Sorry about the radio silence here! Between work, dealing with anxiety, and my computer finally dying and the new one taking its time to get here, my output has been really, really low.
I’m trying to turn it around, so I figured I’d talk about blind spots in relation to writing diverse characters, specifically the case of Brian Michael Bendis and Spider-Man Issue #2.
I admit to being a bit late to this party, as I’m not a regular reader of the adventures of Miles Morales, mainly on account of just not being a fan of Bendis’ writing. I just get this sense of how much he hates writing superheroes and was, from what one friend told me, instrumental in ripping apart the relationship of the Vision of Scarlet Witch.
Also, randomly killing off Ultimate Gwen Stacy for no good reason? Yeah, never was a fan of that.
So, when he made Miles Morales, the half black/half-‘hispanic’ new Spider-Man of the ultimate universe, I gave it a pass, same as I did for Silk, as created by Dan Slott.
After all, when your introduction of the character is of someone hidden away by men ‘for her own good’ and shown to wear webbing in a sexy pin up pose, it’s loaded with Ick Factor, made all the worse for Silk being Asian.
But enough about Dan Slott… heck, the less said about him when he’s not checking up on google alert for his name and bad writing, the better.
In the latest issue of Spider-Man, a vlogger excitedly discusses how cool it is that there’s a new Spider-Man on the scene after footage of him fighting a demon is uploaded online. The footage shows that part of his costume is torn and his brown skin shown through it.
Miles’ reaction to the vlogger is to not like being the black Spider-Man, which the vlogger does not call him, and wants to be counted on the content of his character instead of the colour of his skin.
Now, other people have explored this issue, and much better than I ever could. In fact, I highly recommend everyone reads “Gamergaters are rallying behind the new Spider-Man for all the wrong reasons” by Charles Pulliam-Moore. He and another friend really dive into the material and about how troubling it is for a young, biracial boy of colour to not want to discuss his skin colour.
And while you’re at it, listen to Fresh Out Of Tokens. It’s a great podcast about diversity in games, but in the latest episode, episode 39, they spend some time on this topic as well. It’s roughly in the last 10-15 minutes of it and definitely worth a listen.
What troubles me, and was highlighted by a discussion I had yesterday, is the age-old idea that because one has relationships with people of colour, either as friends, colleagues, family, or lovers, it does not mean that you’re suddenly immune to being racist.
It is, as one friend once told me, not a one time immunization shot, but an ongoing process.
This is important to highly because in the interview Bendis has with Comic Book Resources, he talks about the people in his life who face bigotry and being judged on their looks, as well as his being Jewish.
And yet, all I could hear was “I have black friends! I have black friends! I can’t be racist, I have black friends!”
Yeah, so do I, but that doesn’t mean I won’t automatically say, do, or write racist things. I’m constantly educating myself and watching what I say and examining it because as a straight, white, cisgender, able bodied male from Canada, I am at the top of the privilege pyramid.
Privilege is a hell of a thing, and it comes in many forms. In her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafetreia?, Beverly Tatum, in her exploration of racism and how it affects us, points out that she has privileges others don’t. She might be a black woman living in America, but she also has straight privilege, cisgender privilege, and able bodied privilege.
So even though Bendis is Jewish and has a black daughter and knows many black people and other people of colour, he has privileges others don’t, and that can result in blind spots.
And damned if there wasn’t a glaring blind spot about Morales dismissing his blackness which is, again, better explained and discussed by the people in the links I provided.
It also doesn’t help that Bendis has said to tune in next time, continue reading, when facing criticism over this. That feels like an excuse to run away and not face up to what people have said of his writing, and seeing as how he is someone writing a character who is afro-latino, he has a greater responsibility to ensure he writes a good message.
Yes, he’s human and he makes mistakes, same as the rest of us, but it’s especially harmful when Bendis is so dismissive, to say nothing about the character of Danika Hart, the vlogger. It feels like a shot at all the SJW tumblr types, as though to say they care more about diversity than quality, when really one can have diversity AND quality.
After all, look at the latest Star Wars movie.
So, while hardly being enamored with Bendis’ writing to begin with, I think I’m going to be sitting this one out. After all, when our writing ensures that Miles Morales is going to become Gamergater’s Vivian James entry into comics, you’ve fucked up.
Also, hispanic means you speak Spanish. It’s not the same as being latino. Get it right, Bendis.