A Hint of Color – Series Conspectus
Measuring the Value of Whiteness
Representation matters, and how People of Color are presented in speculative fiction and pop culture matters even more. Join a former Naval electrician, father, cosplayer and African-American public speaker as he delves deep. From pulp and comic-inspired blockbusters to the heights of sci-fi, we’ll examine the many ghoulish caricatures and celebrated victories along the way.
My, my, look what we have here; an examination of the value of whiteness in “fandom”—something that behooves us all to take a closer look at. This may come as a shock to white people everywhere, but—believe it or not—you are not the be-all end-all of what people want to see. In fact, truth be told, you aren’t even third on the list!
But let’s start with the term fandom. A fandom, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc. regarded collectively as a community or subculture” [ 1 ]. Let’s dissect that concept for a minute. It’s pretty hard to have an isolated fandom, as by their very nature they are a living and ever-changing culture—just like the one you live in. For example, in the 1970s, one of the largest “fandoms” was disco. A huge chunk of the American population was listening to disco until, seemingly overnight, everyone hated it. The biggest piece of the pop music pie in the 1980s was either pop or rock depending on who you ask, until it wasn’t: the 1990s brought grunge and rap, and the process continued.
Understandably, that is a rather simplified look at about 30 years of what we will call the music fandom, and I know some of you are thinking, “What about punk, country, jazz (one of my personal favorites), etc.?” Those are subcultures; they might not be technically on the list, but with so many fandoms based on the number of people following them, the top one or two dictate what the “fandom” gets called. This extends to speculative fiction and pop culture fandoms as well.
Enter now our main focus: the Nerdiverse. The Nerdiverse is composed of many different groups of activities that usually center on a particular media type—media such as comic books, role playing games, video games, books, TV shows, movies, and so forth. Each one has its own idiosyncrasies, as they often have more divisions amongst them for genre, era, ideology, and other distinctions.
In America, many of us foolishly embrace our own ethnocentrism, touting that we’re the best at everything and that what matters to us is pertinent, even sublime, to the entire planet—in every genre and in every media type. This view is due mostly to ignorance and small-mindedness, but because it does exist, we will address it as necessary.
Delving into the Nerdiverse, let’s begin with how media such as movies interact with this paradigm. We can break movie genres into a variety of subjects such as horror, comedy, sci-fi, drama, action, romantic comedy, etc. Ironically, the one that has the most drama isn’t drama—it’s science fiction and fantasy. A lot of superhero movies end up in these genres and they provide an interesting platform to view the relative “whiteness” of these films. It should also be noted that, due to draconian immigration laws, rampant racism, and a history of murdering anybody that isn’t white, white people make up the largest percentage of the population at over 75 percent [ 2 ]; as a result, they often view things through the whitest of white lenses—and the further back in history you go, the whiter the viewpoint.
In the early days of movies, non-white characters were often played by white actors. Black people were played by white people in blackface (Amos and Andy). Asian people were played by white people in yellow face and glasses with buck teeth (Mickey Rooney). Genghis Khan was played by John Wayne; Cleopatra by Elizabeth Taylor. You get the picture. We still see this happening and it is referred to as Whitewashing. The discourse around this is often framed by a combination of selective ignorance and apathy dubbed by some the white empathy gap [ 3 ].
Funny thing, when you break that down it basically states that even though white people can empathize with E.T., King Kong, elves, and dwarves, as soon as an intelligent black person is added to a movie it becomes unwatchable for some of them. Indeed, it makes a movie appear so horrible that some are willing to say things foul enough that they should never kiss their mothers with those mouths again. The problem in America is that those individuals’ mothers often spout the same sort of statements; where do you think they learned it from?
The answer to why this is our cultural norm is that racism, not baseball, is America’s national pastime. This shows up very clearly in the sci-fi market. There’s that classic joke: “What do you call a black guy in a sci-fi movie?” “First casualty.” The same thing is true of almost any genre in America.
However, today, some things are beginning to change. Comic books and movies are doing something they never did before: taking a page from the Trump school of advertising. They have been adding more non-white people to movies and comic books and letting the controversy be free advertisement for the property. This wasn’t necessarily the original intention behind the additions, but once someone in marketing found out that this would happen every single time a person of color was put in a lead role—a role some sensitive snowflake felt should be a white role—they started leaking that information just to see what would happen. It typically became a media blitz. One picture and a comment about multiculturalism and boom! Instant marketing magic.
Take for instance, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You would think a movie taking place in one of the most loved franchises in movie history would be welcomed back into theaters after what many interpreted as the debacle that was Episodes I, II, and III. But no: the press kit showed what looked like a possibly romantic connection between the two lead characters—a black man and a white woman. Snowflakes everywhere began screaming that they (it’s always an amorphous “they”) were trying to force ideas down our throats, that black people didn’t belong in Star Wars, and that Star Wars was forever ruined [ 4 ]. This energy was kept up until the first actual trailer hit theaters, after which it sort of settled down, as the romance didn’t really manifest, the black guy sort of drifted out of the picture, and Rey became the focus. Snowflakes apparently have more racism in their veins than sexism.
They repeated the same stunt when Rogue One came out, showing many different races fighting against the empire [ 5 ]. This makes sense as the Empire is a racist, xenophobic, human-centric organization (that’s “Space Nazi” for those in the nosebleeds). You would think that the White Right would love a movie where Blacks, Latinos, and Asians die in incredible numbers to a Nazi-styled fascist military organization. But, no, instead they ruined their own fun and, rather than reveling in the minorities dying, simply complained that they were on camera doing it. Some people just can’t be happy even when they get what they want.
Where white people are “concerned”, there’s another branch of the institutional racism tree that isn’t commonly discussed. So, let’s dig into that. There is a small group of racists that are passive-aggressive participants. They don’t attack; they counter. They don’t say racism doesn’t exist; they say we shouldn’t focus on it. Of course, they aren’t the ones dying because of it. They say that All Lives Matter (which didn’t show up until Black Lives Matter did). They “don’t see” color (probably because they know their friends are making a concerted effort to wipe it out). But they are part of the reason that this happens with every movie that is released in America.
So, for the record, let’s point out some commonalities:
- Rule 1: The fewer people of color in media, the more Americans seem to like it. (This has been slowly reversing over the years.)
- Rule 2: If people of color must be in media, such as a film, it is preferable that they be shown in a negative fashion, i.e., tribal savages, gang bangers, criminals, corrupt, stupid, or just plain ineffective.
- Rule 3: The best role for a person of color is a character that is killed or incapacitated quickly.
- Rule 4: If a person of color is not one of the “approved” roles (see Rule 2) then it is an attempt by the liberal media to force their agenda down our throats.
- Rule 5: If you can find a reason not to have a person of color in your movies, use it.
This mindset has been part of the film industry and media for ages. We have heard neo-racist statements from many people in Hollywood who state that their movie doesn’t have a need for people of color in it. A lot of sci-fi movies simply put an alien in the place of a person of color and evade the issue. Or better still, they just make movies about people and time frames that they can comfortably cut brown folks out of it entirely. I mean if Mel Gibson hadn’t left that amazingly racist voicemail [ 6 ], we probably wouldn’t have looked back and noticed that most of his movies have no brown people at all. I mean how many primary characters would have been black in say, The Patriot, or Braveheart? But even when it would have made sense to put a few of them in, for example in What Women Want, they are noticeably lacking. I mean, that movie did take place in Chicago.
Tim Burton just put the first black main character in one of his movies. He has been making movies since 1971, and yet only one primary character in over 40 years has been black (see Rule 2). Woody Allen has a total of three movies with black people in them. Few of those characters even interact with the main characters. In fact, he stated that he doesn’t hire black people unless the story calls for them [ 7 ]. Then he spends half of a century making sure that every story he writes has no black people in it (see Rule 5). Matt Damon once said that (paraphrasing), “Diversity matters only during casting but not when considering who is behind the camera” (see Rule 5) [ 8 ]. There are many black actors in Hollywood, but even when they’re cast, a lot of them then immediately get covered in prosthetics and paint. This has happened to Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, and Paula Patton (see Rule 5) [ 9 ].
To be clear, this doesn’t just happen in the movies. It often happens in other types of media. For example, when Peter Parker died in Earth-1610 (a comic book), Miles Morales (a young black man) took the role of Spider-Man. Now, please remember the guy that originally played the role in that particular slice of the Marvel multiverse had died. And yet people all over the internet got upset saying that the role of Spider-Man should be a white guy. That’s right: they wanted the replacement Spider-Man to be white, as well. For no other reason than that the first one had been white. This happens all the time in comics, but it doesn’t often get into the mainstream media news [ 10 ].
There was a similar blowup when it was discovered that one of the first successors to the title of Captain America was a Black man, well before Sam Wilson would inherit the role. An acknowledgement of the gruesome chapter of America’s history – the Tuskegee experiments, the government didn’t want to risk another white boy while they tweaked and refined their Super-Soldier serum – so they rounded up some black guys to test it first. Of the successful candidates, an all-black platoon was constructed and sent on lost causes. The comic The Truth: Red, White and Black and the show Falcon and Winter Soldier differ on the details, but in both cases, Isaiah Bradley remains a buried chapter in Marvel’s history. In both continuities, refusal to be made a sacrificial lamb and to stand idly by for the unconscionable leads this Captain America to be court-martialed, disgraced, and imprisoned, with significant accompanying trauma [ 11 ], [ 12 ]. That’s Rule 1, and potentially Rule 3, for those of you following closely. This phenomenon has even reached overseas, with Doctor Who having only had a handful of black characters in primary roles in over 50 years of filming, comics, books, and radio [ 13 ].
The Existence of Black People as a Problem
It’s abundantly clear that there’s a chunk of American society that would rather not see black people at all. Perhaps they’d prefer that we not exist entirely. But this wasn’t always the case. Back when their great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was a lazy bum with some money in his pocket, he happily shelled out the loot to hire a black slave to do his work for him. And when he got a little jungle fever, he had no problem raping the slave he’d just bought despite the “sanctity” of his marriage vows. And when the children of that illicit relationship happened, he had no problem selling his own children into more of the slavery he supported. Does this seem farfetched? Think about how many light-skinned blacks and even white-skinned blacks are out there.
It seems probable that most of the people who claim to hate people of color are probably mixed race but simply don’t know it. Perhaps it bothers them to know that not only was their ancestor a rapist, torturer, murderer, and slaver, but he was every bit as lazy as they claim black people are today. Nowhere has this been made more obvious than the Jefferson-Hemmings controversy. Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, forced himself on a female slave for 38 years and fathered many children with her. Founding “father,” indeed. One of these children went on to become a Colonel in the U.S. Army and looked as white as can be, with not one of his contemporaries knowing that he was, by their definition, black [ 14 ]. There are a lot of them out there. So, if your wife or girlfriend has a black baby, either one of you could be the culprit. Might want to get that DNA checked.
But even so, why all the hate towards black people? I have come up with two potential reasons that I consider viable. First: when you read a book or watch a movie, you usually have to pick which side you’re rooting for—the good guys or the bad guys. But what if all your ancestors were the bad guys? In fact, what if your entire society was built on hundreds of years of doing evil things? That makes you and everything you believe in the “bad guys”. You can either accept the truth of that reality or you can deny it, say it’s an exaggeration, and blame all the problems your ancestors have generated on the victims. Or you can accept it for what it is, make peace with it, try to become a better person, and move on.
Second: you’ve thought about it and decided that enslaving people really sounds like a great idea. Being the bad guy isn’t that bad if you win and can get away with it. In fact, me and a few of the boys should get together and try to bring back the good ole days. What? There are already people trying to do that?! I’m game. Let me get this white hood and head on down to the local chapter.
But this is America. What about the rest of the world? Well, they’re kind of doing their own thing. In fact, many movies coming from the West have to be edited differently or have the title changed, or sometimes they don’t make it to other countries at all. For example, movies where every Middle Easterner is a terrorist tend to not go over well in the Middle East. Movies about religion often tank in China. American comedies never go over well in Germany. England has a problem with the level of violence in our movies, and Africa has a problem with every movie about their continent that makes them out to be savages in a third world country. The list of reasons why our movies don’t go over well in other countries is nearly endless.
So back to the original question, how important is “whiteness” to the various genres in movies, comics, books, and radio? To a shrinking minority it is very important; indeed, their very lives seem to depend upon it. They are so ensconced in the world of the 1950s that anything else is unacceptable. When you ask them why, some will say it’s their God-given right. Others will say it’s because the “lesser races” need management. Some will say, just because. But the real reason is so much sadder than that.
That’s Mighty White of You
Suppose you bought into the belief that white people are the perfect race. That they were so special that God picked them to be his emissaries on Earth (you did notice they changed Jesus into a white guy, right?). It even says in the Bible that God gave man power over the beasts (they often called black people beasts and used that statement to justify slavery). They even ignored things they already knew about animal husbandry to make their ideology “true.” For example, if black people were a different, lesser species (they often called them monkeys), they shouldn’t be able to have children with them. Yet babies happened with startling regularity. They told their lies so often that they began to believe them. But like so many things we are told growing up, much of it is lies. There is no Santa or Easter Bunny. People are often mean for no reason. People in politics don’t really care about their constituents. White people aren’t the best race on Earth.
There are so many times in history that white people have stolen something and claimed it as their own you would think they were Kender from Dragonlance. Pasta came from China, as did the compass, clock, gunpowder, high-end metallurgy, and so many other things. Architecture came from the people of Africa. Math came from the Middle East and India. All these things were stolen and then claimed by men with white skin. Nowadays many of the red states are doing so poorly, all they have left is a belief that they are the best—and that is slowly being taken away from them by facts. So, they deny facts, they deny science, they deny slavery. The outrage over teaching “critical race theory” (otherwise known as “actual history”) has been widespread. Texas decided that all those black people were merely happy workers. They also decided they shouldn’t mention the Klan or Jim Crow. They hang onto the ideology of the Confederate flag but insist we should get over slavery. How can we get over it when it hangs from every racist’s truck and outside many southern houses? They insist it was about state’s rights. It was: most of the states in their secession documents stated that they wanted the right to keep slaves [ 15 ], [ 16 ]. However, our school system is inconsistent enough that they never had to read the documents that say that not only did they want to maintain slaves, but that slavery was good for those same slaves [ 17 ].
It’s no wonder they don’t want to see black faces. Every successful person of color proves their ideology wrong. That’s why they believe immigrants are displacing them, when instead, their white boss sent those very same jobs overseas. And that brings us back to the question of the value of “whiteness” in all of the aforementioned genres. If you’re one of those people telling yourself the lie of white supremacy, you know what helps? Not seeing successful brown people. The only value of “whiteness” in fandom is to keep the lie alive for just a little bit longer. Some white people don’t want to hear about how a black person may have improved their lives. They stop at stop lights invented by a black person [ 18 ]. They use ball point pens invented by a black person. They use gas masks invented by a black person. They play in the summer heat using a water gun invented by a black person [ 19 ]. Their mom was saved by a medical procedure invented by a black person. The true value of whiteness in the media is its ability to maintain a foothold in willful ignorance, in a world with rapidly diminishing space for it.
- “Much like the Obama administration, commenters point to Black Panther as indicative of a massive ‘change’ in Hollywood and pop culture representation, forgetting it is the exception, not the rule.” Source: shutterstock.com/image-photo/los-angeles-jan-27-black-panther-1297071172. (“LOS ANGELES – JAN 27: Black Panther Cast at the 25th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on January 27, 2019 in Los Angeles, CA”) Shutterstock. Kathy Hutchins.
- “’Mr. West, how good of you to add some color to these monochromatic proceedings.’ The very origin of this series’ title, the quote from Wild Wild West’s absurd villain provides an all too familiar lens for most commentary on racial representation in pop culture. White status quo will acknowledge us, so long as we stay ‘in our area’ and don’t get ‘uppity’.” Source: Wild Wild West. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Warner Bros., 1999.
Mr. Zimmerman is a storied problem solver and adventurer, scouted like so many others, by Mr. Gupta back in 2010. Wes quickly distinguished himself through his diligence and his “knack” for assorted creative work. As the firm’s standards evolved, he has quickly grown with them, elevating from junior, to intermediate, and finally Senior Creative staff for The Living Multiverse. Wes’ is also the single voice, outside of Mr. Gupta’s, on the largest quantity of our audio-recorded Roundtables.
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