Whew. It’s finally acceptable to be a cute, young, blonde cheerleader type now. Good thing for Entertainment Weekly’s # 1 in their Top 100 Hayden Panettiere. I thought she would never have a shot in the entertainment world.
Anyways…I thought I would share a story from my youth. Back in junior high, I made friends with another comic geek. We really liked comics. We would talk about our favorites. We both came up with ideas. One time, we took a bunch of characters I created and compiled a super team. He had an idea for a character to add. He told me the basic idea, powers and maybe a possible costume. I went to work.
After a couple days, I had a character drawn up. I showed it to him. He paused…he said he liked the general look…just one little thing…”I thought of him as black.” My drawing was of a white blonde guy. Now, it was not that I consciously thought, “White guy equals superhero.” I had not given two thoughts to the character’s race. I just defaulted to a white guy. It had never occurred to me that my friend might have had a race in mind. It probably should have. While most of the characters we liked were white, my fellow collector was a young black guy.
Not so shockingly, he envisioned a hero he could look at and see himself in a bit. Sure, he could admire the virtues of Super-Man, Batman or Spider-Man. I think those are reasons people frustrated by the lack of diversity ultimately stick with the superhero genre in spite of said frustrations. They admire the inner qualities. But they also are asking for a mirror, that shows that people who look like themselves have those same qualities.
I admit, personally, the “character that looks like me” has never been an important part of my entertainment consumption. But, in retrospect, I have a feeling it could if nearly all my options on the page and screen were of a race not my own. It’s easy to not care about identifying with characters on the screen when you are the default of the medium.
I did suggest I revise the character…but he felt it was “no big deal”…looking back, i wish I would have pushed a little harder to get him to consent to the change. Years later, after we had gone our seperate ways (different schools and so on), I toyed with the team and came up with a switch. I created a “surprise” origin that allowed for hero to be a black man, revealing the white incarnation to have been…not so much a hero. I doubt that team will ever see the light of day, but this moment from my past is one that challenges me to this day to think about how I approach things like diversity and race in my stories and art.