When I was ten or eleven I discovered the comic book rack at the grocery store. While my mother would grocery shop I’d read everything on the rack: GI Joe, X-Men, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Super-Man, and enough Archies to shake a stick at. It would take a couple of trips for me to read anything, and sometimes the comics would be switched out or sold out before I got a chance to read them. So I always made a point to read X-Men first for one reason: Storm.
Storm was the only black female character who was both strong and capable. She wasn’t there to clean anyone’s floor or ste and fetch for some white hero. For most of the arcs I read, Storm was her own woman with her own goals.
But, she was the only one.
When the X-Men move came out in the 90s featuring Halle Berry as Storm I was stoked. She was obviously the best of the X-Men (duh), and as Professor X’s second in command she’d surely get a lot of screen time, right?
Fast forward now through several X-Men movies and a quasi-reboot, and Storm, the one female black superhero I had as a child who was not overly sexualized (not any more than what is considered standard for comics, and definitely less than characters like Emma Frost) has had little to no storyline in any of the movies.
That is because there are no superheroes for black girls or for black women. We aren’t the love interest or the hero. We are hired help and capable second in commands and villains galore, but if you are a black woman and expecting to be the hero of your own tale you are expecting miracles.
I share this not to rail at the comics industry, where things seem to be (finally!) changing but to illustrate a point. There are no heroes for black girls. There are no knights in shining armor ready to swoop in and save them and there isn’t a pantheon of secondary characters to support us in our quest. Not in the pretend world and not in real life, either.
There’s been a lot of talk about being kind and using social media for good. Vague, generic attempts to talk about online abuse and to promote everyone doing better, being nicer to each other. But there’s never any expectation that these protections would extend to black women. At least, not by me. And not by any woman of color who has been on social media for more than a fortnight. Because these conversations only start when there is a white man, and occasionally an exceptional white woman, being threatened. When a woman of color speaks up and is subsequently attacked the Greek chorus of support that shows up for any white dude of middling ability is curiously silent.
Even the coverage of online abuse is inequitable. A quick click through of articles about online abuse shows a bevy of white faces but not a single brown or Asian face. Not a single quote from any of the prominent black women on social media. But no one seems to notice this. After all, we’re conditioned that you don’t have to rescue the help.
I don’t know many women who have managed to use social media for a long time without suffering any kind of online abuse. But I know zero black women who actively use social media and haven’t had a racist and sexist interaction. Many have either accepted the abuse as routine or stick to benign, non-confrontational conversations, censoring themselves in order to avoid mistreatment.
I wonder how many white dudes have had to do the same?
And this isn’t a call to go beat up the closest white dude (because that is silly), but it is a call for folks to carefully consider when they jump in and on what bandwagons. I’ve seen a lot of folks jump in to defend dudes when they are attacked, but these same folks are curiously silent when it is a woman of color. And I see white dudes take up the mantle of outrage in defense of a white woman on occasion, but never for a woman of color.
But, in a way, I guess that’s just people treating online like it’s IRL.