Earlier this week the Washington Times ran an editorial bemoaning the current state of affairs in comic books as being "obsessed with the politically correct." The focus of the piece, whose unattributed writer seems to not actually read comic books, lands mostly on Kamala Khan, the teenage Muslim girl who will now take on the mantle of Ms. Marvel. Khan, by virtue of being Muslim, apparently cannot "fight for truth, justice, and the American way." The Washington Times assumes that Khan will be fighting against America, the "Great Satan," in order to appeal to readers in Muslim countries.
Similarly, this week the Washington Post ran an editorial by Richard Cohen in which he lays out what he sees as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's "tea-party problem." After first asserting that the GOP is not racist, Cohen goes on to state:
People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York -- a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts -- but not all -- of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn't look like their country at all.
Let that sink in for a second. While in one case someone who doesn't read comic books is expressing doubt about the future of an art form that they have no investment in, and in the other a cultural conservative half-speaks of the future challenges of a political party that he very much does feel invested in, they use remarkably similar language. Cohen describes the GOP has having fears "about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde," and the mild-mannered writer for the Washington Times states that the comic book industry "promotes eerie lifestyles." Based on the three examples that they give to back up that claim, what they really mean is "homosexual lifestyles." Oh, and one of those is a gay and interracial relationship. I can just picture a group of people sitting around a campfire and telling the tales of these loving couples with flashlights lighting their faces from below. Eerie!
While Cohen could use a bit of an update on what constitutes "racist" (heads up, a gag reflex upon seeing a happy interracial family is racist), at least his piece is specifically written to reflect the somewhat-stuck-in-their-ways mindsets that do exist within the tea party. The comic-book panic from the Washington Times, on the other hand, actually goes out of its way to acknowledge that Khan's co-creator, Sana Amanat, is herself a Muslim woman. In fact, they go so far as to quote Amanat talking about the types of stories that will be told about the character with respect to her heritage and home life, and one can assume that Amanat can draw details from her personal experiences in order to create a relatable character. The Washington Times also acknowledges Malala Yousafzai, whom they pretty accurately describe as a "real-life teen superheroine." Yet despite the clear personal connection between Amanat and her character and the real-world parallel in a game-changing Muslim woman like Yousafzai, the Washington Times still dismisses Kamala Khan as an example of comic books' supposed obsession with political correctness and minority quotas.
This is not "political correctness." This is representation. This is what writers like Cohen and the Washington Times editors fail to grasp. When Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, white men worry about not seeing enough people who look like them in popular media, they call it a "loss of conventional values." But when people of any minority status express the same worries about their own lack of representation, those Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, white men call it an "obsession with political correctness."
Hey, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, white men who are freaking out because there's a bunch more people who aren't like you in media! Your fear is that you will wake up one day and flip on the TV and not see anyone you can relate to? That you won't see anyone you can model yourself after, or anyone your kids could see as role models? That's what you're afraid of, right? Well, that's what life is like for the rest of us right now.
Recently I found myself ecstatic when Marvel announced that in the soon-to-launch title Loki: Agent of Asgard, the beloved mischief god himself, a fan favorite in both the comics and on movie screens, will be portrayed as not only bisexual but genderfluid. Being genderfluid myself, I find that there are very few representations of people like me in the media. Yes, I can identify with male and female characters, but I want there to be more people actually like me on TV. (Well, I'm a comedian, so, more to the point, I want to see me on TV, but baby steps.)
"Others" like me are tired of being told that we don't belong. We're tired of hearing that we should placate the voters of a different state because they can't handle the happy marriage of a mayor. We're tired of hearing that it's OK for a boy to be bitten by a spider and gain its powers as long as he's not black while doing it. We're tired of hearing that a trans girl in a bathroom stall is inherently harassing other students by the mere fact of her existence. We are tired of seeing the conversation focus on "us" vs. "them" when it is just "us." We are not quotas. We are not politically correct. We are people. We exist. We deserve to be here. We deserve to see ourselves in the media. We deserve to see our stories told. In the words of Pat Benatar's classic hit, we belong.