How Superheroes Can Demonize People of Color

I went to an anti-police brutality rally protesting the death of Mike Brown recently. But it wasn’t just about Mike Brown. It was Trayvon Martin. It was the woman down the street.  It was for everyone who ever suffered under a racist police system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8460113914/

Anti-police brutality rally, Feb. 2013.

And as I stood in the crowd and chanted and yelled with my voice ringing with a myriad of voices around me, I thought about superheroes. I thought about the Justice League coffee mug I own and how out of all the superheroes depicted everyone is white.

jla

The mug features head shots of Robin, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Wonder Woman. Everyone is white. What this means is that the heroes are white. The good guys are white. The guys who win, the guys who have the power, the moral righteousness that lets them make difficult choices. These heroes are white (and overwhelmingly male). I know not all police officers are white. I know you can be a person of color and still be racist both against your own race and against others. But I also know the message DC sends to its fans when it produces merchandise like this.

Cyborg is now on the Justice League and I’m thrilled that DC has taken this step, but it’s not enough. We need to show comic book readers of all colors  that your race has nothing to do with your morals. We need to show casual fans that in a world where racist police exist, at least in fiction it doesn’t have to. That’s the joy of fiction: it can illuminate the world’s problems and it can also offer solutions to them. And sometimes the solution is depicting a world where it has already been overcome.

Weapon of Choice

Traveling about in Istanbul, I finally made it to Sulanhamet and then the Topkapi Palace.

                         

Now, while I hate to skip over a description of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, you can find descriptions and pictures of these buildings anywhere. I need to speak not on the sightseeing experience, but one room I saw in the innermost courtyard of the Topkapi Palace: the armory.

The group I was with saw swords that were jeweled along the hilt with stones in every imaginable color. We saw curved swords, impossibly sharp daggers, sheathes that sparkled with gold inlay even under the harsh museum lights. We saw guns over four feet long and strung up behind glass. There were great-swords with hilts over a foot wide and blades at least six feet long. The artistic peak at the top of the helmets never ceased to amaze and armor made for horses lay flat on black velvet, the eye sockets blindly staring.

It was breathtaking. It was jaw dropping. It was violence done up in finery.

You forget (or you make yourself forget) that each of these weapons was a weapon. It’s purpose was never to sit in a museum to but to stain itself with blood or gun powder and always to kill. Even the ceremonial weapons were not innocent because ceremonial weapons exist to perpetuate and glorify violence and war.

I do not seek to make judgments on Turkey’s past or present. But upon exiting the museum, the people I was with began talking about their “weapon of choice” still lost in the fantasy of war heroics and the glory bestowed upon warriors. If it registered with them that these are dangerous objects, I couldn’t tell. The group was irreverent toward the history we saw but burned with desire and laughed and joked about what they could do with their weapon of choice. They chose their swords and their daggers and I had to struggle not to choose with them.

I understand the temptation to equate heroics with violence and I understand that our world showers glory upon the heroism of battle. I’m a Lord of the Rings fan, I know how breathtaking and appealing it can be to imagine yourself as the hero wielding a sword, or a bow or an ax. But this temptation is dangerous and perpetuates the myth of glorious warfare and masculinity on the battlefield.

The exhibit needed to address the wars these weapons were used in. We needed more than a small placard telling us the type of sword and the century. We needed to be turned away from our fantasies with the bloody facts of what war really is.

Museums should value history over violence. Museums should take responsibility to educate its patrons that though violence and history have gone hand in hand, this does not need to be the future and it should be no one’s fantasy.

“Collateral Murder” and Bradley Manning

When WikiLeaks was all over the news three years ago, I was still in high school and living a delirious life where politics were for grown ups and WikiLeaks was a strange branch-off of Wikipedia. What did I know? What do I know? Until last night I was still blissfully unaware that there are heroes like Bradley Manning who put morality ahead of the law and decide that the American people can be trusted to know when their government commits war crimes.

Bradley Manning is a private in the US army who sent videos of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad Airstrike to WikiLeaks and is being charged with aiding the enemy. I was lucky enough to be directed to an article by Chris Hedges “We Are Bradley Manning”.

Last night I knew nothing about Bradley Manning and less about the infringement of our rights through WikiLeaks. Today, I feel that as a US citizen I am obliged to share this information. The video-“Collateral Murder- is below.

I cannot claim to be an expert on the US military and even as I write this, I feel that I’m not qualified to speak on the subject. But because I’m not an authority is exactly why I need to speak out. I’m coming from the same place as many of you who are only just now receiving this information. There’s time for us to become more fluent with the proceedings of Manning’s trial and the working of the military, but there is not time to debate with ourselves whether our own lack of knowledge will prevent us from sharing the truth.

Those soldiers in that airstrike wanted an excuse to kill those people. They wanted to indulge their own sense of violence under the guise of “national security” and they got what they wanted. They murdered innocent people-real people, with lives just like ours! This is what disturbed me the most: this isn’t fiction and these are real lives we’re dealing with. There was racism in this attack, racism that is learned in America and given wings in the army.

This is immoral and we know it. There is no justification.

I’ve never felt so strongly about something in my life. I’ve never felt so absolutely powerless. This is why I’m sharing this information. If we can get a discussion going and get other voices speaking out, we won’t be powerless in the face of a government seeking to repress what we can know.

Please, pass the article and the video along to your friends and family. Go to bradleymanning.org for more information and ways to get involved further.