It’s plain to anyone with even a slight interest in comic books and pop culture in general that there is a huge push for diversity in almost all areas these days. We are often told that minorities have been interested and invested in various “geeky” media for years, but are craving more representation; they want to read and watch stories about people who resemble themselves. There is a sort of counterintuitive feeling here: on the one hand we hear that geekdom has never, ever been solely limited to white males, yet we are also told that sweeping changes need to be made in order to make minorities comfortable within geekdom.
The optimistic view is that while white males may have been the target audience in years past, a silent majority of non-white, non-heterosexual, non-male readers have always been present and are now able to be more vocal regarding their favorite media. The more cynical take is that corporate interests have now fixated on the possibility of capitalizing on minorities. One could look at The Force Awakens as an open and honest attempt to make Star Wars for everyone or as a blatant cash-grab designed to start sucking the cash from the wallets of a whole new demographic.
Focusing more on comics published by Marvel and DC, we’ve seen over the past few years a very in-your-face initiative to sell more books with minority characters. Marvel has been the most obvious about their pursuit of progress. Perhaps starting with the highly publicized wedding of Northstar and his partner, a same-sex wedding that took place years before it was made legal in the United States, and continuing on with decisions like: the creation of Kamala Khan, the muslim Ms. Marvel; the passing of the Thor powers and mantle to Jane Foster; a black Captain America; and now a young black girl taking over the pages of Iron Man from Tony Stark, Marvel has made it very clear that their interests lie with anyone who isn’t a straight white man.
DC has made strides as well: Batwoman is a lesbian woman who is just shy of being as capable as the Dark Knight; a white Wally West has returned to the DCU, but they haven’t abandoned their recently created black Wally; they have their own muslim powerhouse with Green Lantern Simon Baz; new and old Hispanic characters GL Jessica Cruz and Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes; not to mention the race shifting of ancillary characters like Etta Candy and General Eiling. Both companies are trying to make their stables look less homogenous.
Throughout this entire process, anyone who objected to these mandates or even questioned them was dismissed as a racist, homophobic, misogynistic troll. If you prefer a white Cap then you obviously hate black people. Do you think the name of “Thor” specifically passing to someone else instead of just the hammer and abilities is stupid? That’s only because you’re afraid of strong women and would prefer them to all be in the kitchen, making you sandwiches.
There’s very little room for debate or discussion; if you feel anything short of ecstatic about these decisions then you’re a bigot. That’s not to say bigotry doesn’t exist or that there aren’t legitimate racists out there who honestly hate any character that isn’t white. It’s just that there are a lot of unfair assumptions being made that need to be addressed.