Last Tuesday, President Obama promised to send 30,000 troops into possible death and disaster. The next day, Eldrick Woods dominated the news. The Afghanistan War suddenly took a back seat to another rich adulterer. Huey Freeman would have never allowed that to happen.
He wouldn’t let us forget to hold any government leader accountable. He would never let us forget who Fred Hampton is. He would probably remind us that black people should be more afraid of Tyler Perry than Fox Network. He would urge us not to get trapped into “having political discussions around the musings of an entertainer.”
But Huey, protagonist of The Boondocks, has a tenuous footing. After all, black radicals don’t tend to live very long.
When The Boondocks emerged on the national scene, its effect was instant. Creator Aaron McGruder found a receptive market, his cartoon strips appearing in more than 300 newspapers around the country. By the time he was 25, he had an audience of more than 20 million people. He – by skill and default – became the most recognizable, if not best, black cartoonist in America.
His strips weren’t in alternative publications or obscure websites. They were being ran in the Boston Globe, LA Times and the Washington Post. Conversely, his strips were banned more times than you’d care to count. His style was political and seared majority and minority cultures. And the main vessel of his satirical message: Huey Freeman. If there was a character profile of Huey, it would read as:
Imperious demeanor, abnormally intelligent and detached, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, patient, loyal, purposeful, driven, conscious, perhaps overly aware.
In other words, some Martin. Some Malcolm. Some Douglass. Some Huey (Newton). Finding one irredeemable quality in this iconic character is a chore. Huey represents the best of black culture, the worst to the capitalist elite and an annoyance to the walking sleep.
The show is known for its biting wit, bringing Martin Luther King Jr. from the dead and bashing a certain network, among a few others. Above everything, however, is its hilarity.
“Do the Homie” became popularly laughable. A Pimp Named Slickback told us that we have to say the whole name. Every time. The world’s foremost self-hating black man provided a startling look at how we tend to view ourselves, even on the subconscious level. An assistant district attorney almost came face-to-face with his greatest fear of being anally raped in jail. And the Santa stalker never missed a chance to point out gayness.
But beneath the funnies was a misunderstood rage by the show’s creator. These characters should not be merely fishes in a tank to be viewed for our pleasure. McGruder knows that the world will read/watch his art and laugh, then go about the rest of their day. He is highly adept at using humor to spotlight the political and social ills and inconsistencies in society. Problem is, people will laugh so much that they forget that they’re supposed to be getting mad.
Hence the dual-edged effect of satire.
You could view the Boondocks as entertaining, the characters comical. You can look at Riley and Uncle Ruckus and shake your head as their imbecilic tendencies. And you’d be right. But to only view it that way would be criminal.
Huey Freeman is an animated amalgam of historical heroes, reminding us of the power of a voice. He offers America a chin check, unlike anything in mainstream media. Obama should never be allowed to escape scrutiny from the black community because of his race. Huey wouldn’t let it happen.
Huey also offers black children the best chance of making knowledge and being a nerd cool. Once upon a time, mainstream hip-hop was political. Public Enemy and KRS-One made it cool to be knowledgeable about current events and public affairs (sorry for the pun Tiger). Now hip-hop is apolitical, with a heavy emphasis on street pharmaceuticals, vehicles and the female anatomy and everything else but politics.
In Huey, young adults see an unabashed freedom fighter. If social change starts with the youth, it’s only natural Huey’s appeal with them is accentuated.
He shouldn’t be alone though. Huey Freeman should not only exist within a DVD collection and the comic pages. Many people are clamoring for Season 3 of The Boondocks, and for good reason. Many just want a good laugh, which is also cool. But the real clamor, should be for real-life Hueys to come forward. When that happens, American democracy will never be the same.