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Why I Support Exceptional Minority Media

Incidentally enough, I wrote this post last week. But in light of some of the discussion on box_in_the_box 's recent post and in an effort to continue the education about privilege and progression in this community, I wanted to share my perspective on the importance of diversity in media, be it films, books, television and of course comics.

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When I'm shopping at the comic book store, some of my buddies tease me because they can count on me to seek out and support minority titles be they female, LGBT, most notably POC-centric be it Buffy, Vixen, Black Lightning, Batgirl (Cassandra Cain), etc.. My buddies understand why I do it and they completely admire, respect, and support me in that regard. However it occurred to me that others may not understand why equal representation in the media is such an important issue.



It's often difficult to get non-minorities to understand the importance of why our stories should be told as well. This being a non issue for them, it's hard for them to imagine how different their world would be if the majority (or even only) stories told were of people who didn't look like them or belonged to different cultures.

Stories and their protagonists help children (and even adults) establish a sense of self. Just as King Arthur, Robin Hood, Harry Potter or Superman have instilled in white children a confidence and a strength that they can accomplish anything they imagine, children of color need that as well. They need to know that they can be more than the token sidekick or the sassy best friend and that they can be just as extraordinary an individual as their caucasian counterparts. My heart flutters each time I imagine the number of young black girls who will discover an interest in science because of Nyota Uhura from the revamped Star Trek.

Whether we want to admit it or not, there is power in perception. When we diminish a people and relegate them to small or non-existent roles or portray them as a monolithic hive-minded race of criminals, terrorists, and degenerates, this seeps into our consciousness and this affects how we treat our dark-skinned neighbor. This obviously leads to fear, discrimination and many of the problems we have now. By showcasing our stories, we debunk those misconceptions and show that while we may have our cultural differences, we're all human, we're all relatable more than we realize (we are human like that), and we're all exceptional or not based, on the content of our character and not the color of our skin, gender, orientation, etc.

It's been postulated by some that Dennis Hasbert's portrayal of David Palmer on the hit series 24 may have opened some minds to the possibility of a black president.

Our horizons are broadened when we learn to step outside of our provincial worldview. Though I identify as a Christian, I'm a richer person having studied the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca and other various religions and belief systems.

And contrary to what some might fear, being pro-diversity =/= being anti-white. I've learned plenty from white storytellers and my heroes were many of those aforementioned caucasian protagonists. What it means however, is understanding that we're exceptional based on our character and our works and not by what demographic we may fall in.

And contrary to what some may believe, it's not enough to simply place a POC face on tripe and conflate visibility for progress. If that were the case then BET would be trailblazing television.

And to be clear, the minority media I support isn't exceptional by minority, lesser, or secondary standards. It's exceptional by any standard, period. While it's tragic that most of these excellent gems won't receive the attention and accolades they so rightfully deserve, I am optimistic that the dollars and endorsement of myself and other progressive-minded peers will send a powerful message that our stories are worth telling as well.

I look ahead with optimism at the young girls who have found a heroine in Storm or Zoe Washburne, just as LGBTs have discovered a champion in Jack Harkness. Knowing what's at stake, as a feminist, a POC, a multiculturalist, an LGBT, a progressive activist, a writer, an artist, a storyteller, and a man who is genuinely trying to do some good in the world, I'll continue to do my part.

And now having read this, I hope you're inclined to do the same.


Comments

( 78 comments — Leave a comment )
spam_27
Sep. 8th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
I'm white but I'm a girl, does it cancel out?
What bothers me about arguments like this is that, I can get where having something like you is cool, but why is it wrong to like something that isn't?

Not that you're going to extreme, but I've seen people complaining about the New Disney movie because they didn't make the Prince black. I quote" I don't want my daughter thinking she has to be rescued by a white man."

How is that statement not fully racist? Because whites are the target? Especially considering the character isn't white.

If a white woman complained about Tiana(from The Princess and the Frog), Jubilee, or Willow being bad influences on her kids because they weren't white or straight, then she'd be labeled a racist/homophobe.

Personally I wish it didn't matter. I wish I hadn't seen all these arguments about race and sexuality in comics that make me feel bad that my comic is predominately white and completely straight. Adding diversity for diversity's sake can make shitty under-informed characters. In my case people would probably complain that my minority characters are too white(even if my co-writer is Hispanic). I can't write what I don't know. I can study cultures and history but I still can't tap into someone else's way of thinking. I can't win any way I go.

What's better, having a gay/minority/whatever character forced into something and written by someone that hasn't the foggiest how they should act so they fall into a stereotype, or not having one?(yay run-on!) Because I'm sure everyone could point out a character that fits that bill.

It'd be great if the writers we all in tune with everything or had amazing research abilities. This includes any race, sexuality, gender or religion writing another. Even if every company hired a person from every possible denomination, chances are they're still not going to be able to write someone 'right.'

I hope this didn't come out as too bitchy but this race thing is really starting to get at me because of my personal experiences. I'm having constantly doubting myself and my comic. Wondering if I should make a character gay or if making one of the characters Native American was a bad idea. The main characters have minority friend's because I did. But that's just relegating minorities to friend roles, should they have been white? All these discussions make me think I'm losing a potential audience for a lack of diversity or anger of my portrayal or what I have.

Can you see where my frustration is coming from?
greenmask
Sep. 8th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm white but I'm a girl, does it cancel out?
It wasn't said that there's something wrong in liking things that aren't like you. There isn't, and plenty of people do it. EVERYONE likes things that aren't Just Like Them.

But it is SO powerful to have someone or something to like, to idolise, to learn from, to observe, that IS like you. Especially if the majority of heroes available to you aren't like you. The less you have to change yourself sideways to be a hero, the more you can imagine changing yourself upwards to be like them. If they look like you, if they identify like you, you only have to work on being better like your heroes, not changing base aspects of yourself and then aspiring to improve.

It isn't being said here that seeing white straight heroes is harmful to children of colour and LGBT children (I just noticed I'm talking about children; forgive me, but it's one of my primary areas of importance). It's being said that seeing ONLY straight white heroes is harmful to them.

(And of course harmful to the straight white children too, but that's not to do with this kind of visceral identification so much.)

I totally get where you frustration comes from: it's hard to be good. When creating, it's an odd line to walk when you know that you shouldn't be racist or any other kind of ist. But honestly I think the problem

(Forgive my bluntness from here, I might well be wrong. I'm basically talking from my own experience here, based on what I got from the wording you chose.)

is with you. You're thinking "should I add one of these minorities?" when you should really be working on fully accepting diversity into your front-brain. Then your characters will just come out diverse, because that's how people are. It won't be starting with white straight unformed character-lumps which you must then make PC.
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parsimonia
Sep. 8th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm white but I'm a girl, does it cancel out?
How is that statement not fully racist? Because whites are the target? Especially considering the character isn't white.

First of all, I don't think neo_prodigy was suggesting that we shouldn't support or indulge in comics (or other media) that feature white, straight and/or male characters, or that one should feel guilty for liking those stories or characters.

But something to keep in mind is that the racism that non-white people face is more frequent and often more hateful and hurtful. And when you take into account history (both old and very recent), there are all sorts of factors that create inequalities in terms of power and influence between men and woman, between people of different races and cultures. For example, someone making fun of me about my whiteness doesn't carry the same level of potential hurt and historical/cultural baggage that someone making fun of someone because she's Asian or Hindu or gay does.

A child watching a movie or reading a comic may not know or understand racism or sexism, or their complicated histories and current manifestations. But something like always seeing girls as damsels in distress, seeing people of certain ethnicities only as sidekicks or villains, or never seeing gay or bisexual people portrayed as regular people and treated with respect, it seeps into one's consciousness and guides expectations (both of oneself and of others).
goobalicious
Sep. 8th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
I kind of want to hug this post.
cleome45
Sep. 8th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
[nods]

[gets in line]
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rattsu
Sep. 8th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of one of the arguments I used when discussing why yaoi/slash was so popular amongst women compared to men. To sum it up, one of the reasons (there were many others too) was that girls grew up with male heroes when they were children. All the cool roles in books and movies tended to be occupied by males, so it was only natural that women, in some form, would start to identify with them.

So, once sexuality started to bud, it became more natural to deal with it in the form they were used to, through male characters. After all, they tended to be proactive, forward and take charge, while the women were the passive ones. Playing at being men, enabled girls to take charge of enjoying sex in a way that they never could with girls in the lead.

Truth? Maybe not. But I remember when growing up, that all my heroes in the media were males. The women... were just less interesting. X-men was probably the one exception to that at the time, with Storm/Phoenix/Rogue/Kitty providing a plethora of female role models.

Needless to say, I agree with your opinions above, it is vitally important that children have diverse role models.
dv8nation
Sep. 9th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
I'm thinking it's more that guy/guy stuff doesn't interest straight guys.
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neo_prodigy
Sep. 8th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
thanks.
90scartoonman
Sep. 8th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
I love seeing minority characters, especially when they're just as important as the rest of the cast. Lazy sticking in POC pisses me off, but I think we've made great progress over these last few years.
harlot_ohara
Sep. 8th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
I agree but I'll add one point, which I assume you're including. Could we have a story about a character who is a different race/GLBT/pagan/handicapped and just for once not have it be about that subject? I'd like there to also be a plot.

I love Daredevil, but I never expect to open the comic and read a story about how he learned braille. As interesting as that would be, there are OTHER layers to the character.

/minirant
silver_paired
Sep. 8th, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
I love Daredevil, but I never expect to open the comic and read a story about how he learned braille. As interesting as that would be, there are OTHER layers to the character.

Wow. That pretty much sums it up perfectly.

I agree with all of this, and the OP. So much.
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neo_prodigy
Sep. 8th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
co-signed and that goes without saying. the exceptional minority media i support is exceptional which happens to feature a minority lead as opposed to the minority aspect being the entire crux of the story.
greenmask
Sep. 8th, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
This was good to read, by the way. :]
neo_prodigy
Sep. 8th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
thank you very much. and your comments were totally on point too. thank you for sharing them with the other reader.
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denyer
Sep. 8th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
the minority media I support isn't exceptional by minority, lesser, or secondary standards. It's exceptional by any standard, period

Anything in particular you'd recommend to readers who find most Marvel and DC output unremarkable?

I hope you're inclined to do the same.

Not really. An aspect of Trek's appeal is its more utopian and inclusive prognosis of the future than many sci-fi universes, Torchwood was very entertaining until the writers started killing off core cast members, and on reflection I own quite a lot of books in which favourite characters would be considered "minority" -- but whilst I agree role models are important for kids, buying fiction for myself with skin colour, age, gender or sexual orientation of characters as a deciding factor in mind would feel fetishistic and self-congratulatory, and not sit well with people/characters being of interest because of what they do/think rather than superficial genetic traits, how old they are or who they fancy.
neo_prodigy
Sep. 9th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
Hang on, if you're not interested in exceptional minority media then why do you want recommendations from me?
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freddylloyd
Sep. 9th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
I think it's also important for children who come from a society's dominant group(s) to read about characters, especially heroes, who come from other groups, however that society might define identity.

The value in such portrayals isn't just in inspiring children who can see in those characters someone like themselves, though that's indeed important enough to justify the effort. There's also great value in showing children someone supposedly unlike themselves in a central, heroic, and sympathetic way.
denyer
Sep. 9th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
There's also great value in showing children someone supposedly unlike themselves in a central, heroic, and sympathetic way.

Co-signed. It could be said to be all in the pitch; "celebrate difference" rather than "support great book [x] because character [y] can be considered minority [z]". The former is quite possibly part of the reason [x] is a great book; the latter draws focus away from the writing.
triestine
Sep. 10th, 2009 08:50 am (UTC)
Good post!
neo_prodigy
Sep. 10th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
faile_neume
Sep. 10th, 2009 11:56 am (UTC)
Disclaimer: It's late and I'm not very eloquent so apologies for poorly structured and jumpy comment.

This was a great read. I know that I purposefully seek out literature with female leads, and especially strong female leads. And I have no LGBT role models in real life and having them in different media forms has honestly helped me a lot.

On the same note, I absolutely detest when a character's only personality trait is the fact that they're a minority. Like at the beginning how Kate Kane was basically "the lesbian Batwoman" and didn't have much beyond that. (Personally I think she's developing pretty well recently)

I'm not sure if this is entirely to the point, but your post brings to mind an interview with the current Teen Titans writer, and in particular her comments about Jaime Reyes. Basically she was saying about his 'troubled past' and 'how hard it is to be him' and all I got from it was "Jaime is hispanic and he grew up with guns and gangs and poverty" and I felt like all the good work being done by other writers to establish a hispanic character that wasn't just a stereotype is going to be ruined. But, you know, it's the Teen Titans, so I think we all expected that anyway.
cleome45
Sep. 11th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)
[sigh] Sounds like an outgrowth of Highlander Syndrome. There Can Be Only One (disabled person, POC, woman, queer, whatever) in each story. So if the Hispanic character doesn't have the background the writer thinks is appropriate, she has to graft it on rather than maybe create a new character to fit the background that she sees as correct in her own mind.

It's ridiculous, but not unusual. Especially given that continuity gets thrown out about every fifteen minutes in the Big Two these days, right?
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deepspaceartist
Sep. 11th, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
A well written and informative post.

Though I would like to say that I personally flinch a little when the term 'POC' is used. But that's mostly because I, and many others I know, used it as verbal and written shorthand for 'piece of crap', and still do. Makes for an ... interesting interpretation of such posts before it clicks in my head as to the posters inteded meaning.
( 78 comments — Leave a comment )