Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ethnicity/Race/Gender and Superheroes



In one of the many groups I am part of this really talented person made himself a truly epic Batman cosplay costume. This young man also happens to be black. Shouldn't be a big deal. A costume is a costume and fun is fun. Some people tried to tell him that "historically Batman is white", usually right after the phrase "I'm not racist but". Then they would go on and say he should dress as a character that is already black.

There is so much wrong here I am not sure where to start.

First off, if someone does a lot of hard work creating a costume for a character they love then either applaud the hard work or shut your mouth. Unless you are applauding their hard work or you have something constructive  to say (I see you did Technique A for the gloves, you can do Technique B instead and save yourself some time, money  and aggravation) or a question (What material did you use to create the six pack ab effect?) then you have nothing to say.

Second, bringing up a fictional character as some sort of historical context for the validity of your racism is mind boggling backward. Even Lenny from of Mice and Men wouldn’t use that kind of argument.

If we go into the REAL history of many of our beloved superheroes we will find racist motivations behind many of the reason a character was white. Batman was created at a time when no publisher would have allowed a black superhero.  Same with Superman.  Nineteen thirties America was not an enlightened place, and we still have a long way to go. 

And even many of the non male, non white superheroes feel a bit like token characters. Not all of them, just many of them. 

At the same time I do think that doing a gender swap, or a skin color swap on a superhero does change that superhero, but I think it adds a much needed level of depth and complexity. Imagine a Batman who was black. How would police perceive him? Would have ever get the praise he deserves or would he always be treated as a criminal just as bad as those he pursues?

And no you don’t need to make him Batwing, or Batkid, or some other bullshit Bat-deviation.  All that does is place the character in a lesser position than the actual Batman. You may not think this is important. But really it kind of is. There is something call stereotype threat.   

You may not think it affects you, but it does. That is its nature. Study after study (not linking to them here, because there are too many and if you are really interested do the research your own damn self) has shown that just being aware of a stereotype is enough for it to have an effect on your performance. This Batman is “historically” white is just an extension of Asians being good at math. And yes a positive stereotype for one group will have negative consequences on another group. If you sit a group of people down and say Asians always score better on this test, all those who are not of Asian descent will do much worse than the control group.

That is my rant.
If you’re not helping the cause for equality, keep your damn mouth shut.

No, this is not the costume.