Calling Out Allies: Accountability is Your Friend

By: Jose Figeuroa

In order to truly create change, create opportunities for geeks of color and to push for inclusivity within geek spaces, we must address a few elephants in the room. Okay…. maybe more than just a few simple elephants, but you understand my point. One of the issues that needs unpacking is the pervasiveness of white supremacy within geek spaces and the ways in which well-meaning white folxs are complicit in perpetuating systemic violence towards people of color.

I believe in the potential power of solidarity. Despite that, I am well aware that well meaning allies can and often do engage in harmful behavior. Identifying as an ally does not cancel out access to privilege, nor does it erase the history of white supremacy that allows whiteness to thrive at the expense of folxs of color. When an ally fails to recognize the privileged spaces in which they occupy and center their experience over the experiences of marginalized communities, more violence is hurled towards the very groups they claim to support.

These uncomfortable conversations need to occur. Allies must be held accountable for their contributions to a system that constantly exploits, erases and violates groups of people. White geeks and creators who consider themselves allies must take a step back, be open to critique and be willing to grow.

Below are a few ways in which well meaning White allies support the systematic oppression of geeks of color. Remember, accountability can be your friend…

Example one

I’ve been a fan of Grace Randolph, creator of Beyond the Trailer and Think About the Ink, since 2012. Her channel was fun and full of comic book/movie news and came at a major turning point in my life. I respected Grace’s organized critiques and rushed to her channel any time huge geek news was released. Grace also seemed to use her privilege as a White Woman to strongly advocate for “diversity” within film and comics. I genuinely believed that I had found a site that would include me and other nerds of color into the beautiful world of geekdom. I was mistaken.

After overlooking previous problematic comments, her latest videos have forced me to no longer support Beyond the Trailer. In a video on her channel, Grace adamantly defended the upcoming film, Ghost in the Shell, and it’s “supposed” (her words) white washing of the character Motoko Kusanagi. In her video, she states:

“I don’t think that its white washed, quite frankly. I know that they’ve cast Scarlett Johansson as the female lead, as a character in the anime called the Major but also named Motoko Kusanagi. I know that sounds bad but I think they’re going for a global franchise here, which makes a lot of sense business wise, and also so that everybody can feel that they’re represented here. You see, in these 5 teasers, you see a White woman, a Black woman and an Asian man.”

Randolph’s cringe worthy statement reveals the white lens that she views the world in and contradicts her “allyship” towards communities of color. She dismisses the idea of a major movie studio supporting and profiting off of a film led by an Asian or Asian American actress. In other words, a film starring a non-white person has no chance of succeeding, so studios should always white wash and center whiteness. She also suggests that studios hire talent of color to fill in token secondary roles. Grace’s comments imply that money matters more than the inclusion and the representation of Japanese talent in a film based off of a Japanese anime. It implies that “diversity” equates to Whiteness being centered and non-white talent supporting the erasure of the lead star. That, in her words, is diversity.

Within the same week, Randolph got into a Twitter debate with a few of her followers around the racist and harmful Maui Halloween costume from Disney’s upcoming film, Moana.

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Again, Randolph obnoxiously contradicts her “advocacy” and arrogantly waves her white feminism flag in the faces of her supporters of color. Using her status as a White Woman, she silenced the valid critiques of the cultural appropriation of Polynesian culture. Her video and tweets erased the experiences of people of color – including those whose meaningful cultures have repeatedly been reduced to a costume. She attempted to invalidate the real experience of cultural appropriation by taking an All Lives Matter stance and by forcing whiteness into the center of the conversation.

What Randolph really meant was White people have the right to exploit the culture of communities of Color. What she really meant was white feelings matter more than the racism that folxs of color experience. What she really meant was that White people are the real victims being excluded.

Randolph has also centered her privilege and inclusion as a straight woman in the discussion of representation of the LGBTQ community within comics and film. Her critique as a well meaning “ally” continues to contribute to the erasure of Queer folxs in Hollywood, particularly Queer folxs of color.

Sigh…. Preaching diversity and inclusivity for whom, exactly?

Example Two

Another well-meaning White person that needs to re-examine their “allyship” is Brian Michael Bendis. I appreciate the Afro Latinx representation that the Miles Morales Spider-Man series provides. It matters, especially considering the real world violence that Black bodies continue to experience. The beautiful melanin on the page reels me back in, month after month.

When it comes to the writing, I often find myself seriously questioning why I’m still on board. It distinctly highlights a clear disconnect between Bendis’ experience as a White man and the social realities that the fictional characters within his story live through. It’s clear that Bendis needs to take a step back and allow writers of color with lived experience the opportunity and space to explore these amazing characters.

Issue 8 of Spider-Man depicts a conversation between the rookie hero and the much more experienced Luke Cage. Initially, I was excited about the two Black heroes coming together. I enjoyed the thought of Cage acting as a mentor and passing on knowledge based on his experiences. Mentorship is a critical aspect within communities of color. Many folxs look for opportunities to offer guidance to youth and to give back with the hopes of creating change within the neighborhoods they grew up in. These two heroes coming together could have offered insight into that dynamic. Instead, it oozed of whiteness attempting to replicate the real world dynamics between two Black characters.

Cage highlights the importance of Spider-Man being a person of color and tells him “don’t screw it up.” Bendis’ whiteness prevents him from understanding the weight of representing a whole group of people. He normalizes the racist ways in which white supremacy groups people of color and fails to address the institutional racism that works against communities of color. Bendis will soon bring Riri Williams, a Black teenage hero named Ironheart, to life. Of course, no Black woman or Woman of color is attached to this project. We’ll see how that goes.

Both Randolph and Bendis will continue to create content advocating for people of color. As “allies”, it is their responsibility to check their privilege at the door before adding to harm folxs of color experience every day. It is their responsibility to listen to marginalized voices and use that privilege to support geeks of color in the ways in which we dictate. Remind yourselves that the world cannot revolve around whiteness and have an open heart. Change is possible and all are more than welcome to come along for the ride.

 

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