“Nigga, That’s Gay,” the Black Superhero Paradox
Leotards are about the gayest things about superheroes. That and one liners, sometimes, like “Good Job,” Hancock. Or at least in the context of black superheroics it is; and don’t get me wrong. I know how that sound, but I got you.
To bring it back Our Man Hancock, then, y’all know good and well he wasn’t trying to be The People’s Champ, especially not in no tights. Han(“I ain’t wearing that, Ray”)cock was puttin a hurting something serious on all manner of funky business just fine before the wardrobe upgrade; didn’t stunt him in no way. But by the film’s standards Hancock wasn’t suitable for superheroism at all, with all “the reactionary angst, the brooding, unfocused disdain for civilized Western society, the homeless, rudderless brother failing at making it” (Lamb “Stretching”), that made Hancock Hancock in the first place. So he had to be made into another type of superhero (or just another type of figure with superpowers because didn’t no one want Hancock to be a superhero prior to his transformation), one peeps could respect and, again, take home to they mama and daddy, like Miles. See, because Hancock for a lot of peeps, the same way Obama don’t, didn’t stand for the same things they stood for; he wasn’t exemplary the way he needed to be for a superhero. Perfectly fine for humans to be how they are, be it cold, hard criminals or sundry asshole, but not superheroes, not Hancock. It wasn’t like he was knocking ‘round some ghetto black hood, whereby his attributes would not only be constituted but expected for an albeit super, black brother, making sense by Black Macho standards.
What I mean is that by (Robert) Lendrum’s logic, by the logic undergirding black superheroics come out in the 70s, majority of black superheroes, in comics, got no business performing they derring-do outside of the hood; e.g., “Superman is ineffective at dealing with such problems” (Lendrum 369). A reinforcement of not only popular and damaging and limiting stereotypes surrounding black people, but also reinforcement of a racial responsibility binary that says blacks help blacks, whites help whites. Black superheroics then amounts to a brutal Buck mentality and an endorsement of a Black Moral Code, that only fosters a disparate treatment of Blackness in the realm of a superheroism as something, if it’s to be made mainstream, in need of a makeover. Hancock earnt hisself some social capital by playing by Whitey’s rules, substituting expressive freedom and his own brand of “thug”/”ruff and tuff” for a li’l respect and some gym clothes; but didn’t Peter Parker or Clark Kent ever have any problems with how they looked or for whom they were looking out, but also because they weren’t created to be any way than how they were expected to be, as white dudes, safely assuming, concerned exclusively and explicitly with White People Problems. Ask Christian Davenport and he would tell you a character like Hancock or Cage “lacks crossover appeal to a wider audience” (“The Brother Might”), saying that, in the context of the Steel comic book, another about another super-brother, “America is segregated” (ibid) and “comics are inherently about making money” (ibid). Mind you, Davenport is being dispatched live and die-rect out of 1998, so when he say America not amenable to Blacks, I sort of get how they might sound. But Davenport isn’t a barometer for the social climate of America circa 1998, nor do he have to be on board with whatever the Dominant Consensus circa 1998 is concerning race relations, either. But safely assuming Davenport (is) a brother whose sensibilities aren’t necessarily a reflection of the nation, if we compare it to how peeps circa 2008 responded to Obama’s election as POTUS as some “postracial” something or another, then Davenport as a hypothetical brother calling America circa 1998 out on its bull is feasible then.
The point is that entry into the mainstream comes with a price, and for black superheroes is meant staving off their blackness – whatever that means or meant – for a chance to participate in Big League superheroics. The same be applying to most other high stakes White Spaces, though, further reinforcing White is Right dogma steeped in historical backlog gone unchecked, un-criticized, for how long now? Speaking of Obama, no way he seizes the nomination acting how you think someone like Obama might act, if you’re racist like that. Like, Obama as a brother might denote certain attitudinal, cultural, behavioral, physical, ideological, political markers that are commonly associated with Black people; and for you who are reading this he might encompass all of that. Member to some group of POC whose failed to truly, fully, acculturate. By most, certainly not all, peeps’ standards, Obama is exemplary in how he demonstrates not only his aptitude for politics, his qualifications for POTUS, but also what it means to be a POC, male, in the 21st Century, maybe. He wouldn’t be president if not, some might say. Some and definitely not all that would also say that what Obama’s espoused, is doing, has done and will most likely continue doing long after his tenure to boot, is a respectability politics model that encourages blacks and certain other POC to reach standards that Whites, and usually male Whites, are exempt from.
Enter a one Harvard law professor (and just disappointing Negro in general) Randall Kennedy, who in his “Lifting As We Climb” (Harper’s 2016) is calling for a reinstatement of/investment in respectability politics for Blacks. Who even say hisself that “Obama is the exemplary recent practitioner of politics of respectability politics.” But Kennedy act as though respectability politics Old News or something, as though Old School Blacks ain’t been on that thing for the longest now. Case in point, best believe Mama and Popa Jones, my folks, gave me the business, I mean tore my bee-hind up, if Principal Reid come calling talking about me being a class clown; same went for my sister (who much, much, much lighter than yours truly just so you know), who would get it worse; but because she lied allot, the idiot.
Anyway: it wasn’t just me who was doing it. Fuckin around. Nor were the other kids, from what I recall, coming back to school the next day with stories about how they mommies and daddies unleashed a 100-Count combo on them for their chicanery. Also: Majority-white institutions have always be my swerve, growing up in suburbs a far out from The Hoods of Irvington and Newark, where I was born, in Jersey. Didn’t bother me all that much either, being ‘round all them white faces who’re the same white faces I do my hoodrat thangs with today, like discussing The Sun, Moon, and The Stars, and how we’re going to make it, or if whether or not there’s anything at all to this “go to school” stuff we’ve been duped into doing fed into. And mind you, my parents knew the other kids and their parents; still do; the alive ones at least. And of those who’re still among the living and breathing of us who are living and breathing, they talk! During the Come Up, though, it was less about how little-Me was getting along with the other kids and more about being Distinguished through Good Behavior, on jail stuff. Conversely-speaking, about how folks were going to perceive my black ass for acting like a jackass. And you can call that disparate treatment, or racism, or call it discrimination; or call it what Kennedy calling it, Respectability Politics at play. Whether or not they themselves, my parents, called it that, best believe I felt it – from wooden spoon to leather belt, they brought the proverbial hammer down, like Whoopish!
For Kennedy (and his ilk) circa 2015, “This approach has recently become a target of much derision,” saying “Is it wrong for black parents to deliver to their children the sort of talk my parents gave me” (“Lifting”)? E.g., The Joneses weren’t having any rap music blasting in the house, no way; the first rap album I ever bought with my very much so my own money, was Confessions of Fire, by Cam’ron (Cam hereafter). Before that I’d highjack songs off the radio, blank-tape style, ones approximating seeker-friendliness with insertions of “unintelligibles” for curse words. I’d “Let my tape rock till my tape popped” (Biggie), practicing memorization of The Words, rewriting whole joints in my head the way people scoot down to make room for people, inserting myself in the melodies, the stories, whole Universes that I felt didn’t immediately have anything to do with me, and they didn’t. Nonetheless: Confessions was my first actual investment into The Culture, having only caught on at 11 (1997), thanks to the Tracy Lee’s “The Theme,” the remix, featuring Busta Bus (Busta Rhymes); and on a count My Folk insulating the fuck outta me. See Respectability Politics. They (Mom and Pop) definitely weren’t feelin nothin Cam had to say, though, as, like an idiot, I erred in playin the LP on the “good” speakers in the living room so the “nigga,” “fuck,” “shit,” “ass,” and “bitch” would permeate throughout The Crib, landing me A Swift One. Wasn’t any age too old for a whoopin just so you know, and I knew better to boot. Here’s the thing, though. About nothing come out during the time of my adolescence, or anytime thereafter for that matter, hit me the way hip hop hit me; and too bad for me that it was the way it was. A target of much derision, and since its inception.
So while I am critical of Kennedy if you who is reading this didn’t realize, I do hear what he saying, as I’m sure you do too. I just cannot with it. And check it, because he also say how he and the [Kennedy] Fam would “look down on such people as ‘bad Negroes’ whose antics further burdened ‘good Negroes’ like [the Kennedys], and we suspected that whites in the news and entertainment industries preferred to publicize the former and ignore the latter” (ibid). Which to me and my black thought just more of that racism, just “intra,” in that it being enacted by Blacks on Blacks for the sake of Blacks? Makes zero sense, right? “My parents sternly ordered their children to be dignified in the presence of white people so that there would be no opportunity to put us in racist, stereotypical categories,” as did mine, only deepening and widening the fissures not only between (“good”) Blacks and (“bad”) Blacks, but also between “bad” Blacks and Whites for whom Blackness denotes Wackness, in turn prompting a “white is right” model (applied to blackness) in order to assuage the Wackness. Not to say that I bought into it myself, but it certainly shaped the way I viewed blacks, including my black behind, as well my proximity to blackness, for as Kennedy say: “any marginalized group should be attentive to how it’s perceived” (ibid).
But this where Kennedy mess up. His assessment of Obama as “exemplary practitioner of respectability politics,” having “cultivated a persona that is racially nonthreatening to many whites […] by, among other things, distancing himself African Americans who are perceived as unduly bitter or menacingly radical” (ibid), is all wrong; or at least it’s a uninformed because who knows what’s actually up with Obama? Indeed we can postulate and say that Obama as a brother may quite possibly identify with respectability politics, the idea that any marginalized person must be rightly to their image, due in part to how unfairly dude (Obama) been attacked for how he “president,” and we’ll get into that. But that don’t make Obama a turncoat or a double agent, or some duplicitous racial rabble rouser talkin out both sides of his biracial face. If nothing else, Obama’s demonstrated his affiliation to the persuasion of less popular cultural variants, such as Hip Hop, being heard contributing to considerably less important matters, like “Who’s Better: Drake or Kendrick?”; being seen knocking around the White House with the likes of rappers, like Jay-Z; giving rapper Common the mic on “An Evening of Poetry”. And aren’t these exactly the points of provocation for Whites that Kennedy talking about when he say “though still many others find him too black” (ibid)?
So what is Kennedy talking about, exactly? Senate Democrat Harry Reid might of said it the plainest – I mean, Reid, he came out his face gushing that one time about Obama’s viability as president because of his light(er) skin tone, as well as not speaking in a “Negro dialect,” which of course he apologized for, but without derision. But certainly if Obama was all that much unlike his “less refined” black counterparts, conversations like this (see infra) wouldn’t be happening.
“Barack Obama’s Significance For Rhetoric and Composition” “aims to provoke and renew disciplinary conversations about the meaning of an age now nearly past, as well as pose questions that resonate for presidential generally,” in omnibus form in the College Composition and Communication (3C) journal, put out by the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE hereafter). It features (February 2016 issue) this one entry by York College of Pennsylvania professor Erec Smith (“Obama’s Feminine Rhetoric”), who write that, “If African American leadership is to continue beyond Barack Obama’s tenure, Black male leaders should recognize the Feminine Discourse Movement as an efficacious one” (482). So even Smith, he on that Respectability Politics Train, too. He saying that blacks should adopt the more palatable “feminine” discourse exhibited by Obama, if the point is getting things accomplished, which healthily tilts the scales again in favor of “White is Right”-ness in the context of Blackness, what might as well be called “approachable Blackness”.
What Smith say also pretty much substantiate what Globe magazine, “a dime-store rag whose mission is to sensationalize,” as my homie Dr Vershawn Young (Vay hereafter) call it, pointed out bout the way Obama “president,” e.g., how he speak, i.e., how he not an Angry Black Man, calling him a closet homoesexual who on the down low with his former personal aide Reggie Love (Young “Straight”). Unbeknownst to Globe, et al is that callin Obama gay for how black he’s not (whatever that means) is “connected to a gender anxiety that African American men more broadly experience in regard to educational and professional success,” according to Vay (ibid). Which itself is connected to this whole idea that “Black men do not sound intelligent; they are not good listeners; they do not value civility, empathy, and cooperation; they do not work hard; they generally are not successful” (Smith 481) – i.e., allergic to success, and thus “Nigga, that’s gay,” as the performance is read as a departure from what Smith calls “hegemonic masculinity,” which may or may not sound crazy to you who is reading this, but wait up.
Vay cite ethnographic research conducted by a one Signithia Fordham (Blacked Out) who reported that, from her one study, “male students at Capital High are fearful of the pursuit of academic excellence [because] they fear being labeled gay” (as qtd in Vay); hence why Vay say he “argues against the gendered and racialized instruction of African American males, particularly the pedagogical method of code switching employed in schools” (ibid). Which is also connected to an exclusionary language rule, a standard language ideology, that says there’s one way that’s the right way to speak, in English, positing other Englishes as inferior and suitable for the home. Which now then rubs up against “Obama’s significance for rhetoric” in that, as argued in another entry, this one by Fayetteville State University professor Nicole Ashanti McFarlane, “Obama’s performative endorsements of Blackness by way of African American expression work not only to make AAE more comprehensible to white ears, but promote it in such a way that Black speech is normalized as a standardized dialect to rival [English]” as the standard (“Obama’s” 472). All of which is yours truly’s way of illustrating the importance of not scrutinizing any of the aforementioned in isolation to the other, but rather in relation to the others because shit’s more complex than it seems, obviously.
I got you. On one hand Obama is lionized for being the kind of president who a) practice Respectability Politics and b) makes it so that folks for whom his “performative endorsements of Blackness” are relatable and customary can be like, “But yo, if Obama can so can I”; on another hand, he (Obama) complicates his performance by being unlike a considerable # of black male kinfolk for whom Blackness is underpinned by “hegemonic masculinity,” e.g. brutal Buck niggers, making them less desirable, less approachable, less embraceable, since “Exuding power in any other way is threatening…In order to be a Black man deemed safe, [Obama] could not act too much like hegemonic ideal of a man” (Smith 481), “amplifying his non-normative masculine traits and then, on that basis, assigning him a deceitful, non-heteronormative sexuality” (Vay “Straight”); wherefore Vay argues that since young brothers out here experience anxiety when it come to how they speak, instructors should forgo code switchin as it “contributes to the subordinated gender status of African American men and leads to the negative anti-masculine queering of them, whether they are straight or gay” (ibid), which in part “accounts […] both for the success of black men, such as Obama […], and for the widespread underachievement of African American males who resist such queering…” (ibid).
For a considerable # of peeps, including black peeps, maybe even you too who is reading this, Talking While Black does mean staving off Blackness (AAE), having no “Negro dialect,” like Obama, hiding certain linguistic markers that denote Blackness, if it means gaining social capital redeemable for employment or just being taken seriously as a person with something to say that is worth consideration as a contribution to a larger conversation, if not something or another that requires your voice to be heard with respect to whatever, whatever the matter at hand is, be it input on some hotly debated topic or something, or even just whether or not Kendrick hotter than Drake, yo. But these presumptions of allegiances that Kennedy frame as capital-D Doctrine – i.e., The Way, The Light, and The Truth for How To Make It In America, Black People – with illustrations of historically “good” blacks, e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and how “[Their] effort to present civil rights in a fashion that would generate sympathy and admiration paid off,” is very much so furtherance of the problematics surrounding Black identity, or just identity in general. That problem with labels in general. That “whatever”.
What do(es) it mean to be black and black af and proud and not have to pay for it; or at least a superhero and Black and deemed a menace to society while drinking your juice in the hood? Popularly-speaking it means giving your Black A S S a makeover since “comics are inherently about making money” (Davenport) and to appeal to widest possible audience – whoever that is, with ever sensibilities they espouse – whereby the Black superhero adopts the trappings of traditional superheroics, like Hancock, and staving off “brutal Buck” (Lendrum) tendencies that might “burden ‘good Negroes’” (Kennedy), i.e., being “dignified in the presence of white people so that there would be no opportunity to put us in racist, stereotypical categories” (ibid, italics mine), and putting distance between “African Americans who are perceived as unduly bitter or menacingly radical” (ibid), and not “acting too much like the hegemonic ideal of a man” (Smith) because “Exuding power in any [that] way is threatening” (ibid), hence Obama’s “‘mommy jeans’ in an attempt to come off less macho and more domestic” (ibid, as qtd by Touré, as qtd by Malcolm Gladwell).
The Catch as outlined by Vay is that young black males – and certainly not all of Black youth but most – will read the aforementioned as a departure from not just blackness but also masculinity, making it “gay” in the context of black maleness. And while that might could come off as reason to not give a fuck about these people, as reason to let them figure it out on their own, the fucking idiots, because their espousal of funky views that we at least publicly, and arguably not privately, decry may or may not be directly related to their resistance to excellence, their hostile worldview toward the very things counteracting their existence insofar as much as they remain resistant to it rather than assimilating and accepting, this’s where they’re at. If like Vay say, “we accept them them, unconditionally, without assimilationist restrictions that stem from racial and gendered prejudices, then we may be on our way toward that better world” (“Straight” 469). And a world where superheroes can be more than what they haven’t already been – which is themselves – because there’s nothing gay about that.
Peep Game Because I Got Your Superhero, Son, aka “Give Miles his Blackness Back,” How Miles a “Parker Brother”
Call it lazy, but nothing about Blacks or any group makes it so that they are inherently hostile toward homosexuality or whatever next “bad” thing is gone apeshit from a discursive standpoint because people just don’t know how to talk to people; or at least they don’t know how to talk about those things; or at least not intellectually, with their anti-intellectual selves. And: as easy as it is to dismiss garbage people with garbage ideologies and privately held biases and assumptions about people that at least traditionally and/or even anachronistically deem them unfit for pretty much everything trending right now, it’s unfair af to spin that as a firewall or some cockamammie reasoning for why they should left behind to fend for themselves. Like, that’s not superheroic at all. And while you who is reading this might be saying right now that, “Nigga, that’s gay,” just so you know yours truly isn’t going to count that against you as a reason to invalidate you and yours, your experiences, and then say that, well, that is too bad for you if you don’t want to get with the program.
What I’m saying is that if we’re talking about representation and representation that “sticks it to the man,” that rubs up against longheld ways of thinking that since forever have made it hard for the very people that these comic book people are making all of this money off of to just fucking live their fucking lives, then it means more than a skin graft and sex change to truly be “all new, all different”. If what Bendis hisself say about Miles being the “Spider-Man for kids of color, adults of color,” then let him be that, Bendis.
But peep game because I got your superhero, son. This treatise initially opened with how Miles can be a more legit superhero mofo, with all the derring do he do, in tights without substituting his multiethnic/cultural substance for something for what pretty much amounts to Miles being “Parker Brother”. What that is is what is referred to as a portmanteau, a play on words essentially, where two disparate ideas, like “iPod” and “broadcast” coming together to make what is now known as “podcast,” come together to create something new for the sake, basically, of making a point, sometimes, maybe. In this instance, Miles Morales as biracial brown faced brother, being one part black and one part lain place of the historically white Peter Parker Spider Man archetype is turnt into a “Parker Brother” in a failed, albeit ostensibly well intentioned attempt at making a historically less palatable, less marketable, nonwhite superhero archetype appear more or less qualified for superhero-dom. Now, I shouldn’t say that Marvel and Bendis failed because Miles is pretty well liked by his fans who either are just coming to discover Spider Man or since forever have known Spider-Man to be White Peter Parker. Which is just crazy from the from the standpoint of risk averse White peeps decidedly putting the futures and continued successes of their hardly broken, tried and true franchises in the hands of historically less successful minority peeps. And if we’re talking about more distinctly Black characters largely concerned with distinctly Black people problems indicative of by distinctly black experiences, then we’re talking about just creating another Luke Cage type. In which case, jurisdiction is limited to the hood where White people problems are irrelevant and is the business of the more popular, proper-English endowed, classically handsome, straight white guy archetype. If there’s anything to any of the aforementioned arguments and theories of yours truly presented in this very treatise that you who is reading this is reading, with regard to the limitations of historically nonwhite good guys in the context of Big League, Mainstream Superheroics, then Miles not being hidebound by the same criteria of his distinctly black ancestors would have to be a Parker Brother. Think Obama rocking a domino in tights.
If the kind of requisite core character for a black leadership is that of (Erec) Smith’s Feminine rhetoric, then someone like Miles who exists outside of the confines of a majority black ghetto setting of blocks and aves and streets of tenement homes, for example, the original sandbox of Black superheroism, so says (Robert) Lendrum, then Miles would have to embody Barack Obama type Blackness, literally be a “straight black queer,” because while it might be “gay,” to some and certainly not all blacks, it is the most widely accepted version of Black – or at least nonwhite – maleness. Add in Miles’ Latino-ness and the whole thing pours out into a whole ‘nother dimension of representation that in order to get right, I want to say, might require a “Writers for Hire” ad or something. Which isn’t to say that someone else is or would necessarily be better at capturing the sort of nuanced representation that bucks the trends, or even that Bendis isn’t That Dude when it comes to comics right now. From The X-Men to The Avengers to Daredevil to Peter Parker as Spider-Man and even Luke Cage – clearly Bendis has a penchant for storytelling and storytelling that spans across not only multiple storylines but multiple race and gender types. That is to say Luke Cage is not Wolverine is not Daredevil is not Spider-Man. But when it comes to Miles, who Bendis has hailed as the Spidey for POC – “Our message has to be it’s not Spider-Man with an asterisk, it’s the real Spider-Man for kids of color, adults of color and everybody else” (italics mine) – then there’s a disproportion between being “different” and selling that difference.
Granted, Bendis been writing Peter Parker as Spider-Man for a bunch of years now, something like ten, before he and EiC (Editor in Chief) Axel Alonso thought it time they put a brother in the tights, with Alonso being like, “When the opportunity arose to create a new Spider-Man, we knew it had to be a character that represents the in-diversity and the experience of the twenty-first century,” and Bendis coming out his face saying, “Many kids of color who when they were playing superheroes with their friends, their friends wouldn’t let them be Batman or Superman because they don’t look like those heroes but they could be Spider-Man because anyone could be under that mask. But now it’s true. It’s meant a great deal to a great many people” (italicized emphasis mines). Which may or may not sound crazy to you who is reading this, but juslisen. So it would make sense that, for Bendis, embodying the spirit of a white boy is going to have its side effects; that it dont take a hawk’s eye to see that neither of them chumps, Parker or Morales, any different from one another. (Alonso: “Miles is a character who not only follows in the tradition of relatable characters like Peter Parker, but also shows why he’s a new, unique kind of Spider-Man and worthy of that name” (aceshowbiz.com) But then that leaves Miles’ color as the only distinguishably nonwhite feature about him; not to say that Miles gotta be, like, ODB or something out here. Knowing most black people, black parents, a real life Miles wouldn’t be talking anything but Standard English, anyhow. But consider that a text-image binary underpins performance of any kind in a comic book, and that the only way anybody telling the difference between any successor and her or his predecessor, especially when they’re in a costume for probably 85% of the time, is going to be based on how they a) look and b) how they speak.
Doubling back to what Alonso said then about Miles being the kind of character who takes after the tradition of other relatable characters, like Peter, a “new, unique kind of Spider-Man worthy of that name,” I’m asking: Who or what determines “a character like Miles’” worth, then? Assuming Obama stands for the kind of blackness that’ll afford Blacks the power to affect change, that his use of Feminine Rhetoric is an efficacious one (Smith), and that Miles’ creation is due in part to Obama’s “nonnormative masculine traits […] assigning him a nonheteronormative sexuality” (Vay “Straight”), then from the standpoint of a nonwhiteness, Miles was “queered” in sense that he didnt or doesnt exhibit the type of blackness that Obama is not, that Hancock was encouraged to stave off of. Not that there’s anything necessarily distinctly blacks about a departure from, say, Obama-ness, or that there’s anything distinctly black about Hancock before he possessed the trappings of “proper” superheroism. I mean, call it overshight on the part of the creators, or well intentions not to reinforce negative stereotypes of the kinds of people stands-in for historically white superheroes have had thrust upon them for years; but what if, just what if, those very characteristics were depicted not so much as limitations but just as difference in and of itself.
What I mean is that what if Hancock was left alone to be as he was, a baaadd brutal Bucks type of nigga, right? And what if Obama, like what Vay say, “played the game to end the game” (“Nah”)?
For everything Obama stands for as the first black president, or at least the first president of mixed raced background, he’s also been an indicator of the kind of efficaciousness and effectiveness usually gone unseen in a Black English-speaking human being. That is to say that Black English, as well as all-Black sensibilities, are traditionally the very characteristics that denote a deviation from not just the standard, but also what is considered widely embraceable. Think Obama’s “mommie jeans,” and how as popular theory has it, Obama had to put on airs, embody a less threatening Black persona if he was to become president. Think Harry Reid lauding Obama for his brighter hue and not speaking in a “Negro dialect”. Think Obama as a practitioner of respectability politics, so says Kennedy, as “assiduously [cultivating] a persona that is racially nonthreatening to many whites,” (“Lifting”) as well as “[distanced] from African Americans who are perceived as unduly bitter or menacingly radical” (ibid), evinced in his “openly [identifying] the failings of Blacks” (ibid) and “[demanding] that African Americans […] do more for themselves” (ibid). For writer Peter Lamborn Wilson, then, it goes like this:
“Blacks have Black Culture…are no longer required to assimilate. So long as Black Culture [recognize] the centrality [that is, core] of the consensus [i.e., Dominant Culture] – and its own peripherality [i.e., making sure blacks know their motherfuckin place!]- it will be allowed and even encouraged to thrive. Genuine autonomy [that is, just being allowed to be themselves], however, is out of the question, and so is any ‘class consciousness’ which might cut across ethnic or ‘lifestyle’ lines to suggest revolutionary coalitions [in other words everybody got to stay in their respective lanes lest the stasis be compromised as a result of a people talkin, i.e., colluding]” (“Against Multiculturalism”)
Some Close Reading Mess
Miles didn’t happen in a vacuum. And while the whole shebang can be read as Marvel having meant well, it mostly, at this point, comes off as a very pointed attempt at constructing a kind of super black and brown guy who’s going to sell as well as the super white guy. I mean, for all of Bendis, et al’s social justice awareness, etc., when it comes to archetypes and nurturing a bruh like Miles to the point where he could swing happily and freely into the hearts of readers, he (Bendis) severely undermines all that being the kind of asshole others have been.
Since his debut Miles now the Spider-Man of the main, and now only, Marvel line of comics. His “Ultimate universe” was “destroyed” in an annual “secret wars” event, when the varied lines and universes of Marvel’s superheroes clash whereby “all new, all different” shit is forged for the respective heroes to get into. Think of it as a hard reset, almost. Everything’s all good till Thanos or Galactus or big behind somebody wants to come through and fuck up the milieu, and then there is this seismic bloop in the cosmos that disrupts the “genteel” causing “universes” to collide and forcing everyone into these sort of “what if” scenarios that are meant to be to considered unlikely had it not been for “secret wars”. What comes out of the “Secret” is really contingent on the events therein and for this last one it was that Miles would wear the crown of Spider-Man in the main line, where Big Pete is alive and well, but in “lite” form as a sort of mentor to Miles.
Issue #2 (March 2016) got newbie Spidey Miles up to his ears in elephants with the villain Blackheart, who Miles sort of handles all by his lonesome, with the Avengers having been beaten to a pulp, or pulps, all splayed and shit all about the broken up concrete. Coming home to his buddy-homie Ganke, Miles vent bout how he just fought a demon (Blackheart), saying “GANKE, I TOUCHED A DEMON FROM HELL!” and in another panel where our hero is shown all bugged eyed and despondent-looking af, looking like some broken-up tweenager all agog at having seen their crush hand-locked with their archenemy, “I’M SUPPOSED TO BE ALL COOL ABOUT THIS BECAUSE I’M SUPPOSED TO BE. BUT IM NOT. I. AM. FREAKED OUT. SO FREAKED OUT. EVERYONE ELSE WAS JUST LIKE ‘LAH LAH LAH THERE’S A DEMON.’ BUT IT WAS!” To which I kind of want to be like, “Nigga, that’s gay.” But that besides the point, because so then Ganke pull up YouTube on an iPod where there’s this one fangirl who’s all stoked about there actually being a nonwhite Spider-Man. She snuck footage of Miles’ fight with Blackheart, with his suit in tathers obviously from getting busted up hisself. “THE NEW SPIDER-MAN IS BROWN. HE’S A KID OF COLOR. THIS IS HUGE,” she says imaginably squeaks, to which Miles is just mean-mugging, looking like he’s about to reach through the glowing square portal of the handheld and be like, “Bitch why do you care?” What he actually says is, “UH… AND SHE CARES WHY?” What follows is a pretty uncomfortable confrontation between Miles and his identity, one that in the context of the Miles arch has yet to happen, making this Bendis’ chance to finally tap into the psyche of our high flying Webslingner “for kids of color,” so says him, and guess what he does? Can you who is reading this guess what he does, because I will tell you if you guessed it, what it is that he does.
Bendis being Bendis who putatively positioned hisself as the someone readers and fans can trust with the story of a brown kid in tights, as being “the Spider-Man for kids of color, adults of color and everybody else,” totally bungles Operation Push For Diversity by doing like this.
This. MILES: “I DONT WANT THAT. THE QUALIFICATION.” To which GANKE replies, “YOU’RE LOSING ME [and me too, the one who is writing this]” MILES: “THIS IS–I DON’T WANT TO BE THE BLACK SPIDER-MAN. I WANT TO BE SPIDER-MAN.” AND: “FIRST OF ALL, I AM HALF HISPANIC,” says Miles. GANKE: “SO GO TELL HER [meaning the girl in the video].” MILES: “I JUST–” GANKE: “THIS IS REALLY BOTHERING YOU.” MILES: “I’M GOING TO SHOWER.”
D’oh, right? This obvi took readers by surprise, had them all aghast-like, like:
[insert anti-Bendis twitter posts/rants]
And especially since this is putatively the POC Spidey, which may or may not mean some things, but then “It’s meant a great deal to a great many people,” so said Bendis just before this whole thang got underway. Shit was so bad it had a one Tumblr native by the name of “platanerx,” “all anxious so excuse the typos,” in a response to #2. See infra for chunks of more of the same by platanerx, and for the actual panels:
But Bendis, he dont appreicate all the disrespeck and heat he catching in the wake of the White Gaze. And this coming from the guy who in another interview opened up about how seeing one of his two adopted black daughters find a Spider-Man mask in a toy aisle, put it on and say, “Look, Daddy, I’m Spider-Man” had him “crying in the middle of the aisle. I realized my kids are going to grow up in a world that has a multi racial Spider-Man, and [a Black Cap], and a female Thor” (Bendis). But Bendis dont want no distinctly black Spider-Man – or rather distinctly biracial – or at least not one who’s going to forefront his difference. Now I’m not going to say that
But I am going to say that Marvel do needa stop positioning Blackness, including what’s perceived as Problematic blackness – that is, relegating perhaps distinctly black sensibilities that perhaps alienate people, make them uncomfortable – that is, Hancock level Blackness – what is Obama “playing the game to end the game” type of Blackness – to the wayside. Especially if it’s so easy for a writer like Big Brian Bendis to qualify his background, being a Jew, as being more problematic in the context of race relations; see infra for Bendis:
This’s no longer about what is good and right and a Spider-Man for Kids of color, as much as it is about, as I see it, demonstrating for people the kind of blackness that is the worthy for the title of Spider-Man, or any title of status for that matter. Goes back to (Erec) Smith’s “progressive rhetoric,” aka Feminine Rhetoric, being more effective in the context of black leadership; get you a pair of “mommie jeans” bros. and you will be set! Stave off brutal Buck tendencies appropriate for majority black ghetto settings and you too can be Spider-Man; or any superhero unfettered in their execution of super-important, superhero duties. You too can be Barack Obama, albeit Black English-using, meaning nothing in the grand scheme of things. You too can assume the mantle of any historically white position in this country so long as you adopt the sensibilities herein, promise to adopt the characteristics that make for less controversial, more embraceable, arguably “straight black queer” identities. Linguistically, as is Vay’s wont, it means encouraging Blacks students to sounds less like how they do amongst friends and more like what would assign them a deviant masculine identity – i.e., speaking Standard (White) English – all because White people are less favorable to it. From the standpoint of a comics where difference works across the modes of images and text, it would mean that although Miles look different he don’t sound different, turning him into a “Parker Brother”.