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.

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Spirituality is not a Cop Out

Over the summer, I read a fantastic Justice League comic book and was amazed by the genuine interactions between Superman and Batman because when they spoke they spoke to each other as Clark and Bruce. They were witty and imaginative and personable and human. I knew I wanted to create my own interaction between the two heroes and cobbled together an idea based on a question of Batman’s religion.

I don’t see Batman as being religious. I cannot imagine Bruce Wayne following the structures and dogma that comes with religion. I do, however, see him as being spiritual. The premise of my story is that Clark calls on Bruce to go to dinner as friends, but interrupts Bruce when he was about to go pray. As the author I imagined Bruce lighting candles and praying that his parents went to a safe place and were happy in death.

I posted my story on fanfiction.net and one of the first reviews I got told me I had misinterpreted Bruce’s character because a man of Bruce’s intelligence could never deny the existence of God. In claiming Bruce was spiritual, I had copped out of a legitimate story.

Now, I understand that this is fanfiction, it’s about comic books, and all in all shouldn’t be so influential to my life. But I’m writing this post to explain why it has to be so influential. The reviewer touched upon a problem prevalent with religious understanding that has nothing to do with fiction. There is a strict dichotomy of Religion vs Atheism that is damaging to our understanding of God. If, as this reviewer claimed, spirituality is just taking the ‘easy way out’ from being religious then God is being put into a box.  Either one believes in God  and ties his or her faith to organized religion- and only to organized religion- or he or she does not believe in God at all. Where did this split come from?

God has become synonymous with religion. No other interpretation is allowed and any concept of a God that differs from the norm, leaves the believer ostracized between those who would call this belief heresy and those who would call any belief in God not worth consideration.

I do not mean to generalize about any groups of religious or atheistic thought, I only wish to point out that a person’s understanding of God should never be considered a cop out, even in fiction. Fiction is a window into the world of the times, and if spirituality is being critiqued as lazy, uneducated, and atheistic, it says something about how spirituality is treated in real life as well.

 

“It’s a Man’s World”

Six months ago I would have denied that statement. I would have explained how the feminist movement of the past generated equality, and even if it wasn’t perfect I would not have admitted that it was a man’s world. Coming to terms with the inequality and sexism around me would have been acknowledging my own ignorance and silence. Two months ago I would have agreed that it’s a man’s world but been too afraid to say so.

Yesterday I told my grandfather that he was right: it is a man’s world. And that’s why the feminist movement is necessary.  So long as we live in a world controlled by one sex and a world that is gendered we will need feminism.

When I discuss feminism with my brother, as I have been doing long before I worked up the courage to call myself a feminist, his understanding of feminists is women who are too ugly to get a man and so whine and complain about the unfairness of the system. To him, and myself for a long while, women had already achieved enough equality that feminism had no purpose.  It couldn’t be a man’s world because that realization was too painful.

But by understanding the truth of the situation that the patriarchy exists is the first step toward building true equality. This post is a reminder as to why feminism is necessary and why being a feminist is such a powerful tool.

My mother has been told in debates that she’s too emotional. My friends have been told the same. I do not want to let this happen to anyone else.

For all the women who have been told feminism is no longer necessary, that your worth depends on your beauty and for all the men who have been told emotions are for women and that real men look like Superman and act like Batman, this is for you. Men and women should not live in a ‘man’s world’ but a world of the people.