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The N-Word of God

"Let the unorthodox nature of this work speak to the body of believers in new and transformative ways that take seriously the past – and present – in hopes of envisioning a more just future." — Jordan Burton

Mark Doox
Fantagraphics Books, 344 pages
Published February 27, 2024

“The Plantation of God is here!” declares Saint Sambo. In his literary graphic novel The N-Word of God, artist and ordained iconographer Mark Doox skillfully blends Black art and Black literature to tell this provocative extra-canonical story. In this sermonic moment, Doox opens with the creation story, from which a dichotomy between “Darkness” (darkyness) and “Light” was born. As the story unfolds, common antiblack stereotypes and caricatures become divinized in ways that comically yet disturbingly reinforce a Black/White racial binary.

Doox’s landing point is, perhaps, his most fascinating, as the book concludes with a discussion of the words “White” and “Black.” Saint Sambo (a Christ-like figure) argues that these words are false descriptors. In the literal sense, no one possesses “White” or “Black” skin, but instead shades of “brown” and “pink.” However, these words can and do take on socially informed and created meanings — “white” has become synonymous with goodness and purity while “black” is associated with evil and imperfection. Here, Sambo argues that White people are only understood as “White” because they call anything unlike them “Black.” This is not arbitrary but it is reified by the language that we speak and the conceptual frameworks we use to make meaning out of the world.

Is the language of “Black” and “White” redeemable? Sambo believes it is not, and so he argues for “hue-manity,” a different type of relational orientation that does away with racial hierarchy and is made up of “many hues, but one humanity” oriented toward “true acceptance” that fosters community.

Initially, I had a sort of allergy to this post-racial, utopian understanding of race. How is this any different than a color blindness which ignores cultural particularities of both the past and present? Does it delineate from the sort of erasure and collective dismembering that White Christian Nationalism calls for? I am not sure that I have an answer. I understand Doox’s desire to restore value in all human (hue-man) life, but I don’t believe we can do away with the deeply rooted meaning systems that inhabit the words “Black” and “White.” I find it difficult to rightly reckon with antiblackness in both slavery and its afterlives if we lean wholeheartedly into Doox’s vision. In an ideal world, we are all simply human; the current reality is that Black bodies are treated as anything but human. Consequently, this would require a solution grounded in the marginalized experiences of Black folk.

Despite my discomfort with Doox’s proposal, I am thankful for the emotional journey his storytelling brought about. Sitting with the tension created by reimagined Eastern Orthodox icons and a retelling of the Biblical narrative created room for deep reflection and honest dialogue, both internally and externally.

This is not a work-to-speed read in a single sitting. Rather, read it slowly in the presence of good company. Sit with the discomfort. Make connections between race, religion and capital. Let the unorthodox nature of this work speak to the body of believers in new and transformative ways that take seriously the past – and present – in hopes of envisioning a more just future.

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