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Back in the Day Part 6 - Black Depictions in Comic Books

posted Sep 16, 2015, 10:40 AM by Anjuan Simmons
This is Part 6 in my series about posts I made to newsgroups as a young Minority Tech. This is probably one of the longest posts I wrote during this time. I dove into the topic of how Black people are depicted in comic books. This is still a contentious topic, even 20 years later.

I do have a sense of pride towards my younger self. I'm still writing about Black issues to this day, but I like seeing how I started. I have grown a lot as a writer, but I see glimmerings of my current mental map about technology and racism in this snapshot of my 19 year old mind.

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From: anj...@mail.utexas.edu (Anjuan Rey Simmons)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.comics.xbooks
Subject: Black Depictions
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 1995 02:02:21 -0600
Organization: University of Texas at Austin
Lines: 138
Message-ID: <anjuan-3001950202210001@smf-n12.facsmf.utexas.edu>
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   (the sound of a can of worms being opened)

   	Greetings again, members of rec.arts.comics.xbooks.  As promised at
the end of my post about X-women, I will now dwell on the thought of the
portrayal of African Americans in the X-Men comics (I can hear you sighing
and groaning and I can see your eyes rolling back).
   	First, I want to state that I realize it is difficult to portray every
single race in the X-Men books.  I'm sure that there are many Hispanics,
Asians, Native American Indians, etc. who could claim being under
represented in the X-Men books.  Well, members of those groups can post
their views at their leisure.  Being an African American, I want to speak
about how we have been viewed in the X-books.  Also, some may say this is
fitting since next month is the month so nicely set aside for thinking
about black history.  Has anyone ever wondered why the shortest month of
the year was chosen for Black History month?  Of course, that's another
thread for another group.
   	Let us take a look at the number of black people who have graced the
covers of the various X-books.  Jorge DeLaCruz has nicely posted a Mutant
list in rec.arts.comics.xbooks recently (though I'm not sure if all of
these people are mutants).  What follows are the people of color (no
Nightcrawler or Mystique comments) I recognize from the list.  Of course,
I don't know everyone in the list so I may miss some (shuckins, I wish I
had my Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe at hand!)

 Bishop of the X-Men
   
 Gateway

 Stevie Hunter

 Charlotte Jones of the NYPD

 M of Generation X  (I'll explain)
  
 Shard of the XSF    (d)        Sister of Bishop
 Storm of the X-Men
 Synch of Generation X (This is my boy!)


BTW:  I've left out one-shot characters or guess star black characters
like Power Man or the Black Panther.  I really don't think these people
have been developed in the X-Men books.  Also, some people like Leech make
it hard to tell what to call them.

	Of the characters from the above list I'm sure the most well known is
Storm followed by Bishop.  Some may say that M is not a black person, but
I am going by the first issue I saw her in which she was depicted VERY
much so as a black person (full lips, dark skin, etc.).   It was the one
in which she was in a car with a large women, and they were attacked by
the Phalanx.  Gateway is an Aborigine, not an African American, but he is
a black character.  
	The representation of black characters in X-Men, though few, have yielded
some impressive characters.  Storm, though very much under used lately,
has had some great moments.  Of course, her physical features are not
those of the everyday black person.  However, she was created as a unique
character who was meant to look different.  My only objection is that too
many writers draw her as a white female with dark skin.  Ororo has various
subtle facial features that some writers ignore or do sloppily.  
	Bishop has emerged as one of the most fascinating characters I have ever
read about in a comic book.  We have had the chance to look into his soul
and see what motivates him.  We've seen his grief over the loss of his
companions from his time period.  We've shared his love for his sister and
respect him for doing what had to be done to her.  Bishop has almost come
across to me as the quintessential X-Man.  He takes what is best in each
character and lives up to the ideal that the X-Men fight for.  The only
thing I dislike about him is his long hair.  This seems quite unfitting
for a warrior and impossible for a black person to grow.
	I group Charlotte Jones and Stevie Hunter together because they are both
non-mutant black women who we only see about once a year.  They have also
been pretty well done as characters holding their own beside super powered
mutants.  I think they well represent the strength of black women.  My
gripe is that we very rarely see them.
	Gateway is an enigma.  I see him as a spiritual force kind of like the
monkey in the Lion King.  I have to respect him despite my initial fear
that he would be a stereotypical character (My Gawd, Sir!  All thus
technology sho' is a sight!  Where cun I 'port ya now, masser?)  Of
course, now he has been stuck with Generation X which I'm not sure I
like.  However, a link between Gateway and M has been suggested.
	Monet St. Croix has also impressed me.  Some see her as a snotty rich
bastiche, and she is.  However, I think she has a lot of potential as a
character.  My gripe is that some artists do not draw her as a person with
black features which may be justified since she may not have been intended
as one.  However a rich black female who is supposedly the perfect mutant
would definitely not be a stereotypical character.
	This leads me to Synch.  Synch (and I apologize for not knowing his real
name) is THE man!  Finally we have an articulate black male character!   
Also, he can keep his cool under fire!  I don't know why is seems so hard
for the media to accept the fact that black men can speak proper English
and not go, "Oh, sheeooot!" at every sign of danger.  I remember what the
Geordie LaForge character of Star Trek:TNG was like at first.  "Worf, is
this your race's view of SEX?"  "I got ya, commander.  We switch over to
warp just as the impulse engines reach maximum phase distortion. 
Yeeeeehooooo!"  (These quotes are definitely NOT verbatim, but you can
check out the first season and see what I mean).  Geordie eventually
evolved into a well rounded character having several episodes dedicated to
him.  I hope to see Synch's character similarly fleshed out.  This man has
a lot of potential.  His power is not that original, but he seems
comfortable with him.  I think a romantic relationship with M would be
interesting.  
	Well, that about finishes the list.  I'm positive many people can point
out characters I've missed or dispute what I've said.  I respect that.  In
fact, I'm looking for some positive feedback either in the newsgroup or
through email.  Anyway, I guess I can say that the state of black
characters in the x-books is acceptable.  This series of books is one of
the few comics I can say that about.  Of course, there have been only a
handfull of black characters who have been explored.  I hope that one day
it won't seem so important to enumerate the inclusion of black characters
and just accept all characters based on the merits of their personality. 
However, with many people over in the Star Trek newsgroups objecting
strongly to something as natural as a black Vulcan, I think that we have a
long way to go.  Honestly, you really have to be black to understand how
it is to be black.   Let's invert reality.  Imagine turning on the
television and seeing all black people and maybe one light skinned person
for every twenty dark skinned ones.  Pick up a magazine and see the same
thing.  It's this way at work, in class (for those in college), at the
mall, everywhere.  It seems like you have to try hard to see your own
kind.  Magazines that list the twenty most beautiful people in the world
have maybe one or two of your race.  Comic books depict heroic epics with
few characters you can relate to racially.  Women clutch their purses as
you walk buy.  Store clerks follow you around.  Professors are surprised
when you can eloquently discuss a topic in class.  It sounds
uncomfortable, doesn't it?
	Well, I'm putting away my podium.  I hope I didn't get too long winded or
hurt anyone's sensibilities (well, not too much).  I know this went over a
lot of people's heads.  I also know a lot of people would not care less if
there wasn't a single non-white character in comic books.  Too many people
cannot appreciate the beauty of diversity.  I commend the various writers
and artists of the X-books for bringing to life some characters this
little black boy could relate to and admire.  

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

-- 

"To whom much is given much is required."
Peace and Prosperity,
Anjuan Rey Simmons
anj...@mail.utexas.edu
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