Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I have a problem with Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers and "don't see differences" philosophy

(Originally posted at my tumblr: Ami's Tumblr Place of Cat DOOOM)

I was reading this post on Racialicious about the continuing problems with Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers and his idea that discrimination would just be solved if people stopped seeing differences.  In the specific issue the post is talking about, Remender uses Scarlet Witch as essentially his mouthpiece to shut down Rogue who is kind of a strawman representation of his critics.  She's portrayed as being overly emotional and presenting weak arguments (or poorly backed up arguments) so that Remender's stand-in can easily knock them down.

On top of what Racialicious has brought up as the issues with Wanda's arguments (the mutants do have a shared history, etc), I wanted to add some of my thoughts of why I think this entire argument of "don't see differences and there will be no problems" that Remender's posited (starting from Havok, continuing through Wanda) is ridiculous and problematic.

To me I see at least 3 major issues that Mutants face (there may be more, but I want to just address these 3 for now): 

1) Accessibility issues.  This one I don't think gets talked about enough when people talk about Mutants as an allegory for discrimination in society.  People talk about them as an allegory for race, and an allegory for queer acceptance, but Mutants aren't just having trouble fitting into society because they look different, or that they have powers.  Many of them have physical or mental differences that prevent them from easily being able to access and live in society.  Without his ruby glasses, Cyclops can't open his eyes without blasting a hole through everything constantly.  If he didn't have a wealthy benefactor in Xavier to begin with, he probably would have to live his entire life with his eyes closed.  How does Havok's "don't see differences" philosophy help him, or others in his situation?  How does a society that embraces his philosophy help Cyclops?  Is it his job to close his eyes and pretend to fit in, or does he need to have the wealth and means to buy ruby glasses to keep out of the way of others?  Will society help mutants who shoot beams out of their eyes, or who emit acid from their hands with their accessibility needs and fund what equipment they might need to live their lives?  Or will it just be up to them to keep their differences out of sight?

Or what about Rogue?  It's especially pressing because she's the one talking to Scarlet Witch.  Rogue isn't like Wanda, she isn't just a regular human with some added nifty powers.  She can't touch people without killing them.  She can't shake hands, she can't kiss people, she can't ever experience intimacy.  Her mutancy alters the way she experiences society and her ability to interact with society.  She can't close her eyes and pretend this doesn't exist.  It's a real thing she has to constantly be concerned about and it affects what she can do, and how she dresses.  How does a "see no differences" society accept her, and accommodate her?  Would such a society leave people like her jobless because it's just easier to hire somebody who can shake hands with clients without a glove, or who you don't have to worry might accidentally kill a co-worker or customer?  If we're just treating people "like people", then the "I'm just choosing the best qualified person who causes the least trouble for my company" argument can easily be used to just ignore mutants with abilities like Rogue.  Society is designed around non-powered people, and that includes the clothes we wear for work.  Will a "no differences" society obligate companies to alter their dress codes to accommodate Mutants who need to wear or not wear certain things to work there, or would the Mutants who can't fit in just be SOL?

And what about issues like housing, or shelter?  Would she be able to find any place to live or stay if people are worried about her accidentally sucking the life out of her housemates, or being a danger to people in a shelter?  Would any shelters even allow her in?  Would she be allowed into communal showers or dressing rooms because of fear that she might harm other patrons?

In the Marvel world, it's easy to ignore these as issues because Rogue and Cyclops are superheroes and they don't have to worry about employment, or housing, but if Remender wants us to think of this issue beyond just "superheroes in tights", you can't just pretend that these things wouldn't happen, and aren't an issue for Mutants trying to live their day to day lives.  And they DO happen, in real life, all the time, to those who have to deal with issues regarding access such as people with disabilities and trans people.  Accessibility barriers are real, and can seriously impinge on a person's quality of life, ability to get and keep employment, ability to be housed, and ability to get around in life.  Society is designed around abled people and cis people, and that design means disabled people and trans people are often at a severe disadvantage in being able to interact and live in society.  You can't just pretend you don't see it, and it goes away.

This also adds another fucked up layer to Wasp's Mutant fashion line: it's not just appropriation in a racial sense, but it's appropriating outfits and apparel that Mutants NEED to wear to live their lives.  It's a fun thing for some kid to wear Rogue's gloves or Cyclop's visor, but those things aren't just affectations to those characters, they're things they need to wear to interact with society the way non-powered humans take for granted every day.

2) Discrimination on appearance.  This one's been talked about quite a bit, so I think I'll try to keep it brief.  Characters like Beast or Nightcrawler can't just claim "I'm human, stop seeing my powers" because it's not necessarily about their powers when it comes to people's prejudice against them.  They don't look the same as the "default" accepted idea of how people should look.  They aren't the privileged group visually, and that's not something you can close your eyes and ignore either.  It's easy for Havok or Scarlet Witch to pass as human, but other characters can't.  It's a lot easier for people to "not see differences" when the differences are something they can more easily pretend don't exist.  History has shown again and again that "race blindness" just leads to people defaulting to the "norm".  By telling people that differences don't matter, you encourage people to not challenge their own biases, just merely "not thinking about them", and that always benefits the privileged group, because they're centered in society.

And even beyond just physical appearance, do Mutants have to try to "act human" too?  Does Beast have to shave constantly and wear clothes to get a job?  Does Nightcrawler have to hide his feet and hands?  Will he be kept in the back of a diner to not "scare" the customers?  Beast has a different posture than what's accepted as "human", does he have to change that, or downplay that?  Some mutants are more comfortable moving or acting in a certain way due to their mutancy (Nightcrawler perches a lot), is that something that people will understand, or again, something they'd have to change to downplay their differences, and stop "shoving it in people's faces"?

I could continue, but the comparisons to racism, homophobia, transphobia, and cultural/religious discrimination have been made before, and I presume most people "get" how some issues Mutants face are allegories to the above.  But these are real life issues that affect real life people, and "being color blind" only exacerbates them because it often ignores that people can't turn off their biases, and more than that, often is used to discriminate against people by claiming that they are "shoving it in our faces" if they act or look in a way that isn't minimizing their "differences".

Also, do non-white Mutants not exist or something?  How about instead of having a bunch of white Mutants talk about how being a Mutant relates to race, we have some non-white Mutants chime in with their perspective?  I'm sure more than a few understand the relationship between the discrimination they face as Mutants and what they face as people of colour, and they can tell Havok and Scarlet Witch just how effective "don't see race" has been in their lives.

3) Mutants as threats.  So this is the part that does affect people like Havok and Scarlet Witch.  Because Mutants actually DO have powers.  And this is where they differ from a straight comparison to real life, because real life marginalized groups don't have super powers that put them on a completely different level than other groups (and generally in our society, the physically/militarily/economically superior group is the dominant, privileged one).  People may THINK a marginalized group is a threat, but they're not actually one.  Black people may be seen as more dangerous, but they can't wave their hands and wipe out a town.  Some mutants can.  And it, again, can't just be handwaved away by "pretend everybody's the same."  How DOES society deal with the reality of some people being "one man armies"?  How does society deal with the possibility of people like Magneto?  You can limit people's access to weapons, but not to themselves.  What if somebody with the power to shoot fireballs feels like blowing up a school?  What about telepaths who want to use their powers to manipulate others, or rape others?  How does the legal system cover "consent" with a telepath, or somebody who emits phermones?  This is a case of Marvel writers wanting to make a direct analogy to racism, or other real life discrimination, but ignoring that real life marginalized groups don't have super powers that can be used to destructive consequences. If Remender wants me to think of the Marvel Earth as a serious actual real world with real life concerns, the above aren't issues that that world can just ignore because "let's just not see differences!"

However, since "marginalized groups as threats" IS a narrative that is used to discriminate in society, we can adapt certain things about the fear of Mutants and their powers into real life.  Does a Mutant with depression get treated as an automatic threat?  Do we fear that a depressed teen Mutant might kill all their schoolmates with energy beams?  Do they have to be locked up then?  Are they going to be forced treatment for their depression?  These are issues and stigma that people with mental illnesses already face in real life.  "Not seeing differences" again tends to mean "treating everybody from the baseline of the "norm" or default" and that means that people who aren't neurotypical get treated as if they're necessarily threats, or dangerous, or must be locked up, or forcibly medicated.

As well, people who are HIV+ face similar discrimination as "threats", and are feared, treated more harshly by the law, and excluded in many situations.  They ARE treated as if their very existence is a potential weapon.  But their condition, and their ability to access treatment and medical care are also very real.  How does "see no differences" help them?  You can't handwave their disease away, but that doesn't mean that acknowledging their condition means that they must be treated as pariahs, or threats, or potential killers.

And we just dealt with the Trayvon Martin double tragedy (what happened + the verdict).  How would "stand your ground" apply in the Marvel world?  Can you imagine the number of mutants that would be murdered because somebody feared they would fireball them?  "Sure, he was just walking towards me, but I know he can shoot eyebeams, I had to shoot first!"   And again, I'm just talking about how this would work in the Marvel world.  In real life black people don't actually have powers, but our society constructs black people to be seen as physically more aggressive, powerful, and dangerous, and people's prejudices based on this can't just be ignored.  You can tell them not to see the color of a black person's skin, and they'll just justify their discrimination based on (perceived) physicality, and claim it's not racism.

Marvel society couldn't just pretend that Mutants don't actually have powers, or accessibility needs, or physical differences, because it's an actual real physical reality in that world. Mutants deal with all three issues above, often in various intersectional combinations.  All Havok's pretty speech would do is have society pretend that their own fears and discrimination of those differences don't matter or exist, rather than address how to accept and co-exist with those who ARE different than them.

And in a much more real way, it's telling the readers that in the REAL world, where people don't even HAVE powers, that all we need to do is to close our eyes and discrimination will go away.  That the only problem is people seeing differences, rather than that those of us who are "different" live in a society not designed for us, whether that's the medical system, the legal system, the architecture around us, dress codes, hiring practices, or just the narratives and thought processes that people grow up being taught about us.  THOSE are the real problems that need addressing, and they need REAL solutions, not fantasy close your eyes and it goes away platitudes.  Differences are real, and they matter.  They only don't matter to those who society sees as "normal" and has built itself around.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a really well written post.