It has been several days since the killing of George Floyd, an act that has cast a blinding light on racism, both the deep hatred within the hearts of men and the long-standing systemic racism that exists, especially in the United States.
Outside of a few minor tweets on both the Nerd Lunch account and my “personal” account, I have not commented on the event nor the broader issue. When I have, I’ve just amplified the voice of others I feel who are saying what is on my heart and mind. Instead of jumping straight into the conversation, I really wanted to do some reflection. What is it that I have to say that even adds to the conversation? And who cares what I have to say? Ultimately though, the audience or influence I have isn’t the issue. Because one more voice speaking out against injustice is still one more voice speaking out against injustice.
Of course, then what would I even say? I’ve seen the social media profile photo frames that white people have implemented that give statements bordering on becoming platitudes. “I’m listening.” “I hear you.” I’m not saying these are bad things to say at all, but it’s not enough—for me—to simply say that. I have to analyze myself and what I am listening to. In order for me to listen to something new, I have to stop listening to something else.
I sit and write this in my office. It’s a one-car garage that has been converted by the previous home owner into a room. It has become what I call the “Stormspeed Lounge.” Others might call it a “man-cave,” though I loathe that term. It is decorated with posters, art, action figures and other trinkets that I have collected through the years. While sitting here and working from home this past week, it struck me just how white my decor is.
For example, I have a few shelves of action figures. On one bookshelf I have three shelves devoted to DC and Marvel comic book characters. Only one of those action figures represents a character who is a black person.
The problem is two-fold. I can and do take ownership of my own actions and will explore that angle more in a bit. However, it is systemic racism that has contributed to this. The reality is that mainstream arts and entertainment has overwhelmingly flooded the market with white characters created by white people for decades and decades.
Not to take away from Gene Roddenberry, Stan Lee, Jim Henson, or even Fred Rogers. They were great voices and created media and art that would help break down barriers in race and attempt to communicate messages of harmony. But they were white guys and created media that had a lot of white people.
Let’s just take Stan Lee since I started this with a look at super heroes. I’m not trying to tarnish the legacy of Stan here, but when you look at his pantheon of 1960s Marvel characters that he either created or brought back to prominence…it’s A LOT of white people. And 50 years later, those characters are still around in more or less their original form. And despite some attempts to make a few of these characters black (James Rhodes as Iron Man, Sam Wilson as Captain America, Miles Morales as Spider-Man, Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm in the most recent FF movie, etc.), the characters are ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist as white.
One of my earliest memories of DC and Marvel characters was receiving a Superman record and storybook from Power Records with several characters pictured on the back…all white (and Hulk who is green, but he’s a white guy that turns green). To me, that’s a symbol of the systemic racism that exists in the media. And going back to the action figures on my shelf, I have a complete set of Super Powers figures from the mid-80s and outside of aliens and robots, every character except two is white. And while it has gotten better since that record came out in the 70s and Super Powers in the 80s, it’s still not where it should be and it would be near impossible to overcome the imprint that exists on the minds of people from an era of media creation that permeates to today.
I do love that it was Blade in 1998 that was the first of the “modern superhero” movies that began a wave that has been seemingly unending. I love that Black Panther was a great movie and had massive success. And I guess there’s some other stuff in those twenty years that was groundbrea—well, no, not really. War Machine and Falcon are great characters, but they were still sidekicks. And making Perry White an African-American wasn’t really groundbreaking. We can say it’s better now than the 70s, but clearly it’s still far from where it should be when Blade, Black Panther and Into the Spider-verse are stacked up against Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Superman, Batman, Daredevil, Ant-Man, Ghost Rider, Hulk, Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man, MCU Spider-Man, Fantastic Fours 1 & 2, Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman, Wolverine, Deadpool, Elektra and so on and so on.
Earlier this week, I read a really great article by Phil Vischer (probably best known as the creator of VeggieTales, but he’s had a large impact on me through his podcast which is not kid-centric) about his heritage and how systemic racism has helped him in life. When he shared the post on his Facebook page, some commenters asked for prescriptive fixes. His main suggestion was better funding for education in black communities and also pointed to the disparity in housing between ethnic groups. I completely agree, but also, if we’re going to post frames on our Facebook profile saying that we’re listening, then we need to have something new to listen to. We need better funding for arts and culture in minority communities. And us white people…we need to support that art and take it in and truly listen.
I have focused this on arts and entertainment mainly because that’s what this blog focuses on in general, but there are other needs I want to quickly acknowledge. Others smarter than me have spoken on the need for getting out and voting. And voting at all levels. Be informed about who you are voting for. Think! Don’t just tow a party line or allow yourself to be drawn in by a cult of personality. As best as you can, know where someone stands. Protests are keeping the conversation going. And yes, there has been rioting and looting as well and I don’t condone that, but there’s a better way of addressing it than military force. If someone tries to change the conversation away from this issue because of rioting and looting, then change the conversation back. Because while I don’t condone rioting and looting, it’s up to us to not let others change the channel. These causes need support. There are a lot of organizations out there helping that need financial support. I could keep going but mainly I’m trying to say that this is bigger than just arts and entertainment. Way bigger.
I believe racism is wrong, but if I’m truly honest with myself, historically I have not really been listening…at least not as much as I should have been. My walls and shelves reveal that. A lot of my favorite characters are guys who look like me. I can blame innate human nature that causes people to gravitate towards those who they resemble. I can blame Power Records (and others of its ilk) by contributing to systemic racism and bringing me to this point. Or, I could own up to it. I’ve had opportunities throughout the years to support non-white artists and I just haven’t done it. Not with ill intentions, but with an ignorant deafness to their plight. That is on me to acknowledge and to rectify. Which I do and I will.
And if you want to join me in listening better, then I encourage you to do so. On Twitter and Facebook, I have seen lists floating around of books and movies written, directed, created by our black neighbors. I could curate lists of books, comics, music and movies for you here, but who am I to tell you where to start? I’m not the one to listen to right now.