Storm = Racist Fantasy?

This eloquent argument about Storm as perpetrating racist fantasies about black women and beauty really made me reconsider the character.


19 Responses to “Storm = Racist Fantasy?”

  1. Scott Bieser Says:

    Ororo is supposed to be black? I thought she was Egyptian.

  2. Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Friday morning procrastination linkblogging! Says:

    [...] 7. Still serious, an excellent reading of Storm as the “Black Fantasy” character. (h/t Comics Worth Reading) [...]

  3. Thad Says:

    Makes a lot of good points. I think the racism and sexism is unintentional and a product of (mostly) white men trying to write a black woman, but that doesn’t excuse it.

    The whole All-New, All-Different team was essentially made up of tokens, most of whom had neat looks and powers but weren’t especially complex.

    I’ve always found it more than a little hypocritical that a book that’s worn its thinly-veiled “racism is bad” allegory on its sleeve for the past 35 years has more blue people among its prominently-featured cast than black.

  4. AWO Says:

    ‘Canadian men cannot live vicariously through Wolverine. The fantasy is useless, for there is no comfort in engaging it. The character only serves to remind us of how short Canadian men fall from the racist norms society demands we aspire to. He is the Canadian Fantasy Marvel spent more than two decades telling us we could never be.’

    Sound ridiculous? Of course it does.

  5. Ed Sizemore Says:

    AWO, Canadian citizenship is not equivalent category to being of African descent.

    This sentence is a fairer substitution, ‘Comic reading men cannot live vicariously through Wolverine. The fantasy is useless, for there is no comfort in engaging it. The character only serves to remind us how short comic reading men fall from the masculine norms society demands we aspire to. He is a masculine fantasy Marvel spent more than two decades telling us we could never be.’

    Think that might hit a little closer to home for most tights & capes readers.

  6. Charles RB Says:

    Ed’s hit the nail on the head there.

  7. Johanna Says:

    But Ed, you’re forgetting that Wolverine (in the comics, anyway) is NOT the typical fantasy of what an attractive male should look like. But then, it doesn’t work to play substitution because men aren’t judged on their appearance the way women are.

    Not to mention, AWO, it’s offensive to pretend that being Canadian is at all equivalent to being black in our society. When were Canadian men enslaved? When were they killed for daring to look at an American woman?

  8. Hsifeng Says:

    Thanks for the link; Cheryl Lynn makes good points.

    Meanwhile, her post also reminds me a bit of the first time I saw Storm, in an article in 3-2-1 Contact magazine about mutations. There was some stuff about how a single mutation gives one all sorts of powers in fiction but in real life tends to have much smaller effects. I don’t remember the other examples given, but I do remember Storm and a blue lobster. Basically, one of the magazine’s writers used Storm as an unrealistic example for everyone – telling not only black girls but children of all ethnicities and sexes that Storm is cool but we shouldn’t hope to be like her.

  9. Paul O'Brien Says:

    I think Cheryl is overanalysing a character design which was recycled from Legion of Super-Heroes (hence the “alien” combination of facial features), but in any event, I have real problems with the idea that “her mixed race features make her beautiful” would be a racist subtext. It might equally be argued that she’s presented as remarkably beautiful because of how white she isn’t.

    That said, I don’t think Storm was ever intended as a role model for black girls, who were never exactly the target demographic. She was designed to be excitingly exotic to an audience of white boys (as, in different ways, were Colossus and Nightcrawler – the X-Men’s gimmick in 1975 was that they were the multinational, multicultural superhero team in a universe that otherwise revolved around New York).

    Of course, as one would expect from a character designed 34 years ago, there are plenty of clumsy elements which seem misguided with hindsight. The stuff about tribesmen worshipping her as a goddess is particularly problematic, I’ve always thought.

  10. Hsifeng Says:

    Paul O’Brien Says:

    “It might equally be argued that she’s presented as remarkably beautiful because of how white she isn’t.”

    Interesting point. The example Cheryl showed had another black character, Harmony, saying “I love your hair, Orono [Storm]. The color and texture–I wish I could make mine look like that.” Are there any other scenes in which a white character tells Storm something like “I wish I could make my complexion look like yours”? According to Cheryl, no. Did she miss some (I know I would have, leaning more towards non-superhero stuff myself)?

    Meanwhile, Storm’s hair has a yellow tint in that panel. However, in the next panel Cheryl showed, Storm’s face’s color and angles can pass for a young white woman’s but her hair is so platinum “blonde” it almost looks like a blue rinse. Hmm. There’s one more connotation right there but it’s not racial, it’s not a mainstream American ideal, and it is something a lot of black girls (and others) can have IRL…eventually.

    Anyway, Cheryl Lynn Says:

    “A while back, David Brothers did a fantastic series of posts over at 4th Letter about the Black Trinity and how it relates to comics. He examined three concepts found not only in comics, but in other artistic forms as well–the Black Reality, the Black Fantasy and the Black Ideal

    “…Today? Today we are going to talk about the Black Fantasy from the female perspective…”

    Now I wonder who she’ll cover for the Black Reality and the Black Ideal.

  11. NoniBerryJuice Says:

    Somehow I feel the self-esteem of the Black female is underestimated.

    Sure, a lot of Black characters (the females seem to be less noticeably Black) aren’t made to cater to our demographic thus they amount nothing more than exotic afterthoughts, but some Blacks love these characters regardless.

    Besides, if there are Blacks that don’t like or do like these these characters yet find them troubling for several reasons, rest assured they’re hard at work writing and drawing their own stuff.

  12. Charles RB Says:

    I’m confused here – the linked-to argument wasn’t written by a black woman, but you’re writing like it wasn’t (“if there are Blacks that…”, for example).

  13. Paul O'Brien Says:

    Hsifeng, I take the point, but I don’t think it’s an entirely fair comparison. That scene with Harmony IS a bit dodgy (though it might be pointed out that Storm’s hair is hardly typically caucasian either), but they’re still talking about hairdressing. The white equivalent, talking about skin tone in the same terms, would come across as a Sarah Silverman sketch.

  14. Johanna Says:

    As I understand it, the question of having “good hair” is a very charged one for black women, so while it may just be “hairdressing”, it’s got a lot of weight relating to racial stereotypes behind it.

  15. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 11, 2009: Comfort food Says:

    [...] (Link via Johanna Draper Carlson.) [...]

  16. Paul O'Brien Says:

    Sure, but if you try to imagine a scene where a white character has a throwaway line of dialogue, not just complimenting Storm on her appearance, but actually expressing their desire to be black for purely aesthetic reasons, it’s going to read REALLY strangely, in a way that Harmony’s conversation doesn’t. It’s a whole other order of WTF, which is why it doesn’t really work as a fair comparison.

  17. Paul O'Brien Says:

    (Put another way: a white character making that comment to Storm is more equivalent to Harmony making the same comment to Jean Grey.)

  18. Ammy Says:

    Yes, but now we’re getting into a whole different line of trouble- making characters only say what certain intended social messages think they should say.

    In reality- that is simply not how women talk to each other (and I am a woman, I have had heard plenty of hair, shoe, outfit, skin and figure discussions). Harmony’s comment is much more realistic than her saying ‘Well, your hair looks good on you, but too bad the texture isn’t different because it might be sending a less than positive racial message to young girls who look up to you.’

    In reality though- most black women don’t leave their hair entirely natural, and they do like to play around with it- yes, even getting blond weaves.

    Now, some people will say that this is wrong because they are changing their appearance to something more ‘white’ like, however, this totally ignores that women of all other ethnicities change their hair too! White, latina and asian women also bleach their hair, dye it red, cover the gray, volumize it, curl it, straighten it. And white, image conscious women, especially young ones, VERY often get tans to make themselves look darker. And they do comment- oh, I wish I tanned as well as you do. You get such a nice color.

    So at a certain point, it’s silly to force everything to be about race.

  19. Hsifeng Says:

    Ammy Says:

    “…In reality- that is simply not how women talk to each other (and I am a woman, I have had heard plenty of hair, shoe, outfit, skin and figure discussions). Harmony’s comment is much more realistic than her saying ‘Well, your hair looks good on you, but too bad the texture isn’t different because it might be sending a less than positive racial message to young girls who look up to you.’…”

    Then there’s Molly’s comment to Storm over the teleconferencer while she’s in the X-Men War Room in the latest Runaways:

    “…but why are your eyes like that? Can you see okay? And your hair is white, how old are you?”

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