Recently, my article “We Have The Power To Change MARVEL and DC Comics: Support Diversity, Support Miles!” received a lot of negative criticism about diversity in comics and Hollywood’s casting of black actors in white roles. I asked people to support Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and I was called a racist. My article was supposed to support this great comic, not because it is a black or minority comic, but simply because it is great. I stated the comic needed additional support because sales decreased when an alternate version of Peter Parker was replaced with Miles Morales, a Black and Latino character. Ultimate Spidey has the same writer and superior quality, but once the main character’s skin gained tint, many people stopped buying. Minority comics, in general, do not receive the support white counterparts do- maybe because of a lack of marketing, not targeting new demographics, companies’ lack of faith in characters, or the deep-rooted racism of the existing fan base. Many white characters have badly written or drawn series, yet people still buy them.
Race Matters because many comic fans have their tokens and their “my black friend” arguments, i.e. that racism doesn’t exist in comics, because they can list the three black characters they know. Most often these characters are Luke Cage, Falcon, and Black Panther, all of whom have been tainted by the racist society in which they were born. They are all awesome characters who have, at times, had great writers and have risen above some of the ignorance they have faced. Where is the equality in Luke Cage being a “hero for hire”, while other superheroes fought for justice? He needed to get paid that cash money! Falcon’s backstory got retconned from him being a middle-class architect to a drug-addicted criminal. Well, Black Panther actually rules, but I still cannot figure out that stint as the Man Without Fear. Now, tell me why most of you can only name three major heroes without looking it up? And please remind me, if many of you are such fans, why you have never faithfully bought their series?
Race matters in movie casting. Whenever a black actor is cast in the role of a minor white character, people riot, but if the actor is a light-skinned Latino or from a different country, very few people care. For example, in the Avengers movie, Black Widow is not Russian. Huh? Her whole identity is that she is a Russian spy, but I don’t recall much uproar about that. And when did Professor X become British? Why is it so foreign to cast a black actor in a white role? Does this change in characters’ backgrounds suddenly make them so alien to you that you can no longer relate? Many people’s resentments towards black actors playing characters like Heimdall, seem to mirror their political fears, especially related to affirmative action. Be honest, how many people who were so outraged really knew who Heimdall was? And how many people who did know who he was actually cared that he became black?
Race Matters because fans claim that minority characters are being shoved down their throats if a title has more than a couple minority characters in it. This is not affirmative action, but a correct representation of America’s demographics. The main universes were created when audiences had little tolerance for minority characters or themes. Both DC and Marvel universes were created mainly by first and second-generation American Jews, who lived, acted, and looked nothing like the Aryan male prototypical characters they created. If these creators were allowed to create characters like themselves, we’d have characters like the Green Golem aka Chaim Chaimstein! But instead, it will be difficult for you to name five Jewish characters off the top of your head, even in the year 2013.
Race Matters because white society has always stolen from the black community, with little respect towards the creators. The new “Harlem” Shake craze is going nuts, but when residents of Harlem created it, it was seen as ghetto and gang-affiliated to most white folk (and by the way, you’re all doing it wrong). Now, white girls are droppin’ it low and twerkin’ and it is considered a fun exercise, but when a black girl does it, she’s a skank. Minority cultures are constantly taken advantage of, but when white people feel that their cultures are being threatened by minorities, the world is ending.
Am I racist? I see a race all around me. America’s population is largely comprised of minorities, like me, yet we only have a handful of token characters that are represented as major characters. I myself am not black, but I come from a very underrepresented demographic. Do I see race and prefer comic characters with backgrounds similar to mine? Absolutely! I get excited when we are represented and when I see someone comes from my background. I take it personally when their series get cancelled. When they thrive, I thrive. When people accuse mainstream companies of creating token characters just to appease us, it hurts because they are not giving us much. If the companies were to create a comic universe that accurately represented America, there would be a lot more black people, Muslims, Indians, and Jews. Hopefully, as more minority fans become minority creators, this will become a reality.
Do I hate white characters? Not at all. Peter Parker’s my man! Like many of you, I, too, had a crush on Mary Jane. I do not want to kill off all white characters, I just want diversity.
Jay Deitcher, LMSW(
@mrdeitcher) is an educator on comic history and runs successful Free Comic Book Day events yearly. You can see a listing of his incredible articles and his highly energetic videos here.