In Training to Uplift Justice
By Marisela Márquez, Ph.D.
September 25, 2023
I have been thinking a lot lately about where my own sense of justice comes from, and by extension, where does anyone’s personal sense of justice come from? Perhaps many of us have been wondering the same questions considering daily political, economic, and social news, especially the last several years?
As someone who holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, I certainly have a sense of the difference between what is just and the administration of justice. Typically, we think of the judicial branch of government as responsible for maintaining the courts of law and for the administration of justice. To study administrative justice through the courts would lead one down a different path of justice. In this review, I focus on how individuals form a core sense of justice.
Ian Rakoff’s Shadowboxing: Comics in a Climate of Fear sits squarely as an excellent example of the contradictions that exist between an individual’s sense of justice and a government’s sense or construction of justice. This author shares with his readers a personal story of growing up under Apartheid in South Africa, where the white minority subjugated its Black majority population. A reliable source of information that may help the reader contextualize the relevant history covered in this book is: https://www.history.com/topics/africa/apartheid and https://www.history.com/news/end-apartheid-steps
Shadowboxing: Comics in a Climate of Fear, written in 21 chapters, leads the reader through the journey of the author’s life and shares various episodes of his formative years as a white boy living with his family within this political, economic, and social context. For example, in chapter 11, entitled Nascent Politicization, the author recounts an episode where he is engaged in a usual life experience, such as purchasing clothes for school. He recounts a moment where he was shopping with his mother. He looks out the window and sees (in his words) “a couple of uniformed officers attempting to separate the colours...it was like stretching a rubber band and trying to make a different shape. Nothing was suitably sorted, there could be no order, proper or improper.” In this one experience, Rakoff’s description cements a visual image of the mendacity and the futility of implementing Apartheid.
Reading Rakoff’s experiences demonstrates the process of an individual’s formation of consciousness. It is through these everyday experiences that we learn how the author witnesses severe injustices. His retelling of that moment in the shop with his mother, I believe, resonates with what many readers experience in very usual and expected life experiences that are often interlaced with a severe injustice. In this same chapter, he asks himself and the reader -- “should I be doing something?” This sentence, for me, is THE central question. It reflects the author’s sense of justice along with an indirect invitation to the reader to ask the same question of themselves.
I would recommend this book because it answers this question affirmatively hundreds of times. This book provides an immediate bridge to the present-day reality regarding reparations for slavery, and particularly as it is currently being exhibited in the State of California. This book has contemporary applications, a means to correct prior injustices institutionalized by the state. The Attorney General of the State of California implemented the AB3121 measure, which created a Task Force, and they have created an extensive list of action-able reparations in their final report which can be found at: https://oag.ca.gov/ab3121/report.
Further, as a white male child, Rakoff shares his own growing awareness of needing to resist state-sanctioned hatred amidst his own friendships, loves, and family. His relationships with Black community members had repercussions; and the author became aware of this violence, leading him to escape to the world of comics. Clearly, the role of comics supports his own sense of resistance from childhood into adulthood. It is his retelling of these stories that served to help him survive that presents the reader with the strongest urging to cultivate one’s own elements of resistance. Some of the most compelling segments of his life were all matters that transpired as he personally transgressed across color lines. He retells moments where his own white male privilege was being honored and he chooses to undermine it. In all, he underscores these moments as consequential moments in his consciousness that are often unexpected, unnamed, and elicit courage. By doing so, the author shares with the readers how to do it.
In the book’s Epilogue, he shares with the reader that comics provided him a different mindset/and frame for how an individual addresses injustice, at least in fictional form. Further, in Chapter 9, entitled Politics from the Ringside, Rakoff’s love of comic books thread throughout his childhood and creates the basis for understanding society – and his place in it. Comics also provided him with a love of reading. As Rakoff recounts, his obsession with comics was both his salvation but also a source of friction with his parents. As he points out, his mom’s “dislike of comics had developed into what she regarded as a good idea. I should be at some kind of shrink.” This, however, did not stop him from being a lifelong fan of them.
I recommend this book because his writing style draws in the reader by recounting the many experiences of Ian’s life with the hope that his lessons would be learned and applicable in our own lives. To be a witness to daily state-sanctioned inhumanity and political institutions that supported a rule against humanity through his eyes draws the reader into understanding that history is made at the personal level and is all around us. Further, by reading about the many ways that Rakoff resisted, and imagined creative ways to undermine Apartheid, it gives the reader tools to face one’s own fears when facing injustices.
Shadowboxing: Comics in a Climate of Fear documents and shares the construction of a framework for justice, a philosophy for life, and the consequences that unjust actions leave behind in their wake. This book invites the reader to be a witness to Rakoff’s life, how Apartheid affected societies, families, friendships, as well as legal matters all around him. He enlivens the possibilities of being proactive in everyday living against injustices. Further, and reflective of the book’s title, in speaking out against these injustices, we may find ourselves “shadow boxing” in preparation to do something, just one thing, in those moments.
Thank you to Sonia R. García, Ph.D., Mateo Latosa and Meridith A. Merchant, Ph.D., for their contributions, support and editorial comments.
Marisela Márquez, an alumna of UCSB’s Political Science Department, holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and teaches for the UCSB Departments of Political Science and Chicano and Chicana Studies She has taught the Community Studies series for the Dept of Chicano and Chicana Studies at UCSB since 2001 to the present. She currently serves as the Executive Director for the Department of Associated Students (A.S.)
She holds a M.A. and a Ph.D. in Political Science, and a B.A. in English Literature and held several teaching appointments for the Departments of American Studies and Political Science at The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO., and Carleton College in Northfield, MN. Her teaching and research specializations include American Political Institutions, Public Administration, Political Behavior, particularly Chicana and Latinas Elected Officials and the Politics of Higher Education. Her publications include co-authored articles on Chicanas organizational theory and praxis; motivational and attitudinal factors among Latinas in US Electoral Politics; Access to Higher Education and attitudes toward oil development along the Santa Barbara offshore.
She held additional administrative positions at the Santa Barbara City College, as the Transfer Achievement Program (TAP) coordinator; and as the Co-Director of the Center for Faculty Outreach in the Academic Senate at UCSB. She’s a recipient of various university awards including the Margaret T. Getman Service to Students, The Alice Franzke alumni award from St. Mary’s University, El Congreso’s Charley García Award and Associated Students’ Staff Member of the Year Award.
Marisela Márquez, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Associated Students, UCSB
Serving UCSB since 1985; 2002 alumna