I had the good fortune to go hear Keith Knight speak yesterday at the SF Main Library. Mr. Knight is a cartoonist of the first order, offering political commentary in that succinct and straight-to-the-heart way that comics can. Three pages of philosophical exposition and statistics summarized more efficiently and effectively in a one-panel paper comic square.
He was arranging his books on a table when I arrived with my son-in-law, a long-time fan and I thanked Mr. Knight for making Christmas easier for me. “What to get Ronnie? Why the next Keith Knight book, of course!” While we were talking, a former roommate showed up. After the reunion hugs, I asked whether Mr. Knight did the dishes. Without missing a beat, he said, “Probably not. But I did learn one important thing from him. Always remember to squeeze the sponge.” At which Mr. Knight added, “Yep! It’s pretty simple. When you don’t squeeze out the sponge, all these bacteria collect and the thing starts smelling nasty. And then you wash your dishes and pots and pans with a nasty sponge. Not good! Just squeeze the thing out, rinse it and you’ll be amazed at how much it helps.”
When he went on to give his talk about the racial situation that just does not seem to be progressing like we all thought it would, the gist of his message as a black man was that white folks need to stop being so afraid of black folks. It’s that fear that accounts for so much of the police shootings, that accounts for them not being held accountable, that accounts for white people feeling so damn uncomfortable around genuine discussions about race. I kept nodding my head at just about everything he said. He was informed, gently firm, insightful, funny, warm and caring on both the big issue level and the daily personal level.
It struck me that his talk was an act of squeezing the sponge. Maybe the sponge doesn’t like being squeezed, but that’s what keeps the bad germs out and keeps it from smelling and allows it to wash effectively. All the white folks who protest, “Hey, I’m fine as I am. Leave me alone and don’t squeeze me,” are not only halting the possibility of cleaning the messy pots and pans our forebears left us, but are sitting in their own filth. It’s for the good of everyone that we have these uncomfortable, awkward and needed conversations.
Trevor Noah of the Daily Show reported that according to a recent survey, only 8% of high school seniors nationwide knew anything real and true about slavery. I repeat. 8%. That means that 92% of the kids graduating from our institutions of learning have not have their ideas gathered from FOX News or bad textbooks or no books challenged. Nobody has thought to squeeze out the sponge and the bacteria are multiplying and the roommates are complaining about the smell, but no one even knows where it’s coming from. That’s not good for anyone.
I’m sure Keith Knight could say this all better in a couple of comic panels. Maybe he’ll even take me up on my suggestion to extend his sponge-squeezing philosophy. While you’re waiting, check out his books. And thank goodness such people are doing the work they are doing.
Carry on, Mr. Knight!