Comics Fail the Clark Test

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Yesterday, I came across this article in Racialicious. TL;DR version: the author (Cheryl Lynn Eaton, from Digital Femme) talks about the reality of being an African American female comics reader. Eaton discussed having to choose between books that portrayed characters of color versus books that portray women when buying her monthly reads, due to the fact that most of the people that make comics just don’t know how to accurately represent women or POC (separately or in tandem). Well, let me rephrase…most of the guys at DC don’t know what to do with these groups. Marvel’s made at least three black female superheroes randomly reappear after careful consideration, I’ve come to a new conclusion: Neither of these groups can do the right thing.

The fact that neither company can’t seem to accurately depict those who aren’t white, male, or heterosexual speaks to a great failing in the comics industry and is proof that there needs to be more diversity amongst mainstream comics creators. In the article, Eaton brings up a point that I’m going to touch on today (emphasis mine):

But Idie. Oh, how I love Idie. Each snippet from Scans Daily I read featuring this character makes me want to crawl into a comic for the sole purpose of buying her toys and ice cream. The awkward and uneasy interaction between Wolverine and Oya is wonderful. (Wolverine buys the child her first doll ever and it’s white with long, straight hair? How lovably stupid…

Schism is an event that rocked the X-Universe earlier this year, a well written story arc that brought to the fore Wolverine’s and Cyclops clashing ideologies, and resulted in the mutants splitting into two teams. At the beginning of the mini-series, Wolverine, always the father figure, takes temperature controlling mutant Oya (real name Idie Okonkwo) under his wing. As Oya opens up and their relationship deepens, Wolverine gives Oya a doll, a small token of his affection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Clarks’ or their doll experiments which impacted Brown v. Board of Education:

The doll experiment involved a child being presented with two dolls. Both of these dolls were completely identical except for the skin and hair color. One doll was white with yellow hair, while the other was brown with black hair.The child was then asked questions inquiring as to which one is the doll they would play with, which one is the nice doll, which one looks bad, which one has the nicer color, etc. The experiment showed a clear preference for the white doll among all children in the study. These findings exposed internalized racism in African American children, self-hatred that was more acute among children attending segregated schools.

Knowing that, check this out:

If only the skin had been a bit darker

Okay, what the heck?

I know that the writer (Jason Aaron, who did a spectacular job in this series), and the editors gave this scene a whole lot of consideration. Look at how tenderly Logan behaves with Idie, even to the point of sharing a wonderful dairy treat with her. Why, then, was it so difficult for for the creators of this book to think to give Idie a little brown-skinned doll with kinky hair? Who would that have hurt? Would it impact sales? We all know fanboys are extremely terrified of change, but I don’t think a change of such infinitesimal magnitude would have harmed Marvel’s bottom line that much.

This is especially bothersome considering that Idie undergoes the most significant personal/existential crisis in the series, centered around her mutant identity and the fact that she kills an entire museum full of Hellfire Club grunts (by Cyclops’  order) after the X-Men get their mutant butts soundly handed to them. She considers herself a monster, and thinks dark thoughts about herself as a result of taking all those lives.

Now, this gripe is definitely a smaller one compared to some of the other, more considerable arguments regarding the X-world (we’re not even going to talk about X-Men First Class) and Marvel’s  lack of an actual diverse presence among mutants in general. Still, it’s something that really bothers me, because of how small it is and because of the fact that comics is still a medium for children. Children are still influenced by these types of depictions every day. I’m sure that somewhere, some comic-reading parent of color has to explain to their similarly inclined child not only why there are hardly any black characters, but also why those black characters can’t even receive dolls that look like them as gifts.

 

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10 thoughts on “Comics Fail the Clark Test

  1. Great, great post. A childhood friend and I grappled with similar situations regarding our own character creations. Most of the comics we read had most all white casts, so when we developed our own, they were all white.

    So, you had two little black kids in Brooklyn, New York creating a bunch of white characters because it was hard for us to imagine black people are “super heroes”.

    Things were rectified years ago with our characters, but that situation still stands out as an “odd experience” for me, lol.

    • Jamal,

      I have similar experiences, and I’m sure a lot of us could say the same. Would you find it hard to believe that every main character that I wrote or drew before the age of sixteen was white, with blonde hair and blue eyes? I look back at that stuff and wonder exactly what was wrong with me.

      • Yeah, it’s those little “things” people don’t think about. On how certain things effect children. How one can be “conditioned” to see the world in a certain light.

        We as writers of color have a lot of work ahead of us to changes things.

  2. When I originally commented I clicked the Notify me whenever new comments are added checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four email messages with the exact same comment.

    • I’m sorry that’s happening to you. I have no idea why, though. Let me know if it’s still happening, I could probably get wordpress to handle it for you.

      Again, sorry that’s happening. I know it sucks.

  3. Pingback: Random Musing: Gender Fairness (or, Where Troy Pulls Out All of His Beard Hair) « The semi-mad ramblings of a young black writer

  4. Re: 1st comment by Jamal

    I struggle with not creating black characters but creating diverse black characters. My main female characters always look like me. Medium skin tone, freckles, red/chestnut hair. When I describe other women with other skin tones, esp darker, I struggle. Should it be hard? They are the same person. I just can’t get vivid enough. And I never write about white people. Minor characters at best. My stories all my life have been black. It’s just that the central character is a certain skin time and build. I don’t make skinny main characters either lol!

  5. Re: 1st comment by Jamal

    I struggle with not creating black characters but creating diverse black characters. My main female characters always look like me. Medium skin tone, freckles, red/chestnut hair. When I describe other women with other skin tones, esp darker, I struggle. Should it be hard? They are the same person. I just can’t get vivid enough. And I never write about white people. Minor characters at best. My stories all my life have been black. It’s just that the central character is a certain skin time and build. I don’t make skinny main characters either lol!

    • We often write ourselves. When I was younger, all of my characters were imitations of me in some form. As I wrote more, I started to change little bits of the characters to make them less like me (but still black): lighter skin, different textures of hair, different build. It’s kind of cool to be able to shed skin like that and change images of ourselves.

      One of the cool things about writing and creating is that our work is our own, and only we are beholden to it. You can write who you want however you want them, and if people don’t like it, tough on them.

      Tami, I’d love to read some of your work one day. :)

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