I purposely moved my wrap up post to March. Why, because every month should be Black History Month. Seriously, it’s just American History told from a different perspective. These characters aren’t just important so Black kids can see themselves, although that is the most important reason, but they are also important so everyone sees the world as it is, in all it’s diversity. When I was 13 and read my first X-Men comic, Storm was the character who spoke to me. As a little White girl, it never occurred to me that she didn’t look like me, I admired everything about her (especially her mohawk so there!). Somewhere else a 13-year-old African-American girl may have read Uncanny X-Men also and identified more with Kitty Pryde who was a teenager herself. Yet somewhere in that girl’s mind Storm’s presence made a quiet impact.Subconsciously saying, you have a place in this world, you can be a leader. It’s not that we need to just idolize characters who look like us, it’s that there should be characters who look like everyone so it mirrors the real world.
The best story about this is the famous one about Nichelle Nichols. She planned on quitting Star Trek early in the series because of her frustration at the lack of storyline for her character. I’ll leave her to tell the story:
As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.” I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young “Star Trek” fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….” I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!” I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….” I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not a Black role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”
There is also a theory that we were ready to elect a Black president because of the media’s depictions of presidents who were Black, most notably Dennis Haysbert’s character on 24. He appeared on television 24 weeks a year for 5 years. Possibly tunneling into the subconscious of the American public and building the idea that a Black man could be president (There were far more nuanced discussions of this after the first election but unfortunately I couldn’t find them).
The late Dwayne McDuffie said it best, “You don’t feel as real if you don’t see yourself reflected in the media…There’s something very powerful about seeing yourself represented.” (Chicago Sun-Times 1993)
So thank you to all the creators, Black and White who make the comic world more diverse and inclusive. Some child will grow up to be a superhero because you showed them they could be anything they wanted to be.
Here is the master list of my Black History Month posts: