Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Diversity, or Lack Thereof

Chinese-American Jubilee
When you have a conversation about comics and action figures through a feminist lens, it also brings up topics like diversity and inclusion. If you happen to be a white male, maybe the lack of diversity in this medium hasn't really occurred to you, but if you're (for instance) a black female, you're reminded fairly often that there aren't many heroes or heroines who look like you. Quick! how many black superheroines can you name without looking them up? How many black characters, period? Or Hispanic? Or Asian? Or gay? Or disabled?

Disabled Lt. Sparks
It's a common piece of advice to writers, "write what you know," and there's not a ton of diversity in the offices of the Big Two. Mostly straight white males are writing about mostly white, majority male, predominantly straight characters. Things are changing, slowly. Gail Simone on Batgirl had Alysia Leoh confiding to Barbara that she's transgender (and bisexual) and shone a spotlight on LGBT characters. We've seen a few gay marriages in comics recently, too, with Marvel's Northstar and (surprisingly for some) in the Archie Comics town of Riverdale, to the horror of One Million [narrow-minded] Moms.

Mentally ill Aurora and her gay twin brother Northstar
Grace Gipson (one of the Black Girl Nerds) was interviewed by the Huffington Post about her research on black heroines. "I chose this research because I wanted to provide a voice from a black woman's perspective regarding comics, especially the black female characters." When She-Ra was popular, entrepreneur Yla Eason founded Olmec Toys because of her son. In 1985, there weren't action figures he could relate to as an African American boy, so she set out to make some. For all the issues involved later, she gave non-white children heroes they could aspire to be. The Bronze Bombers (AA G.I. Joes), Butterfly Woman (AA She-Ra) and Sun-Man (AA He-Man) were important, and showed that there was demand for these toys.

African American Storm
But why is all this diversity important? The world is both very big and very small. It got a lot smaller when the Internet made it possible for people all across the globe to share their passions. The days of living in a monochromatic world are gone, and even if you are a straight white dude, you have to acknowledge that there are people who are not like you, who have just as much to offer to the conversation. It's important because our children learn from us, and model our behavior -- bigoted behavior is learned. Violence against persons not like you is learned. You don't get to live in that tiny, isolated world anymore -- those days are over. And frankly, I don't get why you'd want to.

Hispanic La Lunatica

It's up to us as consumers to demand that our superheroes be as diverse a population as the world we live in. Support the writers and artists who bring us characters who are well-written and interesting, not just tokens of any given minority. Make your voice heard. They're creating this stuff for us to buy, after all.

Celebrate the similarities with your fellow human beings, and appreciate the things that make us different, too.

Relevant Links

World of Black Heroes
Black Girl Nerds
Black Action Figure
The Museum of Black Superheroes 

Prism Comics (nonprofit promoting LBGT comics and creators)

Lonely Gods: Social Minorities in American Superhero Comic Books

Ethan Lewis at Den of Geek has a series of "top 10" lists:
1/7: Characters with Disabilities
2/7: PoC/Hispanics in Comics
3/7: Non-Christians in Comics
4/7: LBGTQ Comic Characters
5/7: Women in Comics
6/7: Minorities in Comics: The Creators
7/7: Activism and Community

Native Americans in Comic Books: A Critical Study, a book by Michael Sheyahshe

International Catalogue of Superheroes (not strictly non-white characters, but worth looking at)


ShesFantastic said...

Great post. Diversity in toys is something I'm always thinking about. Last year I tried to do a month of themed action figure reviews for Black History Month and I ended up hitting a wall early on. (http://www.shesfantastic.com/search/label/BHM). Then later I tried to do a similar collection of reviews around Thanksgiving featuring Native American characters, and I couldn't even get off the ground. I focus all my reviews on female characters, but I'm always hoping I'll someday find a blog on minority action figures. I think it's a goldmine of interesting posts and reviews.

Those Den of Geek links are terrific, too.


Wendy said...

There was another site that I ran across that I was unable to locate when I wrote this, focusing on the characters in comics (not specifically the action figures). He hadn't been updating it, but it was still an awesome and organized list of minority characters. I'll see if I can find it and pass it along. :D

Wendy said...

It might have been the Lonely Gods link I was thinking of. I did find a book that is relevant to Native American characters, though, and it's available for the Kindle and Nook (Kindle is cheaper): Native Americans in Comic Books.