BEHIND THE VEIL
Dillon and The Legend of the Golden Bell: From a Modern Black Perspective
As written by Brent Lambert, ALL PULP Staffer
When I first heard the term “post racial” being thrown around I was put off by it. It seemed like terminology invented for the sole purpose of creating a false reality and to create cultural repression. Whoever thought the advent of an African-American President somehow spelled a symbolic end to racism was smoking something real good and I still want some of it.
The other idea proposed by this concept of “post-racial” was a bit sneakier and less obviously wrong because it’s an idea that’s been pushed on those America has considered “other” since its inception. Assimilation. That was what I felt was at the real core of this “post-racial” word. Minorities were being called to lay down their cultural heritage and grievances in the name of this unseen new racial harmony that supposedly miraculously sprung up after November 2008. Fortunately, most of us weren’t that stupid.
So what does any of this have to do with Derrick Ferguson and his novel, Dillon and The Legend of the Golden Bell? Well, some might look at the novel, see the character of Dillon and see what might be the world’s first post-racial pulp hero. Dillon is African-American, but you could see him as any race and he’d be just as enjoyable. One of his best friends is a white man and the friendship, thankfully, is one that exists without any sort of racial footing. In fact, one could argue that every character in the novel could be white and you’d enjoy it all the same. I agree except for the fact that it would be implying Derrick had no racial concerns when constructing this story, which is something I just can’t buy.
See, I’ve had the unique pleasure of discussing race in general and in terms of writing with Derrick. So can I assure everyone that he is without a doubt a black man and is smart enough to not buy into the political correctness of the supposed “post-racial”. The thing with Derrick is that he’s nuanced and I believe he’s so nuanced that some things in this novel could only be picked up on by someone who’s had the black experience. So race is very much in Dillon and The Legend of the Golden Bell, but it does not have to be shouted from the rooftops.
Too much of our media with a black focus has to scream “black, black, black” and Derrick avoids that trap. It’s a tempting trap to fall into because there is such a severe lack of quality black media that aspiring black artists feel the need to take the entire burden on their shoulders. Derrick contributes even more than I think he realizes because he avoids that pitfall.
Let’s look at Dillon to see the nuance I was talking about. Derrick gracefully dodges the “Macho Guy” stereotype that plagues African-American male characters from TV to comic books. Yes, Dillon is tough and he is undoubtedly an ass kicker, but the difference is that the core of his character isn’t centered on those things. Derrick defies the stereotype of the black man as a mere macho and as a deadbeat father in a one-two punch through the character of Brandon.
Dillon shows a great deal of vulnerable emotions through his interactions with Brandon and becomes the boy’s surrogate father throughout the story. He takes full responsibility for the young man and seems to really be the only character truly concerned with taking this young man on a dangerous mission. Without ever having to get preachy, Derrick uses Dillon to spit in the face of the idea that the black man is lacking in paternal instincts.
A term popular amongst urban inclined people my age and younger is “swagger” or “swagga” if you want the hip spelling. I think the term holds a particular affinity for black men because it harkens back to the 20s and The Harlem Renaissance. Our vision of that time was everyone was cool whether they were a slick gangster or a skit skatting musician. There’s a sense that black men in that time period commanded their respect simply by their presence and got it. It’s something to aspire to and therefore those who seem to command that kind of presence are admired.
Even though the word has seen a bit of a resurgence, the essence of “swagger” is something that permeates the black male consciousness as far back as The Great Migration. Look at the classic character of Shaft if you want a more modern example that represents this ideal. He’s nearly unshakeable in his self-confidence and makes everyone around him better as they admire his bravado. It’s easy to venture into Mary Sue territory with these kind of characters, but thankfully Derrick knows better. Dillon is a worthy inheritor of this tradition. He displays soap opera worthy suave with an equal dose of Herculean bravado. On top of all that there’s a good bit of Imaro’s raw intensity thrown in the mix.
Dillon ultimately is a critique of this idea that to create racial harmony one must let go of culture. He is a guy entrenched in a very racially focused world, but he elevates himself past it without giving up his identity in the process. Dillon is capable of loving a white man as a father figure without having to worry about the oft-used label of Uncle Tom. The fact Derrick is able to work past that sub-conscious complex and get a black audience to genuinely believe in Dillon’s blackness without divulging into the insanely urban is a testament to his skills as a writer.