I'm sick of seeing Black characters murdered. I'm sick of characters of color being white washed and erased, I'm sick of agency being taken from characters of color to give it to white saviors, and I'm SO SICK of Black characters only being useful when they're validated by white ones. The character assassination happening here (not that Taylor Swift fake kind) is just too much for me to continue to watch and read, especially with the superheroes that I love so much. Even new, more "diverse" characters are likely just on borrowed time, since at any moment they could be removed, depowered, or killed. Normally this is when I would say that we should extract ourselves to create the change we want to see, but a lot of times creators of color are killing characters in another way: by stripping them of their humanity. A lot of creators of color get caught up with trying to create a "good representation of their race" (read: a perfect character) that they forget to create a character. It's to the point now where in a lot of media you have to choose between the literal death of a character or the death of that character's humanity, and neither of those are a good thing.
My feelings on creating these perfect and overly respectable characters shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I have been speaking against them literally since this site started and I aint stopped yet. I feel like people really get pissed at stereotypes when that is the only representation they see of their community (for good reason but still). I say to that what I always have: we must focus more on creating the "good" than destroying the "bad". If we had more characters of color in general we wouldn't be so pressured to avoid the stereotypes we're afraid of. I'm sorry to tell you, but there are real people who live that, and to erase them makes us no better than the mainstream creators who don't make characters of color at all. Think of your grandma who might not be able to read, your granddad who has never worked in anything other than the hood of a car, your cousin who hits up the gay club in drag, your auntie who cooks at every church and family function and whose body shows it. You love these people right? Are you ashamed of them? Would you let someone tell them they don't matter? If not, then why are you ashamed to write them? Why do we tell the people who are just as much a part of our communities as the ones who "made it" that they don't matter? That's a rhetorical question. I know why. We have to stop being so afraid of what other folks are going to say if they see us “behaving badly” and just worry about representing our full selves. If Honey Boo Boo, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones can be beloved as screwed up as they are, then we can enjoy a few "gangsters".
Recently Comic-Con happened. There were plenty of trailers of cool upcoming comics and movies (like Black Panther), but one that really stood out to me was the trailer for the new Netflix series about Luke Cage. Luke Cage is a Marvel superhero that a lot of people have...mixed feelings about. He was a criminal who was wrongly accused of a crime (It happens) and during his imprisonment got experimented on (that happens too) and developed super powers. Although a lot of people complain about Luke Cage being a hero for hire and not the typical goody-goody type hero, Luke Cage is the type of hero that most of us would be. He’s a hero who says, “Well if I’m gonna risk my life everyday I’m gonna make a living off of it." You can be heroic or love something and still wanna be paid for your talents (that's why most of us have jobs). Luke Cage represents an idea not normally discussed, especially with Black heroes: regular people can become great heroes and that just because you're a great hero doesn't mean you have to stop being a regular person. We have spent long enough trying to live up to impossible standards, trying to prove ourselves in the eyes of other people and tearing each other down when we don't. It's time for us to create characters of color (whether they be heroes or villains) who are able to explore the fullness of the human experience. Ones who are allowed to be messed up and mess up without people saying that they're "degrading Black people". Besides, how can a bullet-proof Black man who listens to rap music and kicks ass be degrading?
The beauty of people of color writing our own stories is that we can talk from a place of expertise that others simply cannot. We can create characters that fully reflect the people behind the powers, the people in the communities we market to, and the people who so desperately want to see themselves. Yes, Representation Matters, but the type of representation matters just as much. It’s easy to say that a work is diverse because it features characters of varies ethnicities, sexualities, genders, etc., but what else do they offer? Are we creating truly diverse characters with various experiences, or are we creating a bunch of characters like Amadeus Cho, Kamala Khan, Falcon as Captain America and RiRi Williams that are just palette swaps of popular characters? We need people creating characters from all parts of our communities. We need the gangsters, the respectables, the nerds, the jocks, the sex-positives, the prudes, the religious, the atheists, the femmes, the butches, the queens, the trades, the independent women, the spoiled princesses, and so on. We are polylithic (opposite of monolithic) and our characters should be too (Lord knows I try to make mine like that). The mainstream is already killing us by treating us like disposable plot devices, don't help them but stripping our humanity even further.
What do you think of creating truly diverse characters? What characters can you think of that are not afraid to challenge and play with stereotypes and perceptions? Be sure to leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!