Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series of poems about the immigrant experience in America. Our late Managing Editor, Okla Elliott, featured Bunkong Tuon’s work on As It Ought To Be back in January of 2017. Okla was particularly concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric heating up in America and he hoped to showcase the voices of immigrants on our site. In honor of Okla’s memory, Tuon has allowed us to feature more of his poetry about his experience as an immigrant from Cambodia in the United States. The full series of poems is available below.
Dancing Fu Manchu Master
One day, walking home by myself, a blue plastic backpack slung over my shoulders, a Christmas gift from our sponsor, I noticed three boys watching me from the convenience store down the corner near an apartment complex. The leader, a short, red-haired, chubby kid, stepped out of the shadow, and called out, “Ching Chong, are you from Hong Kong?” I quickened my pace pretending to hear my Grandmother calling me. “Hey, can you help me with my math homework?” They burst out laughing. Seeing me walk firmly away, they slurred out a slew of hurtful words. “Why don’t you go back to China?” “Do you eat dogs where you come from?” “You use grass and leaves to wipe your ass, right?” “Do you know Kung Fu?”
With this last question saliva, warm and gooey, hit my neck. I closed my eyes, counted my steps, mindful of my breath, my heart slowed. I jumped and turned, thirty feet straight into the air, took out my sword, with a flick of the wrist, saw heads roll, tumbling away down the sidewalk, bodies slumped behind: red blossoming concrete.
Trained in the mysterious arts of Dr. Fu Manchu, I made myself disappear before the police arrived.
About the Author:Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.
Previous poems from Bunkong Tuon’s series on the immigrant experience in America:
The forgotten stone memorials awaken and remind us of the confederate glories the ubiquitous cross-hatched flag celebrates slavery repression pain racism is as apple pie as baseball and in the mix is the Jewhatred why is the left surprised?
Seriously, the marching torches aren’t resonant enough with Triumph of the Will the will to overcome difference to erase difference to wash everything Aryan whiter than the white KKKsheets and purer than melting icecaps of dubious snow purity and danger the danger of impurity and the call to get rid of the Jews get rid of the blacks get rid of the immigrants get rid of
In the night unseen but with great force the stone statues of the confederacy topple
Somewhere in the country people play at the civil war
Reenactment as a game of chance…who wants to be a union soldier when a confederate soldier is so much more fun so much more pure so much more American? The side that lost forever wanting to ride again on those stone statue horses to victory a victory that would have ossified a plantation economy
The south under water now no power
“Jews will not replace us”
hand raised aloft “The Jewish Media is going down”
the jews control hollywood the jews control hollywood the jews control hollywood—how many times I have heard that shit? When I heard it in one of my own graduate seminars I was shocked I shouldn’t have been it is everywhere this claim of control
tensions, anxieties, zero-sum competitions for memorial resources between blacks and Jews jews are white jews get white privilege yes, yes, many of us do tensions anxieties we are lumped together unite the right bonds antisemitism to racism expulsion of all of us purity and a straight up nostalgia for desire for love for Nazism not masked just their “Sieg Heil” those fuckers even said do they know fully know about genocide? Do they care? Can they really celebrate the genocide of millions of Jews, communists, queers, Jehovah’s witnesses, resistance fighters? Do they celebrate the enslavement and murder and rape of millions of black women men children…
the stone statues to the confederacy are alive now their horses gallop through the south through the world they have always trembled at the edge of awakeness and they are here in the present the civil war is still being fought
About the Author:
Brett Ashley Kaplan is the Director of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society, Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, and Professor and Conrad Humanities Scholar in the Program in Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first books, Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation (2007) and Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory (2011), examine the Shoah’s intersections with art and space. Her newest book is Jewish Anxiety in the Novels of Philip Roth (2015) and she is working on a project tentatively entitled jewblack is blackjew: tensions, intersections, and interactions among Jewishness and Blackness in Contemporary art.
Cleveland high-school students respond to state violence.
An introduction from teacher and project coordinator Sarah Marcus:
I never wanted to be a teacher. It took some weathering to arrive here. Years of resisting the inevitable. Growing up, entitled and drug addicted, I was quite vicious to my own teachers. I couldn’t wait to “get out.” But, at some point, we become aware that people are watching us.
I am impossibly lucky to get to work with students at an urban high school in Cleveland, Ohio. It turns out that their determined spirit is the chant I told my child-self to remember. They remind me every day why our actions matter. They remind me to be patient and to be generous. They remind me why it’s important to stay in a place that is struggling. Because if we leave, who will be there to help advocate?
Black Lives Matter. Reverse racism does not exist. You will not find me saying “All Lives Matter.” The problem isn’t with the words themselves. They make sense, all lives should matter. But the reality on the ground is that they don’t. Not here. Not right now. The evidence is suffocating (literally). Because racism is institutionalized, All Lives Matter is a misguided response to Black Lives Matter. It works to soften the truth, to bury it, to make it more bearable. This is a terrible mistake. We should not be allowed to swallow this injustice. It hurts on purpose. More insidiously, All Lives Matter works to completely negate Black Lives Matter. This is the way we rewrite history. The way we forget on purpose.
As a white, Jewish woman I can’t even begin to pretend to know or relate to what my kids are up against. I speak from a place of privilege. I can only guide them to use their voices. I can only teach them about civil disobedience. I can only encourage them to write and speak, because they matter. They matter so much. My whole heart is filled with gratitude as I stand beside them while they walk through this messy, dangerous world with such dignity and grace.
The following is a collection of creative student responses to the recent extrajudicial killings and the deep-rooted issues that continue to plague our communities.
We mourn for the family of Clevelander Tamir Rice. We mourn for all of the families touched by this abhorrent abuse of power. We won’t hold our breath. We will fill their air with song.
– Sarah Marcus, Cleveland teacher and poet
“Premonitions” of Hope
Perspective is one of the most important things you are granted in life. It’s the opinion you have that no one can understand unless they’re you. Being a young black man from inner city Cleveland your perspective is to feel hopeless. Our school system and economical position continuously shows us we aren’t meant to have any self worth. I’ve grown up in a society that feels hopeless. Like their meaning of life is nothing more than what they have been told their whole lives. Rather, it’s on TV, in movies, or in reality that their lives don’t matter. The reason the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases are so pivotal is because it’s people telling us through the legal system that the worth of black lives isn’t even jail time for a murder. They justify murder through personifications like “he was a hoodlum” or “he disobeyed the law” like asking “why” to a man putting handcuffs on you is reason for murder. They say things like “it’s a black president” to set precedent for inequality, but acting if change is really happening. It’s deeper than a life. It’s a statement. We look at the problem and say “how?” We live in a world where there is almost no black heroes from the streets to comic books, and black men have a murder rate from police that is 6 times higher than whites when we’re 1/3 of the population. It’s been almost 50 years since segregation, yet we protest and profess pain like it’s 1968. It’s 2014, yet we march and fight for our lives to be equal as one that is white. Malcolm X once said, “if you stick a knife in 6 inches and pull it out 3 inches you can’t act like the problem has been resolved.” The problem, the cause, and the solution is that it’s deeper than police brutality, it’s deeper than the wrong decisions. The problem is for 150 plus years, equality between the lives that are black and white seems like fiction. That’s the reason there is so much black crime and the reasons why we feel worthless and hurt, because we’ve been fighting since we were slaves and obviously…… no one hears us.
– DeJuan Rocius Brooks, a human being, also class of 2015
I CAN’T BREATHE!!
I can’t breathe…
gasping for air while I’m on my knees,
feeling like I’m dying from a severe disease
YELLING FOR HELP BUT THERE IS NO ONE I SEE!!
I CAN’T BREATHE!!
It’s killing me, its killing me!
This disease that’s constantly hurting me,
My mother, my father,
my sister, my brother…
Not just “my”…
Why can’t we all be together?
You see, the world looks out for themselves…
Everyone wants to make it home,
Who would ever want to be alone?
Really? Is that still going on?
Is it true the ones they want us to look up to and respect are the very ones who are killing us with their very own gun?
Day After Day… WE CRY!!
Because The Ones We Adore…
Unfortunately, Are The Ones We Having To Say Those Words Too…
That We Hate To Say
Day After Day,
Hoping There Will Be Unity Across The USA
I said I CAN’T BREATHE!!!
Will You Watch Me Die Or Will You Help Me Change Society?!
– Malik D. Anderson, Class of 2015
I Can’t Breathe
I can’t breathe. I can barely gasp for air knowing that my brothers are being killed and have no chance of success. It hurts me deeply to know that my ancestors fought for me and everyone around me to have equality and justice, but years later we are still fighting for life and talking about the same problems. The time changes but the history of it all stays the same, and although history can never be changed, we as leaders of the community have the power to break the cycle so that history does not continue to repeat itself.
Unfortunately, most of the time it takes a person to be affected directly by violence for one to make a change. This is what happened to me. My freshman year of high school, I lost one of my friends to violence; he was shot 3 times in the head. T’John would now be eighteen years old and looking forward to graduation day. Because I went through this hard loss of a friend, I did not want anyone else to feel the pain that I had felt. Losing a life to violence is always hard to deal with, but when a community loses a child, it is a feeling that cannot be explained.
When I heard the news of 12 year old Clevelander Tamir Rice being killed by a police officer, I experienced the same pain that I felt when my friend was killed. I lost another T’John it was as if I knew Tamir. My heart hurts knowing that his family is now going through what I went through; another child whose dreams have been snatched away from him by a bullet.
I can’t understand why so many people are treating the African American race as if we do not belong in this society. I hear too often in my surroundings that its “Us vs. THEM.” I never want to believe that someone is against my life because I am not the same color as them. Karter Zaher said, “We were all human beings until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us, and wealth classified us.” I am surrounded by tons of people everyday who care deeply about my future and what it should look like; some of these people are not the same race as me, however, that doesn’t change the level of love that they have for me. It seems as if we as a people have forgotten that we are all humans. We were all made in God’s image and likeness of him. The injustices that are going on in Ferguson and Cleveland and New York and across this country are a reflection of this disconnection that we have from our creator. The injustice that has happened to Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Kimani Gray, Kendric McDade, and countless others is a reflection that there is no dignity left in the value of human life. How many more people need to die for you to take action?
– A’bria Robinson, Class of 2015
We Will Breathe
Who is man?
Am I man?
Is my brother man?
Is my father man?
I am man.
I am black
I am man.
All African Americans are man.
We are equal to you whites,
To all people.
Characteristics of a man:
Intelligence beyond that of animals (check).
The black man meets all of these and more.
Speech, reason, power of knowledge, heaven-erected face, inclinations, hopes, fears, aspirations, and prophecies all set the Black man apart from animals.
So, who are you to deny one that is clearly man
HOW ARE YOU TO DENY THESE BLACK MEN THE RIGHT TO WHAT IS DUTIFULLY THEIRS?
The Negro is a man!
He deserves all rights available to whites.
“Man is distinguished from all other animals, in that he resists as well as adapts himself to his circumstances.”
Anglo-Saxon whites ripped us from our home, but we adapted to this new land.
YOU made us slaves, servants, animals.
YOU forgot – no disregarded – the fact that
Blacks are men.
Man does not take things as he finds them, he adapts, he changes his circumstance
The black man will no longer take this current treatment of life.
The black man will gain his right to dignity
His right to life
His right to justice
His right to opportunities.
Whites will no longer:
Oppress against the African man.
HE is equally a man
The Negro is refusing to be read out of the human family.
The BLACK man will be made a FREE MAN!
Whether you are or not willing to let this liberation ensue.
Are men and will be treated as such.
We will be free.
We will be recognized as who we are–
–Saiida Bowie-Little, Class of 2015
I Can’t Breathe
The violence around the nation has taken a tremendous toll on the people. As I sit and listen to all the pleas, opinions, and declarations I am worried. I don’t understand the theories regarding all the violence that’s going on in Ferguson. All I hear is black and white, and it should not be so. I cannot believe the insight people are going towards. It’s like our morals as people have completely changed. The people see a white man killing another black man. It’s way bigger than that. It’s about one human being killing another. It’s so simple. We don’t love each other anymore. What happened to the respect of life and dignity? There was a boy that I knew in grade school. Sadly, he was shot and lost his life. My friend and I went walking down the street one day, and the pool of blood where he got shot was never cleaned up. They just left it. We no longer look out for one another and look at each other as brothers and sisters. You’re either my enemy or you’re nothing. What kind of logic is that? Race is not the issue anymore; it’s the value of human life. Human lives are being taken for no reason. We’re beating each other and ridiculing each other. Where is the love? We are all called to love each other. Instead of destroying we should be loving. Someone’s life being taken away should be mourned, but the reaction is not receivable. The receivable action is when my brothers and sisters come together. Regardless if they’re black, white, Latino, Muslim or Catholic. We want them to all come together and not fight each other, but fight the injustice of the system.
– Asia Terry, Class of 2015
How Dare You
Please don’t ask me.
Please, don’t ask me why I have so much hate in my heart.
Why I’m losing hope in my society.
Look at the people, the children.
Look at how beauty is not in the eye of the beholder,
It’s in society’s hands if you are acceptable.
Look at how we label ourselves and our peers
Calling women bad bitches or guys niggas
Instead of ladies and gentlemen.
Whereas back then that was taken as an insult
That’s become one of the labels we accept to call ourselves.
Being labeled by our skin color and not our intellect or potential
Being labeled as a criminal
Not being able to trust people because you don’t know if they will harm you or stay by your side
“I thought I could trust you” that’s a phrase I haven’t heard, instead it’s “I’ll just fall back” or “I never trusted them in the first place.”
Get shot, raped, or kicked in the face, but you have nobody to blame but yourself.
It’s your fault that you were black while walking down the sidewalk of a white neighborhood.
It’s your fault for looking the way you do they had to search you for weapons that you might have
They don’t shoot to disarm but to kill.
They shoot whoever seems “dangerous”
Do you think they care that you are innocent?
That you aren’t really a threat?
No, they don’t.
That little boy, he had hopes and dreams and wishes.
That young man, he has a family that loves him and just lost a father and brother and husband.
These young men and women had lives that weren’t finished yet.
Lives ended for them, before they even had a chance to make a difference in this hate filled world.
All we have is each other, and sometimes that doesn’t even work
Even we tell each other things need to change, nothing is done.
Instead, we blame each other and hurt each other and worsen the problem.
We can stand up 7 times but fall down 8
I have to worry about if I have a son
If he will be labeled as a thug or juvenile delinquent
Or a daughter
Who will only be identified by her skin color or her body shape
So how dare you,
– Ashley Williams, Class 2015
I Can’t Breathe
I always hear that it’s a cold world, but does it have to be? We make this world cold by our evil ways. I feel our black community is blinded by the truth of what is really going on. Yes, African American men are being killed, but why is race involved? Does it always have to be? We don’t have to act in violence to get a point across. How many people are going to die to show that violence is never the answer? Nothing is going to improve or change if we keep thinking in rage. We must start thinking with our heads and our hearts. The students at my high school organized a silent protest that affected many people that drove down St. Claire that morning. We didn’t act violently or yell. Our silence, our posters, were just enough to show people that we care. These shootings have not only broken the African American community, but have impacted everyone in some type of way. I have witnessed numerous violent altercations in my life. I had a friend that was trying to disarm someone with a fake gun that was threatening to shoot them. When the cops arrived, my friend had the gun in his hand and the police immediately pulled out their gun ready to shoot. This moment was the scariest moment of them all. I just cried and cried because I felt like there was nothing that I could do to convince them that it was fake. No, my friend didn’t get killed, but the thought of it happening would have crushed me. Our policemen are trained to kill and it’s sad to say. But everyone deserves to live! God wanted us to love each other regardless of color, ethnic group, or where we came from. There is no longer love in this world, because we are all blind to the truth: the truth that we are all brothers and sisters of Christ. It’s time to make a change in history and stop repeating it. Take Cleveland’s Hough riots that happened during the mid 1960s. Blacks still felt unequal to whites and really nothing good came out of it. The majority of African Americans were killed and things didn’t just magically improve. Everything isn’t just going to change all of sudden. We need to stand together and work together to make a change. To want a change!
– Niesha Johnson, Class of 2015
Some Neglect, Some Honor & Protect
My perspective was that every police officer promised to serve and protect no matter what, especially in our young black community. Coming from a household where my dad is a Police Officer, I just know that he would do anything to protect his city, and so would every officer he is associated with, who was sworn in on under the same oath that he was. Looking at the world today I see teenagers who look just like me getting killed left and right, but the worst part of it is realizing that our officers are the people doing it. Most people in my community are scared of the police, and they know that there are hundreds of people behind them ready to do whatever it takes to get their point across so that they are heard. That’s what scares me especially after the shooting death of Tamir Rice. My community believes in their mind that EVERY police officer is the enemy. That’s not true! The officer I know would never follow the actions of Officer Darren Wilson or Timothy Loehmann. I know that firsthand, because I’m with my father everyday of my life, and he’s kept the promise to serve and protect since the day I was born, not only to me, but to my mother, his family, and our city. I want to see Officer Wilson and Loehmann indicted more than anything, because I couldn’t imagine someone close to me being gunned down for nothing more than merely being black or looking suspicious. But, a war on police officers is definitely not the answer, because Police Officers will just have another reason to keep killing our young men. Just like innocent teenage African American lives were lost, believe it or not, there are innocent, good, and honest police officers in our community, our city, and our world who have families that love them and kids that love them. I’m not asking anyone to stop fighting for what’s right, I’m asking to keep it peaceful because everyday my dad leaves out for work I never know if that will be the day someone decides a police officer’s family should feel the same way as Mike Brown, Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice’s family has. I know that there are police officers who don’t do what they should I know some police officers neglect, but I’m asking everyone to stop, and realize that some do honor and protect.
In Using My Voice and Social Media Platforms More Effectively (step two)
by Perry Janes
*A version of this originally appeared as a post on the author’s Facebook page. It’s reprinted here with permission.
There are people on my newsfeed with posts and memes that read “Michael Brown is dead because of Michael Brown’s actions.” There are others voicing their support of the NYC police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner. There is literally no word in the English language to express the outrage I feel at these sentiments – at seeing them when I log in to my account – or to unpack the levels of racism and hatefulness implied here. Let’s set aside the fact that an armed, white police officer in a community already rife with racial tensions fired six shots into an unarmed teenager – six shots against an unarmed youth – and, for argument’s sake, let’s set aside any perceived ambiguity about what did or did not happen on that street. Let’s also set aside the fact that Eric Garner said “I can’t breathe” at least 7 times (verifiably, on video) before he died of asphyxiation on the sidewalk, that chokeholds are not approved by the NYC police force, and that Eric Garner did not appear to be an aggressor in this situation.
Instead, let’s talk about the people on Facebook, and in the world, who default to a racist and fearful narrative with or without realizing it, who level sweeping generalizations about how black and minority cultures respond to injustice (the recent riots in Ferguson with the possibility of further unrest now in NYC and across the country) while treating the myriad riots perpetrated by white people (the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots being one small example, incited over hockey, I might add) with completely different levels of rhetoric and criticism; let’s also acknowledge that you can question and inspect this disparity in these dialogues (and the power structures informing this disparity) without approving actions you may view to be personally destructive.
Let’s talk for a second about how easy it is in too many white communities to unplug from this discussion entirely, to wave it away or disengage, and to disregard how impossible it is for other members of our community and our country to do the same.
Let’s talk, also, about the infrastructures of power and authority that exist in this country, about how these structures have been clearly abused, and what that does to a collective level of trust in the police, in government, in judicial systems; and then let’s talk about how positive and influential it would be if these same policemen and lawyers and authority figures – rather than be defensive of their colleagues – listened to public concerns, and validated them, and stood in solidarity of cultural and professional reform in order to repair this broken trust.
Let’s talk about history, too, about how short a time it’s really been since America was a country with institutionally and governmentally sanctioned policies based on skin color, a country where unsanctioned, regular, and rampant acts of racial violence were overlooked and accepted; about how that history doesn’t erase or vanish in a generation, or two, or ten, and how it persists in a variety of forms (readily seen and unseen) today.
Most of all, let’s talk about how these Facebook posts – that attempt to invalidate criticism or rigorous examination of the events in Ferguson and NYC, as elsewhere – reduce and undermine the ability to hold any conversation at all.
Part of talking means sharing. In this spirit, I’d like to share a poem. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Danez Smith – I hope to, we share a handful of wonderful friends and colleagues – but this poem, which you can see him read (masterfully) elsewhere on the web, stopped me absolutely cold the first time I read it. This poem – featured in POETRY Magazine and on poetryfoundation.org following Smith’s recent Ruth Lilly Fellowship – hits about twenty different frequencies at once. And it couldn’t be any more relevant to the conversations taking place today.
So, to the people on Facebook making these posts: my first impulse – my desire – is to delete you from my network. It is hard to imagine us belonging to the same community. But the truth is: you’re also the ones I want to read this, to stop at some point – any point – during your day and think about the historical, personal, and political frequencies that fuel your denial of the voices expressing hurt and anger in the world around you. To acknowledge and engage with these voices means, ultimately, practicing empathy. To delete you from my network would only make it is easier for you not to take in outside voices, or not to engage with them. So this is me throwing a bottle into the endless Facebook breach – filled with voices of all kinds, some of which give me great hope and others that inspire nothing but sadness – and hoping for the best.
As part of what I’ve reviewed for at At the Margins, I like to give people a nice, smooth transition into the world of comics, which hasn’t always been… super inclusive. There was a time – a time many of us grew up in – in which comics were an infamous hive of everything wrong with mass media. Everyone was sexually exaggerated and villains were based solely on racist caricatures on the regular and excused through shoddy narrative.
This gives comics nerds a really bad name, one that a great many people live up when it comes to the questions we ask about the recent rise in superhero media. Make a billion dollar blockbuster where Superman’s entire personality is disregarded in favor of neck breaking and no one bats an eye. Give Wonder Woman pants and everyone loses their minds, to borrow from the medium itself. Nary a day goes by when any attempt at inclusion or updating on the part of the big comic publishers is met with the scorn and outcry of a hundred thousand nerds over the most absurd and minor things.
The most recent announcement to generate this sort of insanity is the casting announcement for Fox’s upcoming Fantastic Four film. Actor Michael B. Jordan, who is black, has been cast in the role of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, a character who has historically been portrayed as white.
I feel like I don’t even need to discuss the first type of backlash here. I don’t even really care to give it attention. I just don’t think the argument that “the movie has to match the comic” holds any water. As in none. At all. To everyone who says “he’s white in the comics,” I say, he’s also been dead in the comics, and now he’s not.
Or, if that doesn’t catch you, I suggest this: One young black guy who was previously going to watch that movie without seeing a single hero that looks like him now will. If that’s less important to you than Johnny Storm’s skin color, if you say (as so many people have), that “seeing a black man in a role that was previously portrayed by a white man ruins the character” for you, I don’t know what to say to you, other than there’s a word for that.
It’s a six-letter word that starts with R and should make you cringe. Hint: It’s not reboot.
Don’t suggest to me that I don’t really care about these characters, that I’m not a real fan. I adore Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s “4.” I think it was a great run because – and I’ll spare you the recap where I post panels of all of my favorite moments and make emotional commentary – because it nails down what the Fantastic Four are about, what makes them different from the Avengers or the X-Men. And that’s the idea of family.
So this brings me to my second talking point – people claiming that that somehow is shattered by casting a black actor in the part of Johnny Storm. The suggestion has been made that perhaps Sue Storm should have been cast as a black actress – Kerry Washington was suggested, and I think that would be just perfect. She hasn’t been, and white actress Kate Mara is playing the part. But if your perception of the Fantastic Four as a family, of Sue and Johnny Storm as siblings, is just shattered by them being different races, I suggest you watch a few Cheerios commercials. Or take a look at the multi-racial family of writer Brian Michael Bendis – the author of Ultimate Fantastic Four.
I want to be clear, from over here at the margins, that most of the people I know personally and follow socially are not the backwater nerds who are pissed off about this. This is what kind of kills me about the whole thing – literally everyone I know who actually buys comics weekly, all of the people who are reading Fantastic Four, the people who are going to dress up and be there at the midnight showing, who will see the movie four times in theaters so they can fill their Tumblr with references – aren’t bothered by this. All of the people you’d think to be the most hardcore nerds, the ones you’d expect to be giant jerks over this – they’re all for it.
The weird, vocal group of people I’ve encountered who are angry about this haven’t bought a comic in years. If they had, they’d understand what the medium is all about now, how it’s become a haven for characters too other for television and for concepts a little too off-the-beaten-path for those weenies in the mainstream media. These days, we’ve got Batgirl’s transgender roommate, a biracial Spiderman, and a team of teen Avengers who are led by a perfect Kelly-Kapowski-and-Zach-Morris dream couple – only they’re both boys. Stuff that just isn’t getting the representation it needs other places finds a home on the pages of superhero comics.
If nothing else, hear me out on this: If you’ve been staying away from comics because of a vocal group who fancies themselves to be old-school nerds and adheres to canon at the exclusion of minorities, please, come into the fold. The core of us, the fans and creators and cosplayers and conventioners, we love our diverse world. We welcome you into our family. It’s Fantastic.
Tini Howard is a writer and semi-professional nerd living in Wilmington, North Carolina. She has recently been featured on io9, Kotaku, and Nerd Caliber. TiniHoward.com, @TiniHoward.
The other day on Facebook a friend of mine shared his thoughts on the Coca Cola ad set to the song “America the Beautiful.” My friend’s status said, “If this bothered you… I don’t even know what to say to you. Get a brain.”
This seems like an obvious sentiment. If you’re bothered by “America the Beautiful” being sung in other languages or by images of happy people doing fun things while being unapologetically whatever race or religion they are, then youdo needa brain.
I don’t think anyone was surprised by the fact that some people hated the ad. Racism is alive and well, and it’s something people of color experience all the time, in all sorts of ways. Hating “America the Beautiful” because it portrayed America the Diverse is par for the course in a nation peppered with intolerant bigots.
But what did surprise me were the people who commented on my friend’s status by saying (paraphrased), “I don’t agree with the people who were angry about the ad. But it doesn’t bother me that they hated it. Why should I care?”
I had to stop and do a double-take at this.
Really? It doesn’t bother you that people are being racist? Not at all?
It was hard for me to resist typing, “You are a moron and I hope you fall in a deep, deep hole.” Instead, I said, “Of course it doesn’t bother you that people are racist. You are white. Why would it bother you that people don’t like non-white people?”
The response that I got was fascinating (again, paraphrasing).
“No,” said one racist-who-thinks-she’s-not, “I, unlike you, am not intolerant of other people’s opinions.”
This forced me to consider whether I was, in fact, being intolerant.
I am most certainly sometimes stupid, and quite often blind to the realities that people of color (or other marginalized groups) face on a day-to-day basis, primarily because no matter how hard I try, my privileges can make it hard for me to see outside of my own experience. I work hard to simply keep my mouth shut and listen so as to avoid being stupid and perpetuating more stupid… But I don’t think of myself as “intolerant”.
But then I thought about the actual meaning of that word and I realized that, YES, I am intolerant.
: not willing to allow some people to have equality, freedom, or other social rights
See what she did there? She took a word that is contextually understood to mean one thing (essentially, bigoted or racist) and twisted it around so that she could sound righteous by exploiting the fact that it also means, basically, “not putting up with your stupid shit.”
I suspected that this must have a Fox News origin, and so I went digging. I Googled “leftist intolerance” and found a lot of really amazingly terrible clips wherein Fox News pundits call liberals hypocrites because we, the liberals, are the ones who are intolerant of them and their racism and anti-gay agendas.
Here’s one really painful example, though I have to warn you before you click through that it is a clip of five (not one, not two, but FIVE) white people talking about the NAACP and US Senator Tim Scott (who is Black), and how generally terrible they think the NAACP is to Black people. I’m not embedding it for obvious reasons.
After all of that, I realized that yes, I am intolerant and I’m proud of it!
I’m intolerant of white people being assholes about “America the Beautiful” being sung in non-English languages. I’m intolerant of people who say that people of color or non-Christian folks don’t represent our nation.
I’m intolerant of people who say that our LGBTQ+ brethren don’t deserve equal treatment under a Constitution and Bill of Rights that affords all people the same rights.
I’m intolerant of people referring to young Black men as thugs when they, themselves, are the ones who think gunning down unarmed boys, girls, women, and men who aren’t committing any crimes (or even trying to commit crimes) is an okay and legal thing to do. I’m intolerant of your racist thuggery, racist white people.
I’m intolerant of a lot, really. I’m intolerant of people who abuse children, of people who commit rape, and of people who deny the reality of how often rape and sexual violence happens in this nation to men, women, boys, girls and everyone else.
I’m intolerant of people who think that being transgender is something we can just tell people to stop being and that it will magically work. I’m intolerant of those who choose to mis-gender someone who very clearly has told you that she is a woman.
I’m intolerant of the parents and teachers who think it’s okay to let kids say “f*g” or “pussy” or “queer” to kids like the boy who likes My Little Pony and is now on life support after trying to take his own life. I’m intolerant of the adults who modeled that hate to their children. Yes, shaming kids who don’t conform to the strictest gender binary is hate. Pure and simple. And it is killing kids.
I’m intolerant of the people who tell my friend’s daughter that her gorgeous natural hair is a problem for them. I’m intolerant of the toy companies that don’t offer enough dolls that look like all the kids in the world, so that each child can have a baby doll that represents an image she or he can relate to (I’m looking at you, American Girl).
I’m intolerant of people who perpetuate myths about the nature of Islam, and I’m intolerant of the people who scrawled racist graffiti across the gorgeous GAP ad featuring Sikh-American Waris Ahluwahlia, implying he and anyone else in a turban is a terrorist.
I’m intolerant of people who refuse to see the pain and disrespect brought to Native Americans by the unauthorized use of Native mascots, names and iconography. I’m intolerant of the white folks who think they have some right to Wahoo the Indian or the name “Redsk*ns“.
I’m intolerant of this nation of bullies that gets off on thinking that the only real way to be American is to be white, non-poor, Christian, educated, able-bodied, cis-gendered, un-scarred by emotional or physical abuse, and straight. And I’m intolerant of all of you who think that it’s okay to say absolutely nothing to the people in your life who are harming others through any sort of racism, abuse or bigotry.
Hell yes, I’m intolerant of your willingness to tolerate others’ hate.
This article originally appeared at The Good Men Project and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.
Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and The Huffington Post. Schroeder loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. Her dream is to someday finish her almost-done novel and get some sleep. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.