It started with the movies. I used to go with my parents to every damn show possible. Alien? “Isn’t 4 too young, Donald?” my mom would say. “He’s 4! What can he possibly remember from it? He’ll be fine” I imagine he retorted. I was not fine. I ended up being afraid of the dark the rest of my childhood. You just never knew if that pesky xenomorph was hiding in the ceiling ready to punch your face out with its tongue. However, with the fear came wondrous amazement, joy, and imagination. Even at that age I imagined myself the hero. That was 1979. I’d already been indoctrinated by Star Wars and I thought I was like every kid in those days; full of spirit, giggles, imagination, and joy.
Then we moved to Texas from the East Coast and I met my best friend for life, who introduced me to video games! 1983. I had an Atari 2600, then he had a Nintendo, and it escalated from there. Dungeons and Dragons, Doctor Who (we’re talking Tom Baker Doctor Who now), radio serials, Star Trek, GI Joe, Transformers. I was hooked, like every kid. It didn’t hit me that I was any different than any other kid, besides being the only black kid I knew besides my cousins. I began to notice I was the odd kid when I started doing the voices of the characters from the cartoons whose toys I cherished. After all, Optimus Prime can’t sound like Cobra Commander and Darth Vader isn’t as intimidating when he sounds like a spastic nine year old. The kids at school would tease which would cause me to become introverted and only share with those I trusted. “You’re a nerd! You can’t be a nerd! You’re black!”
Well, shit. I’m a black nerd. Those were the worst world ever spoken! Ok, not really, but I was a kid. Words stung, yo. When I was 12, I struggled with my nerd/geek desire to still keep and display my toys, but also struggled with the peer pressure to “grow up” and “be a young man”. It was awkward and it felt wrong, but I put my toys away. “Young black men your age do not play with toys! They play football or basketball or do something cool and athletic.” I heard it, even from my mother. It hurt. Everyone seemed to want me to do it the way you’re supposed to. I wonder if I would have faced such pressure were I the innocent looking white kid like my best friend. Would I have gotten more of a pass? People tease and ridiculed the white geek kids too, but they always had a click or group they could fall into that looked like them, sounded like them, and didn’t get suspicious looks when they went somewhere together as a group.
So I stopped. I played football in middle and high school…until I discovered comic books. Then it was another obsession. I got a job just to pay for them because my exasperated mother was not gonna pay for “One more damned comic book!” (I find out years later that she was a geek growing up too in an even harder time for black nerds. She had her own comic collection. We would watch movies together and nerd out in later years) I spent half my life in the comic shop. I felt at home, but I was usually always the only black guy in there, reading stories about white, homogenous heroes saving the world. I always wondered why there weren’t more. Where were the people who looked like me?
As I got into my twenties and turned my attention to trying to reach for a career in media, I started to really understand that I was an anomaly. The creators and artists who made the fantastic universes I would get lost in wrote and drew what they knew. They were majority white, and even more majority male. I was an exception to the standard geek rule. So that meant I was in an even more exclusive club. I had panache. I was cool by virtue of my rarity, like an Action Comics #1! The rest of these guys were just silver foiled, variant covered 1991 X-Men #1’s! I started to find heroes like Luke Cage, The Falcon, Spawn, Cyborg, Bishop,John Stewart Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter (dammit, he’s no Martian, he’s a Space Brutha) and Deathlok. Men who looked like me (except Deathlok, that bruh got jacked up!) rising up and being the hero of the story; fighting injustice. Being a black hero became so damned cool, they went and made honky Nick Fury into Shaft!!!! I still love that one, especially now that he’s a fan favorite.
Now I’m in my early 40’s I see a subtle shift. I take pride in the fact that Dwayne McDuffie (RIP) is one of the most revered writers and creators ever in comics. These days my extended family and many of my friends still don’t quite get the level to which I nerd out and I don’t bore them to sleep with my obsessions, but they see my happiness and they get that. Though they usually stop listening after I start discussing the scientific reasoning behind Superman’s powers or why Batman is still better (He’s the God Damned Batman!). Now that being geeky is a mainstream, popular thing, I’m pleased. It’s a Golden Age! Now that it is mainstream means that more and more young black men and women will discover the wonders of geekdom and not be faced with being so alone in a crowd, if you get what I mean.
I used to feel like the odd man out, but now I don’t feel so awkward as I attend comic cons. I feel like an attraction, but in the best, most positive way possible. Maybe that’s maturity and learning to accept who I am and not worry all that much with other’s impressions. I feel like I’m the voice there to keep it honest and not let things stay the way they have been. I’ve picked up the mantle and I’m one of the trailblazers now!
I was totally a nerd before it was cool.
Damn, does that make me a hipster? I do have a Chewbacca beanie…..
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts you have come to two realizations:
1. I am a serious geek.
2. I have far too much free god damned time on my hands. See the above picture.
This blog is of a geek nature but within it there is a real social message. I watch a shit-ton of movies and read an equally shit-ton of comics and science fiction-ey books. While they are all mostly good and all that, there is a theme running through many, if not all, of them. Or lack thereof. Black heroes. Yes, I’m talking about black people. Where are they? What the fuck? I guess I should say where are all the upstanding, non-stereotypical portrayals of black people in comics, movies, and books. Black people make up like 1.3 billion of the world’s 6.7 billion people. By black I mean anyone of a dark chocolate or milk chocolate skin tone. With that many of us you would think that there would be some tall, dark, and bad-ass superheros and shit, right? You’d be super wrong. Let’s examine shall we?
1. You argue that one of the Green Lanterns is black. John Stewart. Sure, he’s bad-ass and has great powers and was gifted with a power ring and entrusted with the protection of Earth’s sector of space, buuuuuuuuut he was the god damned 3rd string Green Lantern after Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner. Two white guys. Also, Stewart has a belligerent attitude towards authority figures. Just like a common stereotype of black men. Why the black dude gotta have issues? Everyone does! Let’s give everyone a problem, not just the scary black dude.
2. Luke Cage. A man with invulnerable skin and super strength is awesome right? Hell yeah he is! Of course he can’t be too awesome because, well, he’s black and we can’t have black guys looking more heroic than their caucasian counterparts can we? Let’s make him a convict who volunteers for a top secret program to give him his Shaft-like BAMFYness! Then when he escapes from jail or whatever, have him become a hero for hire! Because lord knows those darkies won’t do anything for altruistic reasons! They like money too much! Uhh, give him a shitty catchphrase too! “Sweet Christmas?” “Perfect, let’s go to print!” “Susan, we need more cocaine!!!”
3. The Falcon. Sam Wilson started out as a social worker determined to help inner city youth when he adopted a falcon anddonned a silly costume that let him fly. He has no powers other than being able to talk to birds or something. When you’re more shitty than Aquaman, there’s a problem. This back-story and intro was apparently too upstanding for the mainstream folks so they decided to retconn (retroactively going back and changing a character’s past or origin) it into him being a former thug and a pimp who was ‘angry at the world’ cause his mother was shot and killed. So he said, “Fuck this helping people noise, I’m gonna go get some bitches and make them earn dollas, fo sho!!” What the deuce?! Bruce Wayne’s parents are shot and killed by a mugger and he becomes the GOD DAMNED BATMAN!!! A black guy though? He turns criminal after one really bad break? Of course with the help of the terminally white Steve Rogers (Captain America) Wilson becomes a hero! So the black guy has to get help and be rehabbed by the incorruptible white man? Come on guys!! We aren’t all pimps and thugs.
4. Bishop. Lucas Bishop is a mutant from the future who goes back in time and joins the X-Men to possibly change the past to prevent the terrible future he comes from. One where all mutants have been rounded up and put into concentration camps. That’s where he grew up, the little scamp! Since he’s black, he fails. Not once, not twice, but like three times. Then he decides to fuck it all and goes bad, becoming one of the X-Men’s main villains. Of course, he’s a loud, angry antihero. Maybe this is more from where he comes from and his experiences, but I don’t buy it. Why can’t you portray the minority as a stand-up good man? We exist, trust me.
5. Geordi LaForge. Star Trek: The Next Generation. It doesn’t just happen in comics, it happens in tv and films too. You might think a black chief engineer on the greatest fucking starship known to man would be the whizbang, and it would be if they hadn’t made that negro blind! Sure he got a visor that allowed him to see and shit and eventually got cyber eyes, but why do that to him in the first place? You’ll argue “Well, Picard had an artificial heart!” and I’ll counter-argue “Well that Frenchman got into a fucking barfight and was stabbed thru the heart!” That sure is a better ‘gettin’ bitches’ story than “I was born blind”. They couldn’t even make his disability cool. The one time he got close to scoring a chick? She was a holodeck recreation of a real scientist chick he had a crush on. He almost hooked up with the hologram too. Then he met the real chick and thought she would be all on his space nuts like a tribble, but then guess what? She rejected him. So he got cockblocked twice by the same chick essentially. Come on, they let the fucking android get some pussy! Not the darkman apparently.
These are just a few examples that come to mind, but there are so many more out there. Take some time to sit and think about a black character that you would consider great like Superman, Batman, Captain America, or Capt. Kirk, Spock, or any of a number of sci-fi legends. When I was little I thought Darth Vader was black. Nevermind that Luke and Leia were white kids. I just assumed that nigga got with a white woman and had some light skinned chilrens. Then Return of the Jedi came and lo and behold…he was an old, white guy. Dammit!!!! Lando Calrissian was the shit, but the only black man in a whole galaxy? Really? Sure we got Mace Windu, but George Lucas muted everything that was fucking cool about Samuel “Motherfucking” Jackson by making him play Mace like he was Ed Begley Jr. Then there is Jar Jar Binks. The most annoying stereotype of a black man ever. He looked weird, talked weird, acted weird, was dumb as a box of rocks, and did I mention completely useless? Also, he was voiced by a black man, Ahmed Best. That says it all right there.
Look at the most recent X-Men: First Class for further proof that Hollywood has not learned and still sees minorities as secondary, throwaway characters. Without being too spoilery for those who haven’t seen it…they kill the half Latino-half Black mutant first. He’s named Darwin. Real name Armando Munoz. Seriously, a guy with a nickname that reeks of survival of the fittest……was killed FIRST. Was his power something super stupid and lame? No. He could adapt his body to survive most any environment or threat. Yet…..they find a way to kill him in the movie. In the comics he’s actually a cool character and does so much more than this throwaway role in the movie. The other minority character, Angel Maldonado, known as Angel (not the Warren Worthington one unfortunately) starts out as a stripper and then eventually becomes a villain. Quit whining, I’m not spoiling anything! If you are reading these geek shenanigans, odds are you have already seen the movie. So the remaining hero characters are all white and save the day. Two of the villains look physically menacing and different so they cannot hide their mutations. So the different looking, darker colored mutants are obviously the meanies? Of course. Let’s give one of them horns and a tail!!! The black man is the devil!!!! BOOOOOO!!!!! This movie takes place in a fictional version of the early 1960s. An era full of social and racial upheaval and you couldn’t at least let the brutha survive to the end of the movie?!!!
Anyone who knows me knows that I love Pulp Fiction and Jules Winnfield. That nigga is the shit, but he’s still a bad man. The difference was he was so damned cool about it!!! Anybody who can rock a jheri-curl, spout out fake bible verses, and have a wallet with BAD MOTHERFUCKER on it is a straight up…well…..bad motherfucker. Again, the character was written by a crazy white dude. Albeit Tarantino grew up around black folks so his portrayal of black people was colored by his experiences around black people. Stereotype or not, anyone who has grown up or lived in the ghetto knows at least one scary black dude. My point is that these are the only ones that we get to see in popular entertainment these days. I guess I’m as guilty as anyone of perpetuating this situation by still watching, reading, and playing these properties. I just notice it more lately than I used to.
This subject I’m going black angry geek on was touched upon much better and funnier in “Chasing Amy.” Best part of that film, besides Jay and Silent Bob. I just was thinking about this subject and had to get it out of my system. While playing a video game. I thought, “Why aren’t there any black or latino men or women portrayed as the hero of games. The main playable character? He or she is usually always Caucasian. If there is a black character, he is the sidekick or comic relief or cannon fodder. Is this blatant, purposeful racism? Nah, most times no. The majority of people who make movies, games, comics, books, and the like are white men. You create what you know and are familiar with and relate to so they write, create, draw, and digitize white dudes that have traits they most think they would have were they the character in the game. Stuff they think is cool. Women aren’t protrayed much better in science-fiction either. Either butched up man-haters or femmed up fighting in high heels and tight spandex. Either way they always have big tits and tight asses. Women and minorities are getting the shaft here! What gives, man?! Seriously, the real problem is there aren’t enough minorities within these jobs that would portray minorities as the great hero and maybe…one day…….a black person will make it to the end of a horror movie and be the survivor!
Lawd knows I’m tired of it being the pretty white girl all the motherfucking time!!!