So this past weekend, I spent all my time collecting a bunch of Chet™ tears as well as the tears of his nerdy cousin Doug™.
Why was I doing this? Well, here’s the thing:
Ya girl Mary Jane Watson…is now Black.
That’s right. Marvel recently announced that Zendaya Coleman is going to be playing the titular MJ in the upcoming film Spider-Man: Homecoming. Black folx everywhere, Blerd or not, rejoiced:
However, like clockwork, Chets™ and Dougs™ all over the world opened the floodgates and let their salty tears flow. Complaints about PC culture were plentiful. Many uncreative Chets and Dougs once again brought up the false equivalency of what might happen if Luke Cage and Black Panther were to become White and how that would make us–I presume they would call us the Blacks–feel. They even once again brought up how everyone would be mad if MLK was suddenly White, so “what’s up with all this PC, racebending bullshit?”
See, the jokes on them, though, because that last one actually happened.
Of course, most of us haven’t been sweating the salt too much. By now, all these excuses–racism–are uninspired and played out. Well, there’s that and the fact that several notable people have been clapping back at all these racist “fans”.
Don’t believe me? Check these receipts:
Yeah, so as you can see, Chet™ and Doug™ had their hands full this weekend. That said, while I was cackling at the sheer volume of tears they produced, their complaints did cause me to question certain things when it comes to comics.
When does canon matter?
If canon does matter now that MJ is Black, why didn’t it matter when DC cast Aquaman as the AAPI Jason Momoa?
Granted, I ain’t gonna complain. Jason Momoa is sex personified. Dude makes me blush just *looking* at him, nevermind fantasizing. However, if I am to keep it 100 about this canon shit, here are some reasons why canon suddenly matters:
When a character is no longer White, straight, male, or cis, suddenly canon is Bible, y’all.
And yes, I did say that in my Kardashian voice.
So Captain America/Steve Rogers no longer has hyper-Aryan blonde hair? Don’t worry about it!
What’s that you say? Tony Stark is no longer at least 6 feet tall? That’s cool.
Wait. Matt Murdock is no longer a redhead? Forget about it!
It doesn’t matter at all, because at the end of the day, they’re still White guys. They’re just slightly different White guys. That might be a bit inconvenient, but it’s still a-okay!
That’s White fanboy logic for you. But here’s the thing:
That didn’t really happen with Jason Momoa. In fact, the near opposite happened:
While Jason Momoa does not represent the hyper-Aryan Aquaman that White fanboys are used to, Jason Momoa isn’t Black. So he gets to escape the vitriol [read: Anti-Blackness] that a Black Aqua[person] would warrant.
To be clear, Momoa is still a person of color. His casting as Aquaman is important and historic in that the AAPI community gets a badass superhero to stan for onscreen (and to be honest, it only makes sense that the people of Atlantis in both DC and Marvel would be of color, but I digress) and it’s something to look forward to after the slew of Whitewashing we’ve seen this year (Ghost In The Shell, Doctor Strange, The Great Wall, etc).
That said, he isn’t Black. So while you *maybe* had 0.000000000000001% of White fanboys stomping their feet at his casting, the backlash was not nearly as loud as what we’re hearing with Zendaya.
And that my friends, is due to Momoa’s skin.
While Momoa is of color, his not being Black (it also helps that he is a Cis male. I can only imagine what the backlash might have sounded like if he had been genderbent and etc) allows him to be somewhat palatable to cranky fanboy audiences.
In other words, he’s got some proximity to Whiteness. Purposeful or not.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. And we shouldn’t pretend that this is not a thing. Anti-Blackness is not only common but it permeates in even the most “progressive” of circles. In fact, in the 20+ years I’ve been on this Earth, if I could count how many times I heard a White/non-Black person say “well, (I’m/you’re) not White, but at least (I’m/you’re) not Black”, I’d actually be pretty fucking rich.
To explain, on the social totem pole in this country (and I’d argue around the globe), Black people are on the bottom.
Now, this goes doubly for Black women (and triply and quadruply the further you travel away from cis, Male, and straight)…which is why the blacklash™ against a Black Mary Jane is so deafening. That intersection of race and gender (read: misogynoir) made it so that the backlash to a Black Mary Jane was inevitable.
Women/non-men get shit on around the world. Black women/non-men get shit on around the world. Combine that and you’re in for a world of hurt.
For Black women, being “bottom rung”–for lack of a better pair of words–means we are “less desirable”. Oddly enough, that doesn’t stop society (and the history of this country) from painting us as hypersexual and simultaneously stripping us of bodily autonomy and free sexuality.
It’s a conundrum, so to speak. You’re either reviled (I don’t date Black girls. Black girls are so rude and nasty!) or fetishized (Gee willikers! I’ve never dated a Black girl! How exciting! They are such KWEEENS!).
Now, of course, this gets more complicated when we bring in the darkness of said Black skin in question. All Black people in this country experience some ounce of anti-Blackness. But that anti-Blackness gets more concentrated the darker you are. Now I should point out here that an interesting thing happens to this phenomenon when gender (and gender presentation) is involved. But generally, darker Black skin is seen as too aggressive. Too offensive even. Too much.
Lighter Black skin, while still Black, is not so Black that it does all of the things I listed above. Once again, it is just palatable enough for Darth Chet to forgive™.
Of course, none of that saved Zendaya from being the target of excessive hate as well as saltine tears. Many used the coded “but what about the red hair!” defense to say why Zendaya wasn’t right for the part when they really meant that “Mary Jane is now Black so I can’t be attracted to her anymore. Who am I gonna fap to now???”
Still. I am oh-so-curious as to what might have happened if Mary Jane was cast as a darker Black actress (re: colorism). Someone like Imani Hakim. Coco Jones. Camille Winbush. I have no doubts in my mind that the ire would still be there but in addition to that ire, I would be willing to bet my entire life savings that it would have been similar to what Leslie Jones experienced all-to-recently with the release of the Ghostbusters reboot.
White supremacists calling her a monkey. A gorilla. A roach. White supremacists going as far as sending her images of Harambe, comparing her to the fallen gorilla. Threatening her life and her livelihood. Hoteps cosigning White supremacists by saying she is “unattractive”, so it was warranted. And for what?
Well, because she had the audacity to be Black and a woman [a dark-skinned one] at the same time. She also had the audacity to “trample” on their “childhoods” by making the Ghostbusters franchise a bit more inclusive (now, that inclusivity ended up being tone deaf and mostly racist, but you can read more about that here).
Which brings me to the final kicker. The real reason that Chet™ and Doug™ are mad:
Any perceived stride toward true inclusivity and progress is seen as highly unnecessary, “PC”, and problematic.
In layman’s terms: racebending and genderbending (not sure if there is an equivalent for sexuality, but I’m gonna go ahead and drop “sexuality-bending” here too) in media are seen as slights against Whiteness. Hell, I’d go as far as saying that there are perceived as blatant ATTACKS on Whiteness.
Case in point, many moons ago, after the announcement that John Boyega was gonna to be a main character in Star Wars VII, White fanboys lost their ever-loving minds. Aside from the predictable MLK and Black Panther musings, some of these fanboys took an extra step. Before the end of that week, I began seeing images that clearly stated that “Diversity is code for White genocide”.
Imagine being so bored and simultaneously pressed AND privileged that you start to hallucinate a genocide happening to you because of the addition of a Black character to your precious “Space Opera Had A Baby With A Western” series.
Imagine being so bored and simultaneously pressed and privileged that you can even fix your mouth to make false equivalences to actual genocides–past and present–that have plagued our planet.
Imagine being so bored and simultaneously pressed and privileged that having one more Black/person of color on your TV screen, in a movie you’re watching, or in a comic book reading makes you feel oppressed….despite the fact that you are over-represented in 340823049832094210493% of media.
Imagine being that privileged. Imagine being that racist. Imagine being that irrational.
There’s a saying that goes: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. That’s somewhat true, but it also goes deeper than that. The real fear here is the fear of being outnumbered. Or rather, the fear of being oppressed.
As much as White fanboys in particular (not to say that other people are off the hook) like to pretend that they’re oppressed, they don’t know what that feels like and frankly, they don’t want to know what that feels like. Which is why they go apeshit about anything that even seems like it might cause them mild discomfort (which might as well be oppression in their minds).
This includes the racebending of their precious (but not very notable if I’m being frank) “girl-next-door” Mary Jane.
Of course, all these insecurities I just laid out are a bit too much for them to articulate, so they stick with “canon”.
But if you take anything away from this piece, know that it is never about “canon”.
Images From: Giphy.com, Gifwave.com, Bestanimations.com, DC, IGN.com, Marvel.wikia.com, Tumblr