The Reality of Bendis Writing Blackness

Riri Williams and Tony

In theory, I know I should be happy that we’re getting more diversity in the form of Riri Williams,  a young black woman/girl taking over the role of Iron Man from Tony Stark.

In reality?

I’m getting sick and tired of these companies swearing up and down that they really want to promote diversity before putting yet another white male writer on a book with a character of color as the focus. (You know… instead of finding writers of color — especially Black female writers — to handle the character.)

I’m especially vexed that the man behind this is Mr. Brian Michael “My Spider-Man doesn’t see what so important about him being Black in a world that loves Blackness but hates Black people” Bendis.

PhotoGrid_1467832563825~2.jpg

From Spider-Man #2 (2016)

Look, the second you take a legacy character of color and you decide that they’re going to express discomfort with the fact that people are excited by them being a person of color, you’re not someone I want writing any character of color.

By having Miles say that he doesn’t want to be the “Black” Spider-Man in direct response to seeing someone on television freaking excited about him being brown in a world where white superheroes crowd the skies, Bendis has ended up on my shit list.

(Note also that there’s definitely a “mock the supposed average tumblr user” vibe inherent in the language and character used as a foil to Miles just wanting to be “normal”.)

Bendis is white. Super white even.Sure, he has two adopted Black daughters (one who is African-American and another who is Ethiopian), but, as evidenced in his work, that doesn’t mean he knows shit about Blackness.

Things that happen to Black people, happen around him.

Over-average police brutality? Being followed around in stores because of your blackness? Having people refuse to date you because you’re black? Being labeled a “fast tailed girl” the second you start to get a hint of breast tissue?

He never grew up hearing the talk about what to do when the police confront you in order to have some hope of surviving. He watches news reports of Black people being killed by the police (122 so far in 2016 with the death of Alton Sterling) and knows that it will NEVER happen to him.

Bendis won’t (can’t) have access to the painful parts of Blackness, but he also doesn’t have access to the joyful parts of Blackness.

These are so many things that Bendis will never experience, that he just straight up cannot bring to the table when he writes a Black character, because the closest he comes to Blackness is through his daughters.

Bendis writes Miles being unaware of what it means to be the “Black Spider-Man” when people of color in public spheres talk constantly about how they strive to provide representation to children like them who grew up without seeing themselves in movies or shows.

In his books Miles is adrift, removed from Blackness and his Puerto-Rican-ness due to being orphaned [1] and leaving his universe. He doesn’t interact with or exhibit Blackness in any meaningful way besides being dark skinned. Miles exists in whiteness that’s nearly unbroken except for his friendship with Ganke and occasional hangouts with Nick Fury.

Remember what I linked to about “digital brown paper dolls” in the Dragon Age fandom?

Miles is fast becoming one of them with Bendis’ colorblind approach to blackness.

I can only imagine that his take on Riri will also lack nuance and understanding of what it means to be a Black woman in a world dominated by white male heroes and villains.

And that’s messed up considering how he’s being tapped to write these Black legacy characters when he has no actual idea of what it means to be Black in America.

I’m annoyed at how Bendis keeps being handed opportunities to write young black people in comics when he has exhibited (via Miles) that he has no experience with or understanding Blackness in its many forms.

His writing is clearly coming from a place of white privilege and I am beyond pissed that Marvel keeps refusing to do the legwork and get Black creators (especially Black women) on their books that are about character who are Black.

Mavrel thinks that white guys can tell our stories better than we can, because you know… we don’t get the offers to write these books. Black creators in comics want these books. We’ve been reinventing and racebending white guys as characters of color since day-freaking-one.

We’re just not getting the chance to write or draw them into canon unless we have approximately fifty thousand publishing credits behind them.

(Which… I have thoughts on how the comics industry, fandom, and even comic classes/contests are only even vaguely accessible to artists seeking employment and how they’re not accessible to writers at all – especially marginalized ones – but it’ll have to wait for a later post.)

In the end, I can’t be excited about Riri Williams beyond the very vagueness of her existence. Why? Because the people Marvel tags as experts on Blackness keep being white guys and for the most part, they keep messing up.

Yes, Ta-Nehisi Coates is on Black Panther now, but how many white guys came before? How many will come after?

Yes,  Jeremy Whitley is a white creator that writes fantastic and well-portrayed Black girls and women in comics (his Misty Knight/Danny Rand story in Secret Romance was amazing) while also boosting the voices of Black female creators, but he is legitimately one of the few guys in his position doing it.

Marvel wants the diversity credit. That’s how we’re getting a focus on Miles, on Kamala, and now on Riri, legacy characters of color who come after white heroes. But for the most part (because Kamala is portrayed in a nuanced, lovely way that doesn’t trade on erasure or stereotypes), they want credit for shallow steps into the diversity pool.

Marvel wants credit for characters and creators who look right but toe the party line.

They want credit for racebending one minor or villainous character per film/show (while whitewashing the hell out of others). They want credit for creating characters who show up in one or two comic series in twenty years, never get their own shows or arcs on shows they appear on, or appear in the MCU. They want credit for stuff like giving us a Native hero in Red Wolf while allowing someone like Nathan Edmondson to work on the book.

But we’re supposed to believe that diversity is totally the most important thing to Marvel?

Okay.

If Marvel actually and honestly gave a shit about diversity, they would snag diverse creative teams to work on these books from the very start…

Not give white guys tons of opportunities to (mis)handle characters of color they way they’ve been doing with Bendis.


[1] Miles is not an orphan. This is in part because in the main continuity now, both of his parents are alive as well as because in the previous continuity, only his mother was killed off.  This really insightful response to my post points out that:

brian michael bendis kills miles’s mother in the original ultimate run, not his father, but makes his black father out like some sort of reformed criminal only to make him a former shield agent in main continuity (where his mother is alive as of my last read). the real problem is that bendis inserts white male characters (tony stark, peter parker) into miles’s life as if he does not already have a black father


For more on my thoughts about racebending and legacy characters of color especially as it relates to what these things mean to characters of color, please read: Dear Comic Fans, You’re Racist and Racebending Scares You from August 2015.

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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2 Responses to The Reality of Bendis Writing Blackness

  1. Reblogged this on Fleet Sparrow and commented:
    I’d also like to add (on top of the shitstorm that’s Miles Morales’s surprise!colorblindness) is that every time Bendis writes Miles reminding people he’s Afro Latino, he says “Hispanic”.

    Let me tell you right now, no Latinx person describes themselves as “Hispanic”. We say we’re Mexican, Salvadorian, Nicaraguan, Puerto Rican (in Miles’s case); if not specifying, we’ll say Latinx. People from Spain don’t even call themselves “Hispanic” because what does that even say? You speak Spanish? You are part of the demographic nobody wants to count?

    Being Puerto Rican in New York (New fucking York, like are you shitting me?) without any acknowledgement of what that means, how it reflects on who he is, on where he grew up, on *anything* is ignorant at best.

    There’s nothing wrong with having him struggle with his identity (too Black? too Puerto Rican? too Afro-Latino? how do all those intersect? how do you identify with conscience when someone/thing makes you choose one?), that’s fine. That’s what mixed race people do all the time. But ain’t no one goes around calling themselves census identifications.

    (Except White people who like throwing around “Caucasian” like that’s not a hot mess, I guess.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Bendis, Opportunism, and Bad Judgment Calls in a Terrible Time | Stitch's Media Mix

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