The voice in Evelyn’s head seems to be white, British, and educated. It calls him “Mr. Cream” and “sir” and even “old horse.”
It may not literally be the voice of Evelyn’s commanders. But it is the voice of what they represent, in Cream’s psyche. This is the voice of the white establishment, into which Cream has insulated himself.
The page has eight, page-wide panels. The first has no caption, and the brief caption in the second panel only introduces the narration that follows. As previously discussed, the caption in the final panel reverts to Cream’s point of view, separating it from what’s come before. Of the central five panels, the three odd-numbered panels question and criticize Cream’s current actions, while the two even-numbered panels praise and complement Cream’s skills. This structure is symmetrical.
Cream’s narrative thus oscillates between criticism and complement, mirroring Cream’s conflicted nature. Each bit of affirmation leads back into scathing criticism, enhancing that criticism’s power through contrast.
It’s another demonstration that, even within a single page, Moore’s use of structure is complex and masterful.
Not only the criticism is racially inflected; the complements are too. The first complementary panel’s caption briefly recounts Cream’s educational history. Cream went to Rugby School, a prestigious boarding school located in the town of Rugby, in the county of Warwickshire. The school, founded in 1567, grew to enormous influence in the 1800s and remains one of the most well-known schools in the nation. When you think of formal English public schools, you’re probably thinking of Rugby during its 1800s heyday. The game of rugby is believed to have been created by the school’s students. (Incidentally, the school only admitted girls in 1975, after Cream would have attended, and only became a fully coeducational institution in 1995.) The surrounding town has had various incarnations going back to prehistory. It’s not just that Cream is part of the English establishment; he was raised as part of this establishment.
We’re also told that Cream was “trained at Sandhurst,” a reference to the elite Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which is often simply called “Sandhurst” and is famous in military circles the world over. It dates to 1720. It’s located in the small town of Sandhurst, only about 33 miles southwest of central London. Cream’s credentials, as part of the national establishment, could hardly be better.
The caption goes on to say that Cream has “read the untranslated novels Collette and own an original Hockney.” These two names reflect elite artistic culture, but both names are also known for their liberal lifestyles. One could (half jokingly) say that the reference to the French novelist Colette is so elite that Moore misspelled her name. She is known for her novels’ then-scandalous and autobiographical content. Although her first novel appeared in 1900, her career boomed after World War I, when she was linked to Jean Cocteau and was acclaimed as a genius by the same French literary circles that had previously rejected her for reasons of content. British painter David Hockney is one of Britain’s most celebrated 20th-century artists, perhaps best known for his contributions to the 1960s Pop Art movement, although he would continue to innovate, and in the early 1980s had moved into photo-collage. Even in the 1960s, Hockney was openly gay, and like Colette, he explored his homosexuality in his art.
Taken together, the references to Colette and Hockney suggest an elite artistic sensibility, which includes an understanding of art’s role in challenging the very establishment represented by Rugby and Sandhurst. Of course, conservative politics, which often still discriminate against homosexuals, routinely coexist with an appreciation for specific homosexuals, especially artists. By 1983 (when this chapter appeared), the transgression of Colette and Hockney had been accepted as part of the literary and artistic canon, and thus brought into establishment values.
And what’s the conclusion of this caption, after listing Cream’s credentials – Rugby and Sandhurst, Colette and Hockney? “Good God, sir, you are practically white.”
It’s a stunning sentence – or at least it should be. On the one hand, there’s an undeniable truth to the sentence, however blunt. Cream might be black, but his culture is not only English but remarkably elite. To the extent that we (not incorrectly) tie this elite culture with whiteness, Cream is actually more white than most Britons. On the other hand, the sentence is horrifying on several levels. It suggests that a member of a racial minority who succeeds, or who adopts English culture, must somehow “give up” his own racial identity. It’s one thing to say that the British power structure is white and quite another to say that a black who excels within this structure is no longer black. There’s certainly a correlation between race and culture (and we can debate, case by case, how much of this correlation is the result of historical happenstance or the result of structural racism). But to equivocate between the two, as this sentence does, is racist in the extreme.
More importantly, the sentence suggests that Cream’s race is a handicap. And moreover, that this handicap can never be overcome. The sentence implies that no matter how well Cream does, he will never be accepted as an equal. Even when he’s better educated and more culturally sophisticated, according to the terms of the dominant white culture, than all but the tiniest percentage of whites (including his bosses), the “best” he can achieve is to be thought “practically white.” His skin will always mark him, always make him other.
This is intended to support the argument that Cream should not betray the establishment to which he belongs. But we can also see this as an explanation for why Cream has made this choice. After all, he knows he doesn’t truly belong – and never will. When one equivocates between culture and race, the most that a minority individual can achieve is to “practically” belong. When elite culture equals whiteness, and a life of accomplishment and obedience can only make cream “practically white,” then it can only make Cream “practically elite” too. It’s easy to see why Cream would choose to reject this, especially when he has the opportunity to work with a white god even more powerful than the establishment into which Cream has tried, ultimately in vain, to insulate himself.
It’s not hard to imagine how this same betrayal might be seen by the racist. Instead of examining how the white power structure refused to accept Cream as a true equal, no matter his accomplishments, the racist may instead think that there is something in Cream’s black nature that remains untrustworthy, no matter how “white” he appears. The racist culture isn’t to blame; instead, the thinking goes, there’s something “savage” in black nature which no amount of boarding school, elite military training, and cultural instruction can ever remove.
In fact, this is Cream’s own perspective. He himself equivocates between whiteness and the dominant, elite culture. After all, although phrased in the second person, these are his thoughts – how he imagines an elite white (perhaps the man he wished to become but never could, owing solely to his skin color) chastising him.
The caption in the panel before puts it succinctly: “It seems one cannot take the jungle out of the boy after all.” A later sentence echoes this, asking, “Can it be that you have gone native, Mr. Cream?” Lest we have any doubt that Cream disagrees with all of this, he concludes the page by agreeing with his imaginary interlocutor, narrating that he “ha[s] at this late stage opted to become another crazy nigger.”
It’s all a rather appalling line of thinking. But all of the criticism of Cream in this page’s captions follows a similar line. One of the earliest sentences of criticism is “These antics smack of the daubed face and the ostrich plume.” The term “antics” is derogatory, as if Cream is simply “acting out” by betraying his corrupt, black-ops commanders. The references to painted faces and ostrich feathers recall African tribal customs – customs to which Cream, educated if not born in England, has no connection (outside of, and to only the racist, his skin color).
A later caption asks, “What are you doing back in this place, creeping amongst the night trees and sniffing at the ancestral shadows?” The implication is that the forests of the Cotswolds is like the jungles of Africa – which is itself a stereotype (with origins in racist depictions during the colonial era), since jungles are rare in Africa, which is far more geographically defined by desert. The terms “night trees” and “ancestral shadows” connect this mythical tribal jungle (“ancestral” and “trees”) with blackness (“night” and “shadows”). We should remember here how the very terms for light and darkness tend to have both a literal meaning and a figurative one, which connects light to goodness and darkness to evil. Cream isn’t simply constrained by a culture that equivocates whiteness with elite status; he’s constrained by the English language – his language – itself.
While the phrase “back in this place” might be read as simply referring to the mythical jungles of Cream’s ancestors, it might also have a more literal meaning. Rugby is in the county of Warwickshire, and the extensive Cotswolds wind through several counties, through Warwickshire. It’s perfectly possible that Cream had visited the Cotswolds while a child in boarding school, and he might have associated it with a primitive racial past he sought to escape. We might even guess that his schoolmates teased him, cementing this association. Of course, this is merely speculation, but it underlines how absurd Cream’s thinking is: the Cotswolds, while rural, are not Africa. No one would confuse them with the jungles of Africa (which are themselves a racist cliché). If anything, the Cotswolds represent rural or pastoral England – and (in a nation with far more regional differences, mile by mile, than anywhere in the United States) southern England at that. It’s a testament to Cream’s own paranoia about somehow slipping back into some kind of savage blackness, that he would even make this connection.
Demonstrating the absurdity of these fearful representations of Africans, later captions invoke voodoo. One caption accuses Cream of “follow[ing] this white loa” – meaning Miracleman. Just two sentences later, in the final caption before the “I”-employing final panel, this critical voice asks, “Mr. Cream, do you at last believe in juju?” And in the page’s final caption, Cream narrates, “Great grandfather, pass me down the gris-gris and the pointing bone” – two artifacts associated with voodoo.
It’s worth unpacking these references in some detail, but it’s important to first understand what we’re talking about more generally, when voodoo is invoked in such a racial context. Voodoo is mostly known in the West through its Haitian and New Orleans versions, although there are versions in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil, and pretty much everywhere in the African Diaspora. These are actually local hybrids of various cultural sources (not unlike many pigeon languages), prominently including Christianity. They are separate from the Vodun religion, which the West also used to refer to as voodoo, of West Africa. Vodun, far from being about turning men into slavish zombies, is largely concerned with obligations towards the spirits of one’s departed ancestors.
None of these religions, when actually studied, is particularly scary. Yet popular depictions of voodoo are filled with dark-skinned priests using ancient, pagan magic to turn people into zombies. Horror movies have long promulgated such images, and Western news outlets have repeated stories of beheaded bodies as the product of voodoo-practicing immigrants (rather than, say, drug cartels).
Such stories not only misrepresent voodoo but pretend it’s a direct importation from Africa. In this way, voodoo is depicted as a dark and sinister religion from a dark and primitive continent, rather than a set of different, local hybrids with Christianity that are quite separate from traditional African beliefs (none of which are known for human beheadings). The result is to make voodoo seem like a product of the primitive (and black) world, intruding on the civilized (and white) one. In some such stories, there’s the added irony of this supposedly African belief having been imported with slaves, so that stories of voodoo murders can be seen as the poetic consequence of the sins of the racial slave trade. While this plays on white guilt, it also plays on racial fears that black immigrants, or their descendants, simply can’t be trusted. Thus, all blacks are suspicious, marked by their skin color as forever other – by culture if not by nature.
Evelyn Cream seems to have internalized this racist fear. The idea that a man educated at Rugby might regress to savagery, simply because of his African descent, is absurd. The idea that he might, as part of this, also embrace voodoo is even more so.
The specific references the captions make to voodoo also demonstrate the West’s confusion about voodoo. Loa are often misunderstood by the West to be gods, which helps make voodoo seem like a foreign religion, filled with strange and frightening deities. The reference to Miracleman as a “white loa” makes sense in this context, since Miracleman is often described as a god. In fact, loa are only spirits or intermediaries between humanity and a supreme diety (such as Haitian voodoo’s Bondye, a Creator god, from the French “Bon Dieu” or “Good God”). As a hybrid religion, voodoo has sometimes incorporated the gods of various religions as loa, but their role is closer to that of Catholic saints than gods. Cream’s reference to loa, like his references to Africa, seem to stem from racist stereotypes, rather than reality.
“Juju” has sometimes been used as a synonym for voodoo, largely based on the terms sounding similar. “Juju” has sometimes even been used as a blanket term for all West African religion. In fact, voodoo and Vodun are religions, whereas juju is essentially a system of luck or fortune (which, originating in West Africa, was imported along with slaves to the New World). Cream’s reference to “juju” comes soon after the reference to “loa,” yet the two are essentially unrelated.
A “gris-gris” is a voodoo amulet, which in Africa tends to be linked not to Vodun but to Islamic nations. Originally, it was apparently a cloth bag, inscribed with versus from the Quran and containing ritual objects used to ward off evil. Sadly, in Africa, the gris-gris is most often used as a method of contraception. As adopted into Haitian voodoo, the gris-gris seems to have remained positive, but in Cajun Louisiana, the gris-gris became a way of cursing someone. Unsurprisingly, it’s this scarier version that’s most used in depictions of voodoo. Cream’s reference to “gris-gris” thus demonstrates the same reliance upon racial stereotypes that he showed in his references to Africa. After all, Cream’s probably not requesting a gris-gris from his “great grandfather” to stave off pregnancy.
“The pointing bone” is another reference to a vehicle through which voodoo curses are said to be transmitted. Bone pointing, however, is more commonly associated with Australian Aboriginal culture, and it doesn’t seem to be found in Africa at all. The death bone pointing is said to cause has sometimes been termed a “voodoo death,” since no mechanism of injury exists (outside of the psychosomatic). Perhaps this accounts for its adoption into fearful depictions of voodoo.
In sum, Cream’s references to voodoo are as confused as his references to Africa. They have far more to do with Western stereotypes than reality. Of course, this may simply reflect Alan Moore’s own misunderstanding or ignorance – and this wouldn’t be surprising for a Briton in 1983 who had to base his depictions more on popular culture than on facts (which were limited, in any case, when it came to voodoo and Vodun). But even if this is the case, Moore wisely chose to put such statements into Cream’s thoughts, rather than objective narration. And there’s little reason to think that Evelyn Cream, raised in Rugby, had any more experience with Africa than Moore had.
What emerges on this page is a surprising psychological portrait of Cream’s psyche as a man who, despite great accomplishments, feels that he will never be fully accepted by the heights of white society, to which he aspires. Cream calls himself “almost white.” And he refers to himself as “going native,” a term which implies that he’s not native and is usually applied to whites. Yet after a life of deadly adherence to Britain’s white power structure, he’s internalized racist stereotypes to such a point that his betrayal causes him to think he’s about to slide into some repressed jungle savagery so extreme that he just might adopt voodoo – which he only dimly understands – as his new religion.
Ironically, Cream may be the character in Miracleman with the most severely racist worldview. He may not do as much damage to minorities as his political overlords, but it’s he who uses the word “nigger” derisively as the very last word on this page. Even the racist terrorist Cream killed used the word “chocolate” – certainly a racist word, but not as violent a word as Cream’s own self-assessment.
In a super-hero story that’s arguably a meditation on political injustice, including racism, Cream represents the way such unjust power structures can not only physically harm individuals but distort their psyches. When it comes to his own racial identity, Cream’s psyche is nothing if not distorted.
On this deeper political level, Cream’s narration here represents the desperate need for multiculturalism. While Cream’s reaction is extreme (perhaps due to the extremity of his occupation), in principle it’s no different than what many minorities feel. The fact that success – or education – is still largely thought of as “white” within Western nations may cause minority individuals to feel they have to choose between giving up their racial or ethnic identity or living their life as a failure. This may compound the effect of institutional racism, encouraging minorities to reject success or education as unobtainable or as compromising their very identity. And even when a minority individual becomes a success, every mistake he or she makes may be seen as evidence that, at heart, he or she doesn’t fit in – that members of his or her race may put on a good show for years but will ultimately be unable to sustain such a high (or “white”) position. Bad enough that it can feel like everyone else is waiting for such a person to fail. What’s worse is that the person himself or herself may also feel this way, like he or she doesn’t fit in – or is a fraud, masquerading as a white and waiting to be found out. The only remedy for such unnecessary psychological strain is to decouple the psychological connection between success and whiteness, as defined not only racially but ethnically.
(If you think this connection doesn’t exist, you only have to look at surveys in which people are shown photographs of people of different races, then asked which photo represents “success” or “criminal” – or for that matter, “patriotic,” “Christian,” or “American” / “British.”)
Incidentally, this is why racial and ethnic depictions matter so much. Cream demonstrates that too, by taking his own notions of blackness from the most stereotypical depictions.
Cream thus demonstrates the failure of the “melting pot” model, in which minorities are asked to give up their racial and ethnic identity in order to achieve acceptance. Such a model presumes the standard to be “white” – or worse, something even more specific (e.g. Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or English as opposed to Irish, Welsh, or Scottish). But because that standard remains racially inflected, it’s impossible for minorities to fully achieve.
Of course, such a system isn’t merely a problem for minority individuals. When individuals fail to reach – or even reach for – their full potential, society as a whole suffers. It’s not only unjust; it’s inefficient, impractical, and illogical.
While Miracleman is deeply political, it’s also deeply British. And it’s worth pointing out that the United States, while far from perfect, has done a better job over the years of crafting a multicultural society than has Europe. Britain, in particular, still struggles with its own class system. Alan Moore, in interviews, has suggested how deeply he felt this system in his youth, in which he identified himself as highly intelligent yet having few obvious opportunities. But while the United States is bound together by ideals, stemming from its Declaration of Independence and its Constitution, Britain can sometimes feel like a confederacy of lands and peoples with their own ethnic identity. Alan Moore isn’t black, but the problems inherent in Britain’s ruling class consisting mostly of white Englishmen who went to the “right” schools and spoke the “right” way wasn’t lost on him.
If we like, we can see Cream’s narration on this page as the series’s most profound statement on race yet, focusing on the rarely discussed psychological damage racism causes.
If we like, we can see this as the fullest explanation of Cream’s motivation for betraying his government bosses, who will never fully accept him – although this choice produces a great psychological backlash.
If we like, we can also see this as a larger political and cultural critique, about racial and national identity, especially in Britain.
We may also be grateful that this exploration of Cream’s psychology occurs here, rather than any later in Book One, where it would intrude upon the ending – or rather than this exploration being deferred to Book Two. That’s not to say that Book Two doesn’t expand upon this page – it does. But it’s important that Book One not end without this important subject being addressed.
We may also agree that accomplishing this is more important than giving another page to the fight with Big Ben, which is so unconventionally marginalized in this chapter.
And we may admire Moore’s narrative intelligence, in taking the racial tensions implicit in the character of Evelyn Cream and – rather than ignoring them – placing those tensions into Cream’s own mind, thereby rendering the subtextual textual.
But that doesn’t mean this maneuver is utterly successful. Moore may intend this page to redeem the problematic nature of Cream’s earlier depiction, but that’s hard (if not impossible) to accomplish in a single page. And it’s not as if this page isn’t itself problematic – even beyond the need to figure out its captions’ point of view. The extremity of Cream’s rhetoric might hammer home his own internalized racism in this very limited space, but the terms he uses are so extreme that they leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. It’s hard to fully redeem a questionable racial depiction in a page filled with language like “sniffing at the ancestral shadows” and “pass me down the gris-gris and the pointing bone.” Indeed, it’s possible to see such terminology, applied without space enough to justify them, as themselves racist – even if Moore’s intent, and the meaning of the captions once unpacked, suggest quite the opposite. For some, the page may be as troubling as the problem it addresses.
The page represents a smart maneuver, sophisticated in its structure and profound in its implications. But as a response to the racial implications of Evelyn Cream, it’s as complicated as it is fascinating.
To be continued.