A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On the New Biracial Spider-Man

The Spider-Man of the Ultimate universe has been in the media lately not so much because he replaces Peter Parker in that continuity, but because he is biracial. New York teen Miles Morales has heritage rooted in African American and Hispanic cultures.

And that's cool... but do we need to paint Peter Parker as whiter than the lilies now? I mean, just because he died fighting one of the few green people in his world doesn't make him a racist. ;)

And that's my problem with the story surrounding this new character. It's not about the character at all but about the meta-narratives surrounding his appearance. You may have heard that Glen Beck blamed the First Lady for this change. "Blamed?" Come on. The subtexts surrounding Miles' new role are disturbing to me, even if it is easy to gloss over some of their substance and focus on the "feel good" aspect of "diversification."

Let me explain:

Consider this article from WNYC:

Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis is quoted as saying " Wouldn't it be cool if Spider-Man was biracial? Somebody different than the comic book norm -- who represented New York more."

Sorry, hard working, loyal, conflicted, over-achieving everyteen Peter Parker. You just didn't represent your city. Sorry all white people; your time has come and gone. You have no place in the New York of the 21 century. Or, if you did, your incredible whiteness was so glaring, it was mucking up the metaphor.

Jeff Yang of the San Francisco Chronicle is quoted in the article as saying, "This is definitely progress....It's always great to see when the faces behind the masks -- the iconic characters we grew up with -- are finally starting to reflect the world around us."

So, progress is replacing white people with people who are of non-white backgrounds, because all white people are the same and have a singular homogeneous culture that is at odds with reality?

The next example comes from Cheryl Gladstone, a biracial citizen of Brooklyn, who says, "Being different is a superpower."

Again, is the intimation that all white people are the same, and all people who are non-white are different. Just people of biracial identity break the mold? A white, milky mold?

Don't get me wrong. I haven't been keeping up with the Ultimate Spider-Man character for a while now and probably won't read the new book either. Am I glad that this new Spidey might connect with new generations of readers? Absolutely. But, in my mind, that includes white readers too.

Diversification is not simply about exchange, about pitting one ethnicity against another as if "white" is old and everything else is "new." And, though I know more than a few of my liberal friends will probably think it, I don't mean to come off as a stodgy, out-of-touch white guy upset that the world around him is changing and he's getting left behind.

(Insert word balloon on above image of Green Goblin: "Crackers be hatin'!!")

Well, actually, some of that is how I'm trying to come off. True progress, true multicultural acceptance means not erasing white identities, but bringing them and all other possible identities along for the ride. Working together rather than against, with resistance being applied to paradigms of divisive difference.

In a world where that is understood, I can't help thinking we'd have media exalting the character of Peter Parker and praising his accomplishments in his fictional universe while excited about the newcomer's ability to exemplify all the best of what Spider-Man represents, which, as the article points out, to its credit, has never been about race, but actions and decency and respect and the constant struggle to improve one's self and one's world.

That is not and should not be construed as a racial prerogative; it's a human one. But in our universe, that message seems to be getting lost.

Peter Parker is about to become an absent presence for Miles Morales, similar to how Ben Parker and Peter's dad were absent presences for him. I hope that Miles shares with his predecessor the common core value of judging people not on the color of their skin or the ethnic or cultural heritages from which they come, but on the quality of their character.

One of the most common teaser images on the web right now, in which an exhausted Morales lifts up his mask and thinks, "Maybe the costume is in bad taste," reveals to me that Miles is as deep a thinker and worrier as Peter, which is heartening. We might be getting it wrong, but maybe Spidey keeps getting it right.

If he's able to do that, in relation to what the media has revealed about us, anyway, he'll truly personify the "super" in "super-hero" because he'll clearly exemplify the best of all of us, the best of what we can be; all of us.


Ben Villarreal said...

I honestly don't think I could have said it better. Well done.

Bucky C. said...

Thanks, BV!