size and scope we are publishing a chapter each week. The first chapter is at the end of this post, after an interview with Khari.
In love and struggle,
My name is Khari Jackson (aka jkharij aka Kiki aka Black Magic(?)). I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada and I proudly claim Northside Tulsa, Oklahoma as home and I grew up traveling throughout the South, which grounded my identity as a Black Southerner descended from a long legacy of Black resistance.
At an early age, my public schools system struggled and ultimately cut their art programs so I was forced to teach myself how to paint, draw, create and edit videos, etc. My main artistic passion is cartooning and I strive create art and tell stories that restores color to whitewashed histories while educating and creating refuge for radical and abolitionist politics.
I view my work as conversations accessible for everyone, and at the same time I am speaking as a person resisting oppression and I want to have conversations with other people resisting oppression. In other words, I’m not trying to convince or plead with those in power to believe our truths.
Currently, I’m living and resisting in Philadelphia after abruptly leaving a toxic artist residency program in Canada with Ad Astra Comix. I’m pursuing my cartoonist journey while working with an Afrofuturist collective doing a variety of community work based in North Philly, including community driven art projects and archival work.
What is your favorite graphic novel/comic or hero?
This is impossible. Don’t do this to me.
I received a gigantic Garfield book as a kid and read it about 5,634 times (no lie) and Calvin and Hobbes was a mystical staple in my life that made doctor’s waiting room survivable.
But Jerry Craft’s Mama’s Boyz was the first time I can remember seeing everyday Blackness represented and celebrated in comics, and Craft was such a major influence on me. I met him, got artist tips from him, and bought his book and read it about 8,109 times. He was the first person to make me believe I could actually be a cartoonist.
So I’m going to have to go with Mama’s Boyz with Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes tied for second. Final answer.
How do dreams feature in your work?
Both individual and collective dreaming makes up my entire work and motivates me to produce art. I say individual because I have my own dreams of what a radically safe and just world would look like. But collective because the deep beauty, I believe, is realizing I’m not alone and there are a lot of folks dreaming of better, safer, and just worlds.
I’m all about showcasing radical narratives that society often shames and invisibilizes. I believe the oppressive forces that exist discourage our dreaming because what we create in our dreams can influence reality and directly challenge white supremacy and other oppressive forces. Further, when we dream we can develop solutions that move outside of what we thought was possible so we can achieve what society tells us is impossible.
In our dreams, we don’t have to depend on current laws, policies, and systems that have failed us and destroyed us, but instead develop our own ways of structuring society. That can be scary so ideally I’d like to produce work that allows for people to work through their dreams and embrace them rather than fear them because they so intensely counter the status quo.
Overall, as a lover of science fiction and fantasy, I hope to conjure up alternative realities where we can come together to design the world we wish to see, not caring if mainstream dominant society deems it “realistic”.
How do you think of your creative process?
Well, I’m a visual artist and an archivist so I’m always trying to figure out how to tap into histories of oppression and resistance and present them to the audience in accessible ways using art and creativity.
I start by identifying an issue, and I work through the history and try to make historical connections; tracing history is such an important practice and aids me into viewing the bigger picture and not just vignettes and not in ways that treat historical events as isolated incidents.
The first part of my process is less artsy, but helps me effectively communicate messages of oppression that are honest and believable to someone who hasn’t had access to these histories. From there I work on ways of creating art that not only presents the oppression but the resistance. That’s key to me. I never end a process unless I’ve presented some form of resistance. To me, speaking truth to power and exposing oppression and historical lies is great, but it’s also a dishonest, in my opinion, to present histories and erase the resistance. There has always and will always be resistance to oppression.
Why the form of a graphic novel / comic?
Well, It comes naturally. I can’t think of why I wouldn’t chose this form, haha. I started creating comics when I was around 6 or 7 but then it was just a way of dealing with trauma that engulfed me. I could sit and get lost in them and create fantastical worlds where anything could happen. When I started entering my more political and social conscious part of my life journey, that’s when I started attempting to transform and expand on what was possible with this form. I begin to conceptualize a life where I tell stories of oppression, centering the voices of the oppressed first and foremost, and do so in a manner that was accessible and educational. In my intro to We Build They Burn, I drag the academy because it was one of the spaces I realized just how much disparity and inequality there is in the realm of knowledge production. In these often elite spaces, we have the most privileged members of society learning radical histories and then creating inaccessible materials that never get to the very communities that they are about. Further, people can build careers and profit from studying and producing around oppression, but, from my perspective, there is rarely a priority to distribute the knowledge in a way that aids in the liberation of communities. Knowledge is power, and that power has rested in the hands of the elite far too often and for far too long.
And finally, comics are hyper versatile and are great for people of all ages and interests.
How (if so) does your art relate to your liberatory or revolutionary practices?
Gosh, where do I start?
Everyday I try to live an anti-oppressive and anti-capitalist lifestyle. As an artist I enjoy producing accessible and radical work just for the love of it, without thinking of profit. This is how I entered this passion and how I want to always view it. I try to be kind to myself and not stress and feel guilty just because I’m not thinking of ways of commodifying my art.
I’m a huge believer in community care and self care is always a challenge for me. I grew up viewing art as an individualistic self-care endeavor. But I have found the joy in bringing others into my art projects and collaborating with others. I’m extra introverted but I value healthy relationships, building community, and collective resistance. Through collective art projects, we connect with others and build community and stable relationships. I also love seeing Artists of Color, especially those identifying as LGBTQ+ (queer, trans, gnc, etc) and holding other marginalized identities, support each other and celebrate each other’s victories and triumphs.
It’s a way of building each other up as opposed to tearing each other down. Oftentimes in this capitalist society, artists are pushed to be moved by fears and compete with one another for a limited number of resources and capital just to survive. But through art and collective art we can envision ways of supporting each other without tying livelihoods to capital.
It’s just another way to be anti oppressive in your everyday actions to work towards a larger goal. Radical and revolutionary work can take on many forms. As we work to break down physical walls (e.g. detention and imprisoning walls), we can also work to demolish psychological and spiritual walls between oppressed communities as well.
What does liberation look like / feel like to you?
The toughest question tbh.
I’d imagine that liberation feels stable–Like you don’t have to lock your doors anymore to feel safe.
We’d know we’re truly free when we can look around and see and feel that everyone has the opportunity to live safe healthy lives for themselves, their families, loved ones, and communities. Liberation feels and looks complete when we’re all free, and not just the ones who have certain resources and privileges in this hierarchical white supremacist society.
I’m still growing and evolving in all aspects of my life, especially involving my art. My senior thesis was a project created under harsh conditions, so I’m afraid I wasn’t able to showcase my best work and really show the universe what I’m capable of. When I start publicly displaying my art again, y’all can expect art that’s been completed on my terms.
Pt. 1 of 6 of “We Build They Burn: The Impacts of white Supremacy on Black Families and Communities and the Foster Care to Prison Pipeline” is below.