Longboxing While Black is how I define myself as a Black Comic Book fan. I say “Fan” because the words “Nerd” or “Geek” spawn bullshit debates about what differentiates the two groups. I will use the word Fandom because it is easier to type than Comic Book/Anime/Video Game Fan/Cosplayer. To be honest, in my slice of Black America, every kid was into Comics, Video Games and Science Fiction. It was a form of escapism. As I grew older, there was a unique kinship between Hip-Hop and Comic Books that will get a post of its own. There was nothing uncool about referencing Comic Books in the groups that I frequented, we talked Sports, Pro Wrestling, Hip-Hop and Comic Books. We all had our preferences but each conversation was respected. It seems to be in opposition to the experience of White Fandoms where being into Comics gets you ostracized from many peer groups. In the Black Fandom, some of the toughest cats around had favorite Comic Book characters, making fun of their interests was taking your life in your own hands. As the internet opened our access to information and social media opened our access to each other, Fandom of all races and interests were able to converge. While this could a been a harmonious unification of the Fandoms, a subgroup in the White Male Fandom decided that
- Other fandoms are just posers
- Other fandoms shouldn’t be represented in media they follow.
- Other fandoms shouldn’t have opinions on racial subtexts in the media they follow.
In the process of writing this, I am keenly aware that other fandoms exisit but I can only speak intelligently regarding the experiences of Black Fans. But Fandoms of Color have have similar experiences with experiences with discussions about race in regards to the media they follow. There is a tremendous undercurrent of exclusion that runs through Nerdom. It is odd considering that White Fandom in particular has experienced social exclusion behind their interests. For instance, Black Fandom has a soft spot for Batman. Batman is a rich white guy who goes around to poor neighborhoods beating up low income people of all colors and often partners with the most corrupt police force in all of comics. Batman is the poster boy for white power, but gets mad love from Black Fans. Black fans know that many Black characters are historically thinly disguised tropes, as opposed to nuanced characters. One specific instance I can recall is Tyroc from the Legion of Superheros in 1976. You see… in the 30th century, all the black people live on an island that resides in a pocket dimension, that is only accessible for a few years at a time.
The LSH isn’t racist…the laws of physics are racist. It was a fanatically awkward way to deal with a lack of representation in the group and one of the most reviled plotlines in the history of the Legion of Superheroes. The Black Fandom is used to this bizarre treatment of racial issues in books. We are able to accept the fact that many who write the books and characters we love, don’t really get us. When a Black Character is center panel or the scene changes to a Black neighborhood, you can almost hear the generic hip-hop soundtrack playing in the background. The internet has finally given the black fandom an opportunity to point out the inconsistencies. We have been loyal consumers of the media and expect to be represented in the the media. That expectation of representation has created rift between the respective fandoms as legacy characters are becoming diverse to meet the expectations of black consumers.
This isn’t the tone deaf palate swap that manifested itself with characters like Lois Lane
Or the Punisher
New characters were taking up the identities of established characters and creating new legends. This is not a recent trend. Outside of comics John Stewart is the only Green Lantern many fans have any knowledge of. Legacies like Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Captain America, Goliath and Firestorm have been adopted by Black characters at various points during their histories with little to no fanfare prior to the spread of the internet.
Once internet forums and social media gave people the ability to publish their opinions in real time, some in the White Fandom capitalized on the opportunity to show how inhospitable fans could be. Miles Morales took over the title of Spiderman in the Ultimate Marvel Universe and people started losing their shit. People ignored the fact, Peter Parker still existed as a white male. In fact, in most cases, the characters taking over the mantle of legacy Superheroes are distinct characters with different backstories, motivations and personalities. So why all the anger when a black character takes over the legacy of a character? I’m not sure.
Maybe is has to do with the kinship fans feel with characters. We connect to these characters because we identify something within those characters that we see within ourselves or wish to see within ourselves. With this perspective, the racism within fandoms takes on a more insidious tone. Perhaps the resistance of the some within the white fandom to black characters is due to their inability identify with characters of other races. Considering how Black Fans have historically embraced non-black characters, equity would require that White Fans should be doing the same, but this is not the case. Black Fandom voicing discontent with lack of representation or development is met with vehement denial and hostility from some within White Fandom. Taking issue with how characters are being portrayed seems to be a luxury that isn’t afforded to Black Fandom. Female Fandom has experienced this when they question editorial decisions regarding the handling of femininity in books and the undercurrent of misogyny in comics.
Here’s the thing. No Fandom has sole providence when it comes to these characters. These characters belong to all fans who purchase these books. All fans have the ability to express frustration with the direction of storylines and characters. That feedback should allow writers to fine tune their creations to be as three dimensional as possible.