By Virtue of Our Color

The African King
The African King

Today a friend and I were having a conversation about being a black creator, the label of “Black creator” and the stigma that black characters must have a level of authenticity to them in contrast to their white counterparts. We also discussed whether or not white creators can write black characters with authenticity without offending their audience. Whether it is the African King in comics, the suave street soldier in the movies or the single but successful mother on TV. These characters all have a seal of black authenticity on them, but are they all we’re relegated to and if not why is it all we relegate ourselves to?

 
Now I’m going to jump right into this topic and site a few characters from fiction who are black but don’t behave with what some would call black authenticity, the first is Idris Elba‘s portrayal of John Luther in the British Crime drama “Luther”. Here is a hard-nosed, dog of war cop, whose wife is Indian and whose supporting cast with the exception of one person in season two is all white. He doesn’t speak slang, or have a number of African masks in his house and isn’t overtly what one would consider “Black” unless you consider him constantly having to work twice as hard to prove he’s not insane or even correct in his assumptions. Now here is a strong black male actor, who was cast in a lead role, could we or should we consider this character a black character or a strong character that just so happens to be black? Like the title character of the animated movie/mini series Afro samurai, he is a black samurai who is just as stoic as Mushasi Miamoto or any of Kuroshawa’s epics. His creator designed him after a basketball player, his build and movement art indicative of that, so does that make him black?

Black or Not?
Black or Not?

 

Wesley Snipes’ portrayal of the Blade the vampire hunter garnered some fame for the character and while no one would dare say that Mr. Snipes isn’t a black actor, was the character he portrayed black? In the comics especially recently he doesn’t seem to carry himself as a traditional black character even going as far to say , and I’m paraphrasing, “When you’re alive for as long as I am color doesn’t really matter.” when asked by Luke Cage a man who some would consider the de facto black hero, “why he couldn’t be happy that black heroes had teamed up.” again I’m paraphrasing but you get the point.

 

Now that leads me into the second part of this article, the matter of color. The above conversation between Blade and Cage has another layer beyond “Hey this is a team-up, let’s have fun.” and that is ” Hey, we’re black so start acting like it.” Now we can talk about the notion of “acting black” until we are blue in the face, but I’ll just point to a few characters created by people of color and we can weight in on whether they’re authentically black or not.

 

How Black am I?
How Black am I?

The first character I’d like to mention is Milestone comicsVirgil Ovid Hawkins AKA Static, Now some people are going to look at this and say “How are you going to argue that, there’s no question that he’s authentically black.” If we examine the character however we maybe forced to reconsider our definition of what that is. Vigil is an unabashed nerd, a trivia buff and all around prankster with a love of science and comic books. His powers are of the electro-magnetic variety and he’s damn good at using them, however they don’t come from an African God or a Jail experiment gone wrong and while he is black he fights for, with and against people of many shades and ethnicities not to mention the fact that he’s never shot anyone and when given the chance to throws the gun away. This is not to say that he doesn’t deal with situations that may at most times be attributed to black people, these are ones involving criminal behavior, which anyone as shown in his comic can be caught up in. Now back in my day any of the things that Virgil was into (and even still today) would get him labeled a geek, a lame or a nerd (back when the term was negative) couple that with the black nerd stigma and he could very possibly be outcast in both black and nerd culture (which as many of you know is often but not all the time homogenous). Will Power (7)

 

The second character I’d like to draw attention to, is one created by an associate of mine this character is known as Will Power. This is a character who is a traditional all American quarterback who happens to be black, however creator Vince white never attached the black quarterback stigma often attached to real world quarterbacks of African decent. What’s more, white never once has the character or anyone else including his white girl friend, mentioned that he’s black unless you count the fact that he attracts dark matter (I nod to Vince for this). Will power in short is a hero who happens to be black, he doesn’t talk street but is there a certain something that we get from the character that would tell us he was black if we were told his story but didn’t see any of the images?

 

Does it matter whether or not we add a particular flavor to our characters and if we don’t are we doing our people or ourselves a disservice?

 

I leave you with these questions to ponder.

 

 

This article was written and submitted to Wordofblackheroes.com

By guest writer Rachaun Rogers.

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Caribbean born college lecturer, Multidisciplinary specialist/Androgogue/Philosophical Pedagogue; founder/CEO of World of Black Heroes, freelance writer and all around comic book geek. I enjoy a good book, video games, movies and most of all fatherhood. Written credits include work for Islandstage.net, Comicvine, Independent comics etc.

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14 thoughts on “By Virtue of Our Color

  • March 30, 2013 at 3:39 am
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    I believe all these characters exhibit the different sides of black people so in a sense they all are black. As a comic book lover of color, I just wanna see a brotha or sista period. I am used to aliens, robots, animals, and seeing white people. I just like being represented regardless if the character is does not have a “typical” black way of acting…if there is any.

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  • March 30, 2013 at 4:02 am
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    I agree with Adrian’s comments. I have collected comics for the better part of my 48 years (I actually paid 12 cents for a comic and have a good number of 15 cent comics in my collection) and have longed to see ANY black character. Although there has been many new additions, none have the staying power that characters such as the Black Panther or even Black Lighting has. I can only surmise that comic book buyers are a strange and fickle bunch.

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    • March 30, 2013 at 4:06 am
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      Comic book makers as well, they keep resurrecting and recreating under selling white characters all the time. But will cancel successful black series simply to make room for something new.

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  • March 30, 2013 at 4:03 am
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    The fact that we identify ourselves as a color (which is an inanimate thing) rather than a nationality, race, or land mass is the biggest problem we face amongst ourselves. We lack a foundation. That being said our lives are far more dimensional that what is typically shown in media. We are afraid of the brainless cowering character as if that doesn’t exist amongst us. And now it seems we’re ready to shun the streetwise brave hero because of the weight of it. I like it or should I say love it when we’re represented properly, meaning from all angles with no fear and no filter. I think that only we can properly tell our story and if it won’t be us doing it, why should we support characters that look like us but are not true to us. Btw why should feel free to create a type that breaks all molds and doesn’t fit any preconceived category.

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  • March 30, 2013 at 4:07 am
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    We are definitely doing our people a disservice in the worst way. As a black kid growing up I always went looking for HEROS that looked like me. And all I found was Luke cage the ex convict who spoke over the top “jive” and his ” steel hard skin”. All the most popular black characters were made by white creators who only can go by what they were brought up to believe like single parents,ex cons,come from the ghetto,cheesy and second rate criminals,no powers or 2nd rate powers but skilled street fighters,fight crime in the ghetto and so on and so forth. We need a strong black characters from the perspective of strong black creators,artists and writers. Or else…wakanda will be destroyed,power man will have a white baby with a white wife,storm and aqua lad will be made more appealing to white people by giving them white hair and storm will leave her Blackman and get with other white guys, brother voodoo,mr terrific and John Stewart will be killed off.WAAAKE UUUUUPPPP!!!

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  • March 30, 2013 at 4:35 am
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    In all honesty, African Diaspora is what best represent us. It is not housed in African and American perspective only. Our underline ethnicity has a common thread. With that in mind, we as a people adapt to our current environment, and make that culture our own, but we induce it with flavor, Rhythm, (African) appeal. So to say ‘is this us?’, under lens of urban (America) or Rooted Tradition (African) is to pigeon toe whom we’ve become over the centuries.

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  • March 30, 2013 at 5:17 am
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    Great point made above, good flow, good insight from Adrian, Marcus, and Erik…for me, there’s nothing authentic about any of these ‘African’ characters, they are just as stereotypical as the way ‘Birth of a Nation’ portrayed our Black American brothers and sisters; sadder still when the writer is black skinned, they’d have you think all of Africa walks around with spears and wear loin cloth. What is ‘Black’, a melanin count? What is authentic Black? Who decides what is considered officially ‘Black’? Why label ourselves based on melanin-count? Let our work speak, not our skin-color…There’s no burden in being just a creator, and there’s no burden in enjoying a character that looks like myself or you the reader..we’re not a mono-lithic people, and the reason Icon was created was to show our peoples difference of opinion…we can allow us the same space..

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  • March 31, 2013 at 12:55 pm
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    In real life, something has got to be done about the imbalance between races in society, the economy and every other facet, because there was such an unfair system before, and wrongs must be righted. It’s the same with the comic book world, we need to see more black characters, and I’m happy to say that there is progress, and we need to see more. However, there is a danger that the imbalance will always exist if we refer all our thinking back to race. I like specific heroes and villains for the way their creators take the time to mould them, and it’s usually only when I stumble across internet debates when it actually occurs to me that they are of a certain ethnicity.

    Characters that are openly created “for black people” are only another form of segregation, and will not lead us to a more united world. All comic book heroes, regardless of ethnicity, should appeal to humanity as whole. Heroic stories across all mediums help us to believe that people can be better, and even inspire some of us to take heroic action in real life.

    Comic books are not offensive if they reflect modern society the way that it is, with all its diversity. If a certain ethnic group is continually portrayed in comics and movies within a limited number of stereotypes, then of course there will be a problem. I don’t care what colour the comic book creator is, as long as he or she has done their research. Let’s shift our conversation from how particular characters of colour are treated in the comic book world to the scourge of lazy writing – the real root of repeated use of stereotypes.

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  • March 31, 2013 at 10:07 pm
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    Well All I want to see is a Black character without the “diversity” that goes along with them, (they are half black have something else, they are gay, or they are dating someone white). Sigh can’t they just be black without trying to kill 10 birds with one stone?

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  • April 3, 2013 at 2:03 am
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    I agree, it’ll never get balanced by ignoring what color the creator or writer is because historically they’ve already set the standard of how we are perceived. Before addressing stereotypes or anything else it must be RACE FIRST. And that means all black everything.

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  • April 3, 2013 at 2:45 am
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    Also I would just like to have great well writtten character that just happens to be black! you don’t have to be authentic just a well done. when writers take the time to create a white character, they don’t add white stereotype, or make them authentic of a white person, they just create a great character. All I want is for them to take the time to develope a black character the same way they do for superman or batman. Hell Batwing could of been a great one or static, but as usual they got lazy. SMH

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    • April 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm
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      I need to reblog that Algorithm one of these days Hannibal. Thanks! and keep up the good work on Komplicated!

      Reply
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