Saturday, September 22, 2012

[Link] Understanding Ethnocrunching – How Racism Works In The Comic Industry

by Brandon Easton

A few weeks back, Rich Johnston published an article by Tim Hanley examining the employment numbers of White women, women of color and non-White men at Marvel Entertainment and DC Entertainment. The findings were awful but not unexpected as the Big Two have long been dominated by a culture of nepotism that routinely excludes women and non-White men, particularly Black/African-American men.

Clearly, breaking into Marvel or DC is insanely difficult and few people of any background manage to get close; but the fact that there are less than 3.0% of Blacks credited on all Marvel and DC titles as of June 2012 illustrates a serious problem that requires greater exploration. I’m not the first one to discuss this as Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin and Dwayne McDuffie have shared their valuable experiences as Black men working in the mainstream comic book industry. Their experiences haven’t always been pleasurable and now, in 2012, things don’t seem to have gotten better.

Before I go further, we must understand that American race relations are very complicated and cannot be fully explained or understood through the microcosm of superhero comics. Any anonymous internet discussion of racism (in comics and in general) usually morphs into a virtual pissing match of accusation, denial, debasement, personal anecdotes and a lack of common decency. Everything becomes personalized, people make speeches and few walk away with increased clarity on the issues of race and prejudice. In the U.S., it becomes a situation where some White people feel personally indicted as a racist and the burden rests on Black people to 1) prove racism still exists and impacts all of us, 2) explain the difference between a White person living their daily lives vs. the institutionalized system of racism, and 3) defend yourself against claims of “reverse” racism as the very mention of the issue means that you hate White people. Almost every online discussion of race boils down to these three arguments before it’s all said and done. And ultimately, nothing changes because some folks refuse to separate the system from their personal identity.

Let me give you an example, during my undergraduate years, I took a few classes dealing with feminism and gender studies. I never once considered myself, a Black male, as a participant in sexism and patriarchy. I always thought of myself as being “more” enlightened than my male brethren on issues of equal rights for women. The revelation that I had sexist ideas drilled into my psyche was unsettling. I hated feeling like a bad guy. First, I blamed my professors, labeling them as “feminazis.” Then I gave endless examples from my personal life about how fairly I treated women compared to most men. For months, I carried a deep, burning hatred of feminism and those who preached the tenets of gender politics because I believed that the problem wasn’t “that bad” and it would go away if they would just shut up. Eventually, after many long years of self-reflection, I realized that it was not me – Brandon Easton – they were criticizing; it was the system of sexism itself and showing me how I was an unwilling participant in patriarchy didn’t mean I was an evil person. It just meant I needed to grow as a human being.

One more thing, I’m not an advocate of affirmative action in comics. Either you have talent or you don’t. The problem is that those with talent aren’t getting the same opportunity to pitch ideas as others. The numbers don’t lie. The question is why are the numbers so low?

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