Read This: Gene Luen Yang’s rousing comics speech at the 2014 National Book Festival gala
From the Washington Post, article here.
GENE LUEN YANG, Library of Congress, Jefferson Building:
Good evening. Thank you, Library of Congress and National Book Festival, for inviting me to share the stage with such esteemed authors, and to speak with all of you. I am deeply grateful for this honor.
I’m a comic-book guy, so tonight I’d like to talk about another comic book guy. Dwayne McDuffie was one of my favorite writers. When I was growing up, he was one of the few African-Americans working in American comics. Dwayne worked primarily within the superhero genre. He got his start at Marvel Comics but eventually worked for almost every comic book publisher out there. He even branched out into television and wrote for popular cartoon series like “Justice League” and “Ben 10.”
Dwayne McDuffie is no longer with us, unfortunately. He passed away in 2011, at the age of 49. But within comics, his influence is still deeply felt.
I was lucky enough to have met him once. About a year before his death, we were on a panel together at Comic-Con. I had the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him how much his work meant to me.
In a column Dwayne wrote in 1999, he talked about his love of the Black Panther, a Marvel Comics character. The Black Panther’s secret alias is T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. He has super senses, super strength, and super agility. He’s an Avenger, though he hasn’t yet made it into the movies.
The Black Panther wasn’t created by African American cartoonists. He was created in July of 1966 by two Jewish Americans, Stan Lee (who was born Stanley Lieber) and Jack Kirby (who was born Jacob Kurtzberg).
By modern standards, the Black Panther is not a flawless example of a black superhero. In their first draft of the character, Lee and Kirby called him “the Coal Tiger” and gave him a goofy yellow and black costume. Even in his final form, his superhero alias includes the word “Black.” This is true of many early African and African American superheroes, as if what makes them remarkable is neither their superpowers nor their heroism, but their ethnicity. Most problematic, though, was that Marvel made their most prominent black superhero the star of a series called Jungle Action.
All of these flaws were lost on Dwayne McDuffie when he first encountered the Black Panther in 1973, at the age of 11. What struck him was the character’s commanding sense of dignity. The Black Panther wasn’t anyone’s sidekick. He wasn’t an angry thug. He wasn’t a victim. He was his own hero, his own man. As Dwayne describes it, “In the space of 15 pages, black people moved from invisible to inevitable.”
Dwayne’s love of the Black Panther eventually blossomed into a love of comics in general. Dwayne was a smart guy with a lot of options in life. He’d earned a master’s degree in physics. But he chose to write comics as his career. I would argue that without the Black Panther, this flawed black character created by a writer and an artist who were not black, there would be no Dwayne McDuffie the comic book writer.
Dwayne wasn’t just a writer — he was also a businessman. In the early ’90s, he teamed with a group of writers and artists to found Milestone Media, the most prominent minority-owned comic book company that has ever existed. The Milestone universe have since been folded into DC Comics, so these days characters like Static Shock and Icon – characters Dwayne co-created – fight crime alongside Superman and Batman.
In the early ’90s, I was finishing up my adolescence. I visited my local comic-book store on a weekly basis, and one week I found a book on the stands called Xombi, published by Milestone Media. Xombi is a scientist who became a superhero after he was injected with nanotechnology. He allied himself with a secret order of superpowered nuns. One sister was known as Nun of the Above, another Nun the Less. Together, they protected the world from all kinds of supernatural threats.
Xombi was inventive and fun, but he stood out to me because he was an Asian American male carrying in his own monthly title. And even more notable – he didn’t know Kung Fu. Xombi wasn’t created by Asian Americans – his writer was white and his artist black – but he did make Asian Americans a little less invisible.
We in the book community are in the middle of a sustained conversation about diversity. We talk about our need for diverse books with diverse characters written by diverse writers. I wholeheartedly agree.
But I have noticed an undercurrent of fear in many of our discussions. We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.
This fear can be a good thing if it drives us to do our homework, to be meticulous in our cultural research. But this fear crosses the line when we become so intimidated that we quietly make choices against stepping out of our own identities.
After all, our job as writers is to step out of ourselves, and to encourage our readers to do the same.
I told you the story of Dwayne McDuffie to encourage all of us to be generous with ourselves and with one another. The Black Panther, despite his flaws, was able to inspire a young African American reader to become a writer.
We have to allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, including cultural mistakes, in our first drafts. I believe it’s okay to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s okay if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human.
Just make sure you iron them out before the final draft. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure your early readers include people who are a part of the culture you’re writing about. Make sure your editor has the insider knowledge to help you out. If they don’t, consider hiring a freelance editor who does.
Also, it’s okay if stereotypes emerge in the first drafts of your colleagues. Correct them – definitely correct them – but do so in a spirit of generosity. Remember how soul-wrenching the act of writing is, how much courage it took for that writer to put words down on a page.
And let’s say you do your best. You put in all the effort you can. But then when your book comes out, the Internet gets angry. You slowly realize that, for once, the Internet might be right. You made a cultural misstep. If this happens, take comfort in the fact that even flawed characters can inspire. Apologize if necessary, resolve do better, and move on.
Let your fear drive you to do your homework. But no matter what, don’t ever let your fear stop you.
I have long had a bit of a writer crush on Gene Yang, for he is awesome in so many ways.
Ditto. What a speech.
Elvira Arrellano was a custodial worker at Chicago’s O’Hare airport who was caught in a post-9/11 raid and convicted of document and identity fraud. She was undocumented and was using false identification to provide for her son.
Elvira made national waves when she defied an order of deportation and sought sanctuary in a church. She managed to avoid deportation for a year, until, when making an appearance at a lecture, she was arrested and deported swiftly.
Long before there were visible DREAMers and famous undocumented journalists, before the fight reached its current pitch, Elvira fought.
The risks were greater then, too. The country had turned itself inside out on the issue of immigration post-9/11. Bills were proposed at the state and most infamously at the federal level to make life impossible for immigrants.
She was attacked, not just as an immigrant, but as a woman. Anti-immigrant groups and even some Latin@s called her an unfit mother and accused her of exploiting her son for the right to stay.
Elvira’s lucha (she is still fighting for migrant rights, in México) is an inspiration to me. It reminds me of how long this fight has been coming and how close we are to a solution.
Amelia Venegas Pachuca arrested for carrying brass knuckles during the Zoot Suit riot summer of 1943 in Los Angeles22 year old Venegas, a wife of a sailor (fighting overseas), was going to the store with a baby in her arms to get some milk. Because skirmishes between servicemen and Mexican-Americans had already been going on, she grabbed some brass knuckles to be safe. On her trip, she and the baby witnessed police officers taunting and abusing some Mexican-Americans youths. Unable to control her emotions, she began cursing the officers.She was immediately arrested and jailed for “disturbing the peace.” Her baby was taken to jail with her and eventually passed along to a relative. (The Woman in the Zoot Suit:Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory by Catherine Ramirez)Zoot Suit Riot is more than just a 1990s song. It was an actual historical event.
In the summer of 1943, Mexican American youth in Los Angeles faced discrimination and violence in their own neighborhoods at the hands of U.S. servicemen.
World War II is often credited with pulling the country together. As their compatriots defended democracy abroad, however, some Americans met hostile forces on the home front.
Los Angeles in the 1940s was swamped with GIs. The entertainment capital drew thousands of servicemen on leave from nearby bases and training centers.
Like today, the civilian population of L.A. then included a large Mexican American, or Chicano, minority. Many of the white servicemen in town came from areas of the country where there weren’t a lot of Chicanos. Here they heard stories about Chicano youth gangs and about how to pick up Chicanas, or Mexican women.
A Chicano teenage fashion trend called the zoot suit —
modeled on flashy, mobster attireAfrican-American Jazz/Harlem culture— was widely ridiculed in the white press. Visiting servicemen joined in harassing “zoot-suiters.” In the spring and summer of 1943, tension between GIs and young Mexican American males turned violent.
In Oakland and Venice, Calif., sailors and marines “raided” Chicano gatherings and attacked the zoot-suiters, stripping them of their clothes. On June 3 in Los Angeles, a reported dispute over Chicanos set off a military riot. For five straight nights, Whites in uniform stormed the streets. They dragged zoot-suiters out of bars and nabbed them in movie theaters by turning the lights on.
What started as an assault on Mexican Americans quickly expanded to include blacks and Filipinos. Each night, police officers waited until the GIs left and then swooped in to arrest the victims of the violence.
Fearing mutiny, military officials declared the downtown district off limits to military personnel. The measure restored order, but real peace was harder to achieve. In a national newspaper column, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt blamed the riots on “long-standing discrimination against the Mexicans in the Southwest.”
A rebuttal by the Los Angeles Times ended with the statement, “We like the Mexicans and think they like us.” This wording made clear, as far as official Los Angeles was concerned, Mexican Americans were still “them.” (via Teaching Tolerance)Learn more about the riots and the escalating violence here.
October, 2013. 18-year-old Saaya Suzuki came home to her Tokyo apartment to find her ex-boyfriend hiding in her closet brandishing a knife. He plunged that knife into her stomach twice. When she crawled for the door he jumped on her and stabbed her in the neck, before fleeting the scene. Suzuki attempted to call for help, dragging her bloodied body out onto the balcony, but died of her injuries soon after. The community was outraged by the murder, until it was discovered that Suzuki had been sending sexually suggestive photographs to her murderer, 21-year-old Charles Thomas Ikenaga, a realisation that changed the tone of Tokyo’s chatter drastically. ‘He was too pure for her’ I heard someone comment. ‘He was in love, and she corrupted him to madness with her indecency’. ‘Yes he killed her,’ sniggered a taxi driver one night. ‘But can you really blame him? She was a bit of slut, wasn’t she?’
June, 2014. The dismembered body of a retired porn star Federica Giacomini, who went by the screen name Ginevra Hollander, was found stuffed in a suitcase and dumped in a lake. Each sawed-off body part was placed in a separate plastic bag and tightly bound with cello tape by her murderer and former partner Franco Mossoni. The news story, which made it’s rounds on the internet, was followed by echoes of ‘She was a porn star. Who cares?’, ‘Her life was scum and so was she’, ‘[The murder] was 100% her choice!’, and of course that question on everybody’s lips: ‘Why are we mourning a slut?’
August, 2014. 23-year-old porn star Christy Mack was brutally assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, MMA fighter Jon Koppenhaver (aka The War Machine), who came to her home unannounced, and upon finding her there with another man, forced her to strip down and shower in front of him, after which he proceeded to break 18 bones around her eyes and 2 bones in her nose. He knocked out her teeth, kicked her until he ruptured her liver, blinded her in one eye, sawed off her hair with a dull knife and stabbed her in her hand, ear and head. She escaped within an inch of her life, and though the tale of her ordeal was chilling enough, the comments that followed were sickening. ‘Both just doing their jobs’ one man commented. ‘I just had a tug to her yesterday! Feel slightly sad now’, ‘She was dating an MMA fighter named ‘War Machine’, what did she expect?’, ‘Not condoning hitting females but if my girl [cheated] she woulda been looking like Christy Mack’,‘She’s a whore, and she deserved it. Plain and simple.’
There are people in the world, terrible people, whose happiness we would enthusiastically protest. There are child killers that we banish from society, and rapists, murderers and terrorists whose suffering we want with such morbid hunger that we would rejoice at their deaths, and celebrate their pain. There are people in this world, terrible people, who commit such heinous crimes that we deem them less than human. We send them to prison in the hope that they will live out the rest of their days, caged like the animals they are. But those aren’t the only kinds of people upon whom we wish death and suffering. When we laugh at a dead slut, we declare her guilty of a crime- a crime most unforgivable, a crime so terrible it strips her of her human status, a crime on par with murder itself- the crime of female sexual autonomy. We laugh at her life, we laugh at her body- devoid of human worth and significance- we laugh, not at a person, but at something much less.
We live in a world in which the worst thing a woman could do is claim ownership of her own body and sexual life; to make choices about where she puts her body, what she does with it, and to whom she offers or refuses it. We live in a world where women’s bodies are commodified to no end- wrapped up and ribboned for male consumption in mainstream media and advertising, online and print porn, strip clubs, human trafficking and forced child prostitution, virginity auctions and arranged marriages in return for dowry- many of which are forced upon girls and women, sometimes illegally, yet as soon as a woman profits from willingly performing labor for which there is tremendous demand, she is rubbish, she is worthless, she is less than human, and she will be punished for breaching the laws of female decency.
The policing of female bodies has always been seen as vital for maintaining order in the society and in the home. Female sexuality has been approached as dangerous, as before the advent of DNA testing, male paternity could only be assured through the female’s absolute monogamy. Female infidelity is deemed far more offensive than male infidelity. This comes from the age-old belief that women are property, and that men are more entitled to ‘collect’ sex from various female bodies, somehow being ‘needier’ of it than their female counterparts. The entitlement that men feel over women’s bodies is generally the first defence brought up against domestic violence and jealousy related murders. While male infidelity is treated as inevitable, female infidelity is viewed as the ultimate betrayal- of the men who ‘have’ them, of the society that polices them, of the terms of decency upon which they are allowed to walk the world unharmed- so much so that such betrayal actually constitutes grounds for murder. This deeply engrained double standard realises itself on our streets in the form of acid attacks, in which rejected men throw acid at women to burn off, and deform their faces. Women are still being murdered systematically for their infidelity in the form of honour killings, often in cultures that encourage polygamy in men. Insufficient dowry can often rouse men to lacerate their young bride’s faces with razor blades until they are permanently scarred beyond recognition. Eerily similar is the case of the more recent attack on porn star Christy Mack, who is now in need of a facial reconstruction after having her skull crushed in by an MMA fighter’s vengeful fist. Ultimately, these ideas about male entitlement over women’s bodies, and the policing and restricting of female sexuality and sexual activity stem from nothing but fear. Systems of sexual double-standards, of slut shaming, victim blaming and the normalisation of female sexual passivity, as well as the great social denial of female sexual agency upon the insistence that sexual indifference in women is biological- are seen as the fishing net that contains women within the lower end of the heterosexual power dynamic- fulfilling the ultimate patriarchal goal of ‘keeping our women in the right beds’.
Sex workers are the poster girls for this curious culture of ours, which shuns women for sex in a world where they are defined by it. Sex workers have the arduous task of being simultaneously desirable and disgusting. They are the women who are publicly crucified on this witch hunt; the women who are used, abused, and left to bleed out in the public eye. They are made examples of, so other women, ‘normal’ chaste women, can learn fear. Fear of being that worthless body. Fear of being that fuckdoll, that empty vessel, that hole in the wall whose sexual humiliation men cum to, whose deaths men laugh at. The push and pull towards and away from what constitutes acceptable female sexuality (what satisfies men) and what constitutes unacceptable female sexuality (autonomous, self-gratifying or profitable) is, frankly, exhausting. Fearing the slut is getting tired. There are people in this world, terrible people, who we deem less than human for their offensive lives. Sluts do not deserve sub human status. Neither do prostitutes, or porn stars. But if you jerk off with your right hand and point with your left, perhaps you do.
There’s this shitty thing that happens when you learn about the reality of racism, sexism and misogyny. You start to hear it from the mouths of your parents, grandparents, friends and siblings and you can’t ignore it anymore but you’ll see how many of them will ignore you when you speak out about it.
— Rape, Racism, and the Myth of the Black Rapist by Angela Y. Davis (via ethiopienne)
Happy women’s day, yo
What’s misandry, again?
- Women perform 66% of the world’s work, but receive only 11% of the world’s income, and own only 1% of the world’s land.
- Women make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults.
- Women head 83% of single-parent families. The number of families nurtured by women alone doubled from 1970 to 1995 (from 5.6 million to 12.2 million).
- Women account for 55% of all college students, but even when women have equal years of education it does not translate into economic opportunities or political power.
- There are six million more women than men in the world.
- Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.
- Parents in countries such as China and India sometimes use sex determination tests to find out if their fetus is a girl. Of 8,000 fetuses aborted at a Bombay clinic, 7,999 were female.
- Wars today affect civilians most, since they are civil wars, guerrilla actions and ethnic disputes over territory or government. 3 out of 4 fatalities of war are women and children.
- Rape is consciously used as a tool of genocide and weapon of war. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been subjected to rape and other sexual violence since the crisis erupted in Darfur in 2003. There is no evidence of anyone being convicted in Darfur for these atrocities.
- About 75% of the refugees and internally displaced in the world are women who have lost their families and their homes.
- Gender-based violence kills one in three women across the world and is the biggest cause of injury and death to women worldwide, causing more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accident, and war.
"not all men"
"men and women are different because in prehistoric times…"
"if i could just play devil’s advocate for a minute…"
( ˇ෴ˇ )
"here, you should read the fountainhead, it explains everything i’m trying to say…"
"feminists don’t want equality they just want women to be in charge of everything…"
( ಠ ∩ಠ)
The second claim actually has scientific consensus. That we are a sexually dimorphic species and have inherent differences due to the origins of our species.
"The second claim actually has scientific consensus. That we are a sexually dimorphic species and have inherent differences due to the origins of our species. "
That is terrible and heart breaking on so many levels
Parineeti Chopra responds to a male reporter who claims to know nothing about periods (menstrual cycle). [X]
james franco gets busted for soliciting sex from an underage girl. media: franco made a mistake, and has apologized. he hopes to move past this incident and focus entirely on his career from now on.
jennifer lawrence’s nude photos are stollen from her phone. media: when will these actresses learn to control themselves?? this scandal has surely damaged what remains of her career!
When we live in a world where you can access free content of naked consenting women in less than 5 seconds, why are people still invading the privacy of non-consenting women for nudes?
Hint: It has something to do with people feeling entitled to making any woman their personal porn, even if it violates or humiliates her in the process.
Double hint: It might also have to do with the way that society celebrates and romanticizes the non-consensual sexualization of women.