In Uncanny Avengers #5, writer Rick Remender included a speech advocating cultural assimilation and the abandonment of a minority’s cultural identity. Needless to say, this has caused a bit of an uproar.
Before we get to the speech, here’s a little background.
For decades, mutants have served as an oppression metaphor in Marvel comics. The term “mutant,” unlike the derogatory “mutie” or “freak,” is the culturally accepted term used to refer to an individual who naturally develops (i.e. is born with) active or latent superhuman abilities. These individuals are largely marginalized and discriminated against.
More recently, in an effort to promote human-mutant relations, Captain America assembled an integrated team of humans and mutants with the expressed purpose of advancing relations between the two groups. Dubbing the team the Avengers Unity Squad, Cap then appointed former X-man Havok (Alex Summers) as the team’s leader. At the group’s first press conference, Alex had this to say:
This, is not OK. This is not a message of inclusion but rather a complete rejection of cultural identity. What’s worse is that this isn’t just one mutant’s personal rejection of his culture. He clearly says “please don’t call us mutants,” not “please don’t call me a mutant.” As a public leader for his group, Alex is claiming to speak for all mutants and is thus undermining the entire group’s identity.
But, the big problem here is the real world implications of such thinking.
As Steve Morris points out, if the word “mutant” is replaced with the preferred term of a real world minority “the scene becomes downright offensive.”
Imagine Remender having Kitty Pryde or the Thing say “please don’t call us Jewish. The ‘j’ word represents everything I hate.” Or imagine him writing Storm or the Black Panther as saying “please don’t call us Black. The ‘b’ word represents everything I hate.”
To be fair, mutants aren’t always used as an oppression metaphor. Sometimes they’re just a bunch of people who shoots lasers out of their eyes and punch bad guys really hard. But the issue here isn’t whether or not we should be viewing mutants as a minority within the content of the story. While promoting the series in an interview, Remender explicitly stated that “mutants are the minority in the Marvel Universe.” He then when on to say that the team would “address the fact that these mutants are minorities, that there’s a lot of hate and prejudice directed at them.”
This is how you address minorities being the subject of hate and fear?
The presented solution is for them to simply stop identifying (or being identified) as members of their minority. What’s worse is that there’s reason to believe that this isn’t just the views of one misguided character but rather the way Remender actually thinks. As Remender put it, “I’m writing Havok and he’s really becoming a representation of me.”
So how did Remender respond to this criticism? By encouraging the people he upset to go kill themselves.
Since then, Remender has deleted the tweet and apologized on his personal website for his “unfortunate choice of words” in the tweet (not in the comic).
While defeating the “M-Word Speech” in an interview with Newsarama last week, Remender argued that people shouldn’t apply “their personal interpretation of the mutant metaphor” (e.g. mutants as a metaphor for race) to Havok’s statements.
Aside from Remender’s previous remarks indicating that the story would deal with mutants as a minority, Havok’s speech clearly draws parallels to race by using the “m-word” as an allusion to the “n-word.”
As David Brothers puts it, “You can’t tell me that ‘the n-word’ has no influence on ‘the m-word.’ That’s crazy… ‘The m-word’ is related to ‘the n-word’ because it’s a euphemism for a hurtful word introduced with the idea of decreasing the power of the original word. Arguing that it isn’t related at all requires some pretty amazing mental gymnastics.”
If Remender didn’t intend for the “m-word” to be an allusion to the “n-word” then he’s a shitty writer. If he did, then he has some very misguided views about race relations and assimilation.
It also doesn’t help when the character telling people to ignore a minority group’s identity is the blonde, blue-eyed leader of a team that’s 88% white and 66% male. Especially considering that the previous issue had the team fighting the Red Skull, whose team was more diverse than the Avengers Unity Squad. If the Nazis you’re fighting are more diverse than your “unity squad,” you may want to reconsider a few things.
I honestly believe that Remender thought he was saying something beautiful and wonderfully inclusive. That’s why he reacted so poorly when instead of getting a great big cookie for his efforts– he was met with criticism.
But, when writing a fictitious story specifically about an oppressed minority, you really shouldn’t get angry when people apply the story’s point of view to real world minority groups. If the sentiments don’t hold up in the real world, chances are they don’t really hold up in the story either.
Rick, from one able-bodied, white, hetero cismale to another, before writing about otherness and oppression, please do a little research. And if people get upset about something one of your minority characters says — instead of telling them to go kill themselves — shut up the hell up and listen to what they have to say.