Gail Simone reblogged a post on Tumblr and wrote a response to the allegation that she’d taken part in something that was grossly racist and misogynistic. One of the panels is posted after the quote. Click on the picture to see it full size. I won’t go into the whole conversation, but starting from the post I linked, you can follow a trail that started ugly, but ended on a civil note. There was one thing of note that she posted that I really wanted to quote before continuing:
You can read that post in its entirety where she talks a little more about racism in the industry including the nastiness that followed Felicia Henderson, a black woman who dared to write Teen Titans and was disparaged by many “fans.” I know her run could’ve have been dreadful and deserved criticism (I’m in the process of finding out what she wrote specifically, so I can give an honest opinion). However, some of the insults hurled at her seemed to be another way for bottom-feeding racists to rear their heads and pretend that they were arguing in the name of the integrity of the series.
As a black woman who has been a geek all her life and is still very much a geek, how my race factors into an industry that seems largely to cater to the straight, white male has interested me intensely. When I was younger, sometimes, it was hard to reconcile my love of comics and video games with the fact that my face wasn’t the one they had in mind when creating them. Fortunately, I got into comics and games when I was young enough that race didn’t play a big part in my love for them. It wasn’t until I’d gotten much older that I started to pay more attention to sex and race in them.
After reading about how the #1 Street Fighter player in the United States, coincidentally also a black woman who goes by the moniker BurnYourBra, deals with sexism and particularly racism in the industry, I wanted to write something about what comics meant to me as a woman of color. Reading Gail Simone and comic fans interact with one another on the issue of misogyny and racism in comics reminded me that this was something I wanted to do.
I won’t lie to you. This is long, so if you’re one of those “tl;dr” types, you might want to find another blog post to read.
I am anomaly or so I’m told by an industry that, at best, is indifferent to people who look like me and, at worst, willfully ignore that people who look like me exist outside their “nostalgia bubble” as Gail Simone put it. I started reading comics when I was five-years-old. The first comic I remember reading was Uncanny X-Men #159 where Storm was bitten by Dracula. (I have a lifelong love of vampires, too. Wonder why?) Much of it didn’t make much sense at the time because of my age, and I’m sure that my grandparents had a good time trying to explain some of the themes to my still budding mind.
That comic remains one of my favorites to this day, and Storm is my favorite X-Woman of all time. Thinking back on it, race didn’t really occur to me at that age, but I do think that seeing Storm—who may not really look like me, but was a black woman in a pivotal role—might’ve been part of the reason that my grandparents allowed me to read X-Men. Seeing Misty Knight in some of the earlier X-Men adventures probably sealed that for them.
My grandparents weren’t the ones to harp on race and racial injustices. They always taught us that the worth of a person wasn’t determined by the color of their skin, and that, no matter what resistances you faced, you could come out on top if you were determined. But I do think my grandparents thought it was important that I see black characters, especially black women, being heroes, and I’m thankful for that—even if I wasn’t aware of the importance at the time.
For years, I was content to read stories about heroes defeating whatever came their way. My mind was filled with tales of these men, women, and teens with these awesome powers saving the world every day and going to fantastical places. I spent many hours pretending to be Storm, Rogue, and Jean Grey while my male cousins were Beast, Wolverine, or Cyclops. Sometimes, we’d even have a rogue Juggernaut in the bunch. We’d pretend to fly while jumping on our trampoline, preparing to save the world from Magneto who was determined to steal all the world’s cookies. Because at that age, that was just about all my world amounted to—family, play, and cookies.
I didn’t see a team of white characters (some arguably so) with only one true character of color on the team. Comics were how I escaped from the world and led a life full of adventure. I saw people I wanted to be. I wanted to have metal claws. I wanted to manipulate weather. I wanted to read minds, or teleport, or have optic beams. I wanted to fly to outer space and find myself in a battle with aliens. I wanted to live in a mansion with people who had cool powers and lived like a family. I wanted to be part of the X-Men, dammit.
Then, one day, all that changed. I was older and more aware of how my race and sex was “different” than what was considered normal for a comics fan, how aside from a few black characters, the story of black characters always involved drugs, pimps, and awkward slang written by people who obviously didn’t know how to use it. I can’t say that I’ve ever outright had a comic fan say to me, “Hey, you’re a black girl. What are you doing reading these comics?” but at times, I felt my comics might be saying that to me.
But by that time, I was deeply involved with comics, and my love for them and the message of good triumphing over evil was too deeply engrained in me for me to decide not to read them anymore. I didn’t love these characters because of their skin color. I loved these characters because of who I perceived them to be and the adventures they took me along for. They were like living people to me with qualities I loved and loathed in them. Their stories mattered to me. Their skin color was the least of my concern, but it did begin to bother me a little more that black characters were often boxed in and badly written as if they couldn’t be afforded the same depth as their white counterparts.
What’s a comics fan to do then? Well, for one, there was no reason to cry foul and racism at every page turn. Racism is here, and it won’t go anywhere. It’s not going to get better by playing the race card every time something seems a little suspect where race is concerned. You don’t heal a wound by pushing the knife deeper. You discuss this. You try to find the root of it. Race is a very complicated matter and is very much a hot topic. But when you have honest discourse on the subject, you’re able to start taking the steps toward a real change instead of just sweeping it under the rug.
Comics are no different. You have to appreciate the efforts of writers like the recently deceased Dwayne McDuffie who was known to point out—often satirically—how black characters could have the same flaws and problems as white characters. Yes, characters of color have some problems unique to their race, but that can be said of any group of people, but overall, we all deal with the same issues and fears. I like to actively participate in discussions about racism and sexism in comics with people who genuinely want to discuss it. Usually, we walk away with a few things to ponder, even if we agree to disagree on the subject, and a few laughs shared. Other times, it ends badly. That’s the nature of any debate.
Times are changing. There are still issues with race and sexism in comics, but we are beginning to see stories go beyond the normal scope and test the waters. We are starting to see more people of color getting into comics and enjoying them, making them more acceptable and not something you hide from your peers because comics weren’t written for “you.” I think the comic industry does have the potential to make a new “norm” that is more inclusive, and they could do this drastically if the wanted. But I think they have to fully realize that the world of comics is what they make of it, and the fans will follow and accept it.So, yes, I am still an anomaly, but one that is starting to become the standard as more geeky children of color grow into geeky men and woman of color. Geeky children that I hope will one day write the comics I love so much and will open up the world of superheroes to include more diversity—much life our reality. And this makes me happy.