Consider this a follow up to yesterday’s post about the fear and annoyance with Brian Michael Bendis writing Riri Williams when he has a clear track record of mishandling black characters.
Shortly after writing my post, I saw a series of tweets by Marvel editor Alanna Smith that really rubbed me the wrong way.
In the first tweet, one that clearly referenced Black anger and annoyance to BMB writing yet another Black legacy character in Riri Willams, Smith said that, “I strongly dislike the idea that people can only write comics starring characters that look like them. Leads to typecasting on both sides…”
She then followed the tweet with a big BUT (literally: “…BUT the industry always needs to do better and I’d love some recs of comics by black female creators. What are you reading/writing now?”) before moving into a series of tweets where she tries to explain her positioning but really doesn’t do more than get gummy White Feminism ™ all up in the gears.
I have a major bone to pick with her over the idea that “both sides” risk being typecast in the comics industry when it comes to writing diverse characters and it’s indicative of a serious problem.
Let’s be very clear here: There is no universe where white guys are typecast or pigeonholed into only writing white guys.
That is literally not how that works.
In fact, white guys regularly write about experiences and identities that don’t belong to them. And they get awards for it. This happens all the time. White guys literally get awards, book deals, film deals, and more for writing the stories that focus on people of color.
They have all of the opportunities and almost none of the blowback when they fuck up.
And they do fuck up.
Remember Mark Waid’s ignorant and tone deaf Strange Fruit series?
How about the author currently sitting on a film deal for gleefully reimagining a world where people that look like me are still suffering in a world where TransAtlantic Slavery is still a thing?
No one has ever stopped these white guys from writing what they want.
So they write everything, even when they have no business doing it.
If you only allowed white guys to work on white guys, most of the creative teams wouldn’t change. What you would see, is a lack of diverse books because the companies wouldn’t see books by or about POC, queer folks, or ladies as important.
Yeah, publishers like to pigeonhole marginalized creators.
But you know what they like even more?
Not hiring them in the first place. You know… the way they do now.
Right now, can you actually name more than five Black women working at DC, Marvel, or Image who are exclusively working with black characters – who are “pigeonholed” into focusing on these characters who look like them? Can you name more than ten Black women working for these companies right now as artists/writers/colorists?
I know I can’t do it without researching first.
And that’s actually a bigger problem than this supposed pigeonholing that isn’t actually happening because marginalized creators aren’t getting into the industry to be pigeonholed in the first place. Let’s worry more about pigeonholing when these people are actually getting jobs in the industry.
Let’s worry about pigeonholing when marginalized creators (I’m talking about creators of color and poor creators and women) who straight up don’t have access to networking, classes, and publishing opportunities, get serious and significant access to the comics industry.
(Like if you’re more interested in fighting for your favorite white creator to write all the things than making a career in the comics industry both viable and possible for people who aren’t white people who are BFFs with someone in the industry already… Well you’re a dick. Do better or shut up.)
Additionally, there are good reasons why straight white guys shouldn’t write certain things. It is literally not their place to write about certain things and when they’re not going to handle them properly, they shouldn’t bother.
As much as I want diverse comics and heroes, I want them to come from diverse creators who can and do bring their experiences to the table. Straight up, the experiences of marginalized folk are not universal and the white guys that tend to work on characters that look like people of color (because we’re not being hired or scouted or whatever unless a white guy fucks up), don’t get that.
It’s as plain as day when you read the content they’re putting out.
I’m tired of men like Bendis, who fuck up and get called out repeatedly but never ever do better. I’m tired of people like Alanna who, when faced with valid anger from marginalized people, gives into the urge to police that anger and the tone these people use before hastily backtracking. I’m tired of the people in charge and the people working on these comics mocking and blocking marginalized folk who criticize them for fucking up.
I’m tired of white guys and only white guys being seen as experts on characters of color, writing/creating diverse heroes, and receiving praise for not fucking up too badly when they could’ve been working with diverse creators to develop these character — or better still, speaking up and bringing diverse creators (like a Black female writer like Mikki Kendall/Karnythia) to work with characters Riri.
Seriously, I refuse to be satisfied with white guy after white guy fumbling their way through half-assed attempts at working with diverse characters.
And if you actually give a damn about diversity on every level of entertainment, you should too.