WHY Black & Brown Representation in Pop Culture Is Important. A Rant.

Sometimes, especially when the tide of current events crashes against shores of racism and the violent murder of racial minorities, it feels so silly to be writing a silly little blog about silly little things like comic books and sci-fi television. What could possibly be the point of advocating for fictional Black and Brown characters to have more screen time or to angrily protest their pointless sacrifice in a TV show when in real life young men like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin are murdered with no consequence?

But after the heated moments when we rage and possibly cry and feel our chests tighten up at the thought of having nothing to tell our future Black and Brown sons what they should do, what they could possibly do to avoid the same fate… After those wretched feelings and thoughts tire themselves out… again, it becomes clear. The man who shot at four teenage boys in a car last year and just escaped prosecution for the murder of one of them, he probably watched TV. He probably grew up on movies and TV shows that showed him Black men as drug-dealing, gun-wielding, hard-time serving gangsters who live on the streets with an unmovable kill-or-be-killed mentality. We’ve all seen the stereotypes a million times, and so did Michael Dunn, and so did George Zimmerman… and so did Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

The history of expendable Black and Brown life continues to play out in fiction and in reality as we continue to portray Black boys and girls as crooks and gangsters in both fiction and in the media. And this is not without consequence. These images stay with us. Think how we all relate to and consume ideas from our favorite TV shows and movies. How we take BuzzFeed quizzes to tell us What Character from TV show  X we are most like. Fiction is not inconsequential. It reflects and it informs our beliefs and actions about the world and about the people in it. So when we see a the valiant white male hero save the day again against the “thug” drug dealer, we applaud the hero and retain the image of that dark-skinned killer with a trigger happy finger on his .45.  He’s got baggy pants, and he talks with a particular accent; he listens to rap music and wears a hoodie low on his face. It’s told to us over and over again in these stories. THIS IS WHAT THE BAD GUY LOOKS LIKE. He’s dangerous. He’s homicidal. He’s the cardboard cut-out, poster child of criminality and danger. And he’s Black. Beware!

And consuming these fictions, we see men and women, boys and girls who look not unlike these images on the streets and our first reaction is fear. But it doesn’t stop there. It goes all the way to the courts. A white man who fires a gun into a car of Black children or shoots a hoodied Black teen claims self-defense because he felt threatened. Why did he feel threatened? Well, because this child looked exactly like the criminal threats he’d seen before… on the news… in so many episodes of his favorite prime time crime show…

So, now, we fuss and fidget when we see these portrayals on TV, but more than that we advocate for better portrayals. We don’t just want to see less of these ridiculous stereotypes of Black and Brown people in fiction, we want to see Black and Brown characters as heroes and fighters and lovers and quirky awkward guys caught in love triangles… you know… as real people.  Unfortunately, so much of what ends up on TV and the big screen are remakes of stories already told, back when heroes were only allowed to be white. That, by the way, is a very large percentage of American history. So we insist on new stories. But those are slow coming and don’t pull as large of an audience as the old stories. SO…  given the very clear bias towards heroes being white and white only in the past, due to clearly racist ideas… and now that we’re so forward thinking and (cough) “post-racial” it should be clearly understood that revision-ing that history to include Black and Brown heroes is the correct and progressive thing to do, right?

Yet, when Michael B. Jordan is cast as the Human Torch or (god forbid) a brown-skinned man is cast as a musketeer, arms flail and feelings are hurt and people claim it’s breaking “my suspension of belief” when a Black person appears as a significant part of history. Weird how Black folk didn’t just make a sudden appearance in history around the 1800s and only then as slaves. Open a f**king history book and realize a thing or two about the various and myriad experiences of Black and Brown people in the world since the beginning of history as we know it!

In any case, the point is that when very real, very painful things like another young Black murdered child being denied justice occur, people like me wonder if it’s worth it to talk about comic books and science fiction and TV shows. But it IS. We should talk about it more. Expose the problems! It’s been demonstrated over and over again throughout history that imagination often comes before real change… because if our greatest imaginative leaders cannot imagine a Black man as a hero, as a straight-A student or as a sentimental artist, but only as a thug, a criminal, or a troubled victim, then when a real Black man comes into the view of those who have no other representation of Blackness than these faulty images, what would he expect other than a criminal, a thug, or a victim?

This is no excuse though. History and media and art might influence one’s opinion of another race or gender or orientation or neighborhood, what have you, but at the end of the day a violent, hateful action is a decision made by an individual, and they must face the consequences of that action.  But we could damn well do our part as artists and creators to dare to explore and discover the complexity of world experiences and portray humans of all shades and credences etc as complicated and myriad as they are and might be. In fact, we should be ashamed if we do no less. Can we really call ourselves artists if we can’t imagine beyond stereotypes and one’s own experience?

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