June 18, 2021

, ,   |  

Stop and listen to Robyn Smith's The Saddest Angriest Black Girl In Town



So, I’m squirming a bit writing this because Robyn Smith isn’t writing this comic for me. She’s writing it at me.  This comic is her time to get all of these thoughts and concerns down on paper while hoping (but doubting) that I can change after I read her comic. And I don’t blame her for doubting that because history has demonstrated repeatedly how hard it is for people like me to change. Her excellent comic The Saddest Angriest Black Girl In Town stems from her being black and from me being white. Out of everything that possibly could, that's what separates us and while it shouldn't mean much, it really means everything.

It’s not like she’s talking to me directly but, as a white person reading this comic, I’m the audience for it as she tries to explain the three adjectives in that title- saddest, angriest, and black-- and how she is each of those descriptive words. As she does that, I (or you or whoever is reading the comic) am the stand-in for the audience that she wants to reach and that is a completely valid role that I’ll accept for her. If she has to carry the weight of being a black woman in largely white spaces, I can be the representative of those who live primarily in those white spaces.

Make no mistake; this comic isn’t a dialogue. This isn’t a call and response where Smith talks about being a black woman and I reply as a white man. All of that feels like a weird thing to say in an article that is looking at her comic from my own perspective. So I hope that this isn’t me trying to explain Smith’s book but that is more searching and questioning to make sure that I’m listening.
Through three movements (“sad,” “angry,” and “black,”) Smith expresses what ultimately is weariness. She lives in the largely white area of White River Junction, Vermont. An idea that she comes back to a couple of times is that she feels like she’s an outsider in these white spaces. “I upset a sort of white peace and I can’t help but feel sorry for making you uncomfortable” and “The discomfort I create in white spaces is palpable.” At first, she carried the responsibility with pride and even righteousness but it eventually becomes a responsibility that is unfair to her. She’s the black girl, the black friend, the black woman behind the grocery store counter. Through her comics, you can feel the weight that she feels. 

Her artwork expresses a vibrancy that is maybe a bit more aspirational than realistic. The drawings in this comic show the life of a girl. Presented in black and white, there is a bit of color-blindness in the artwork that only reinforces Smith’s inner monologue. It’s not an extraordinary life or a dull one. It’s a life that looks like any other one, regardless of skin color or any other physical attributes. Her art provides a vision of her world, her insecurities, and her struggles just to be able to be a part of this world without having to be defined by just one aspect of herself or feel like she has to be something for me.

“Don’t deny me the basic human pleasure of just existing,” she writes toward the end of her comic and it just all comes down to that. This isn’t a dialogue; I (or you) shouldn’t come back and say anything even similar to “but I’m not doing anything like that.” Smith is asking us to just listen, to reflect on her words and her feelings in this comic. And we must do that, not just after reading this comic or after reflecting on this past year but after lifetimes of being a part of this world and realizing that there are millions of people who feel like Smith does. We need to realize that Smith’s thoughts and feelings aren’t isolated and they’re not invalid.

Thank you, Robyn, for sharing this with all of us.

The Saddest Angriest Black Girl In Town
Written and Drawn by Robyn Smith
Published by Black Josei Press