This essay first appeared on the Son of Baldwin tumblr blog and is reprinted by permission.
As someone who has collected comic books for 40 years, it has always fascinated me where white people, and people who exalt Whiteness, draw the line in terms of suspension of disbelief.
Generally, they will allow for the most OUTRAGEOUS of possibilities EXCEPT one that will put a marginalized demographic in a space where they believe that marginalized demographic “doesn’t belong.” And they imagine this predilection to be race-neutral and racism-free. They would, in fact, swear on it.
A few years back, I participated in an online panel hosted by my friend, artist/writer Phil Jimenez, where I was the only black person and I was amazed at how casually the other panelist were willing to believe in backward-talking witch-magic, flying saucers, extraterrestrial civilizations, other dimensions, beings strong enough to juggle planets, invisible jets, lanterns that turn will power into green plasma energy constructs, and telepathic gorillas as the most intelligent and civilized species on the African continent (!), but the moment a black person showed up in the mountains of West Virginia, THAT was where their imagination shut down completely. White people in Nigeria made sense, but not black people in the mountains–Melungeons be damned.
And the most frustrating thing about those people and their limited imaginations is how they quickly use “history” and “historical precedent” as tools to defend themselves against accusations of racism. The minute a marginalized person shows up where they “don’t belong,” these people can no longer enjoy the fantasy and they refuse to do the teeniest bit of soul-searching to figure out why. So they retreat to history (an artifact which is largely their own invention as James Baldwin once said) to shield themselves from their own obvious pathology.
Fiction, for them, must be real ENOUGH; and trust me, the devil lies squarely in the “enough”:
“Well, it’s a proven FACT that there were no black people in XX place at YY time.” Yeah? Well, it’s also a proven fact that there were no phase-shifting Martians either, but you seem to be okay with that.
They can’t just be like, “Well, actually, borders were quite porous in those times. It’s a distinct possibility that there were quite a number of Moors or some such in these areas even if they were a small minority–even if history has been whitewashed to such a degree that I was never taught this like I should have been when I was in school.”
None of that.
One black person is enough to ruin the entire lily-white dream world.
And they will “But, but, but…” you half to death and get offended when you call them on it.
All the Egyptian gods can be white, but if there’s a single black person on Asgard, the world, for people who exalt Whiteness, is coming to an end.
“’Why exactly are all the main characters in ‘Frozen’ white?’ my husband asked a white friend recently. She responded thoughtfully: ‘Well, the movie is set in a Nordic, cold place — you know, it makes sense, right?’ Annoyed, my husband countered, ‘The movie has a talking snowman.’ It’s funny, and sad, where we draw the lines for what’s acceptable in fantasy movies. Somehow a talking snowman makes more sense than, say, a black Norwegian.”[Headline image: The photograph shows a black woman with curly black hair and dark eyes. She is wearing a one-strap white dress and is touching her hair with her left hand.]
Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer and editor from Brooklyn, N.Y. He is the creator of the social justice media brand, Son of Baldwin. He is currently working on his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @sonofbaldwin.