Applying Visual Whimsy To Image Politics

Khia Jackson and the Art of Political Cartooning

Juliette Harris

Khia Jackson
Khia Jackson is a graphic designer who has developed a talent for imaginative cartooning.  And now she’s lending that talent to an on-going discussion about black women’s image in the media. Jackson is concerned about how black women are "animalized or made to come across as vulgar" and how the predominant image of black feminine beauty favors women who look less black. 

Khia Jackson, Little Miss Hard KnocksDuring Fall 2015 as Khia Jackson watched the second season of the hugely popular Fox Empire series, she was moved by the Freda Gatz character portrayal.  "I found her face to be very sweet and cute, but yet her character underlined stereotypes of black women," Jackson says.  "The way the media handles black women is damaging. "Lil Miss Hard Knocks" celebrates the character Freda Gatz.  She is a darker skinned, street weary, hardened, courageous rapper  who is the winner of the Miss Universal Pageant.  She stands triumphantly in front of  the prototypical Disney princesses.”Jackson added:  “She is chosen as the ideal beauty, even as she clutches her street-wise weapons to her breast and her arms are covered in tattoos. She is happy, glowing and vulnerable – as any woman would be in such circumstances. Can you see her now? Isn’t she beautiful?”
Dueling rappers Freda and Hakeem Little Miss Hard Knocks detailRapper Bre-Z portrays Freda Gatz. The photo at left appears in the pics section of the the show's website with the caption, "Freda tries to play cheap shots on the Lyon family." 
Khia Jackson was born to an Antiguan father and a Jamaican mother in the U.S. The idea to depict Gatz as a beauty contest winner stemmed from her memories of watching beauty pageants in Antigua. “At worst they were a frivolous waste of time, at best, a program that brought my family together,” she recalls. “We would gather around our television in Antigua and wait to determine whether or not the world had the good sense to apply our culture, our image and our brand of beauty to its canon of women’s virtues. If the competing Miss ‘Random African or Caribbean Country’ would fail to make any headway, the older women would suck their teeth in disgust and together we would pick the darkest, most identifiable woman of African ancestry among the group and throw their ‘hat’ into our cause.”

“Lil Miss Hard Knocks”  is the first cartoon in a series on the aesthetics of black women’s appearance that Jackson is creating for IRAAA+. The next cartoon in the series is a reaction to a controversy about a black model with very full lips.

Jackson explains the larger motivation for the series:

Khia Jackson cover design for the IRAAA issue on art and STEM“Today, even as Lupita N’yongo, Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis make their mark on the world and begin the dogged task of elevating the status of black women on the world stage, the image of black women in mass media  seems to degrade further. The image of black women as savage, angry, violent, ignorant, obese, unattractive, devalued and oversexed is not only regularly portrayed in movies, TV shows and music videos, it is embraced too often by the women themselves. The media is a powerful tool: 'This is who you are,' it says and 'This is who I am,' a young girl believes. She then reflects and cements this image on Worldstar and Instagram.”

Khia Jackson’s connection with IRAAA began around 2003 when she worked as a graphic designer at Hampton University’s  University Relations office.  In 2011 she designed the cover of the special “Innovation” issue of the IRAAA print journal. With her visual play on electronic cables and ports, she cleverly exemplified the theme of that issue: African American artists who explore STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in their work.  

Khia Jackson, Biggie Smalls card from the 1998 DeckKhia Jackson cover for the 1998 DeckIn her current The 1998 Deck of portrayals of rap figures on playing cards, Jackson continues to demonstrate her versatility.  Biggie Smalls, the king, and Tupac Shakur are shown here.  The designs are being produced as real playing cards which will go on the market soon.
Khia Jackson is founder and principal of the J+AM group, a brand design company in Atlanta.  The company works in multiple mediums to help clients effectively deliver their brand to their intended audiences.  The group’s  clients include non-profit and government entities like the City of Atlanta and the YWCA.  They have also worked with DC Water and Google.
Her previous experience includes working with Beyoncé and her mother, Tina Knowles, for the House of Deréon, a ready-to-wear fashion line.