X-Men and I go way back.
I first got into comics when I was in middle school and started using my meager allowance to keep up with “Ultimate X-Men.” Before that, I’d watched “X-Men Evolution” religiously, and went to see every movie in the Bryan Singer X-Men series as soon as they hit theaters. (I’d then spend the waiting period between theatrical and DVD releases writing expansive fanfiction and imagining the day when my mutant powers would manifest and I could finally join the brotherhood.)
I have always loved the X-Men because they were the only superheroes I could even vaguely relate to. Superman and Batman were just white dudes in capes, saving people who were nothing like me, who didn’t even live in my world.
The dude with blue skin and a tail, who repulsed people on sight? Who didn’t have many friends because he was so outwardly different from what was considered normal? The dude fed up with being shit on for being different and ready to do something about it? Now there’s someone I could empathize with.
My blackness felt like scales. My body felt like a beast’s.
But it also taught me to find power in what made me different. Be proud of your differences. Don’t let them force you into a perpetual state of shame. It’s corny but whatever. (Magneto as a self-love/body positivity/black pride role model? I don’t even know.) I was 13, and it worked for me. It got me through – and it still does sometimes.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my frequent fantasies of becoming Magneto’s protégé and wreaking havoc on the status quo was rooted in a desire for social change that I couldn’t yet articulate. For a young black girl (and a fat one at that, so I was getting it from all sides) who hadn’t yet figured out how to exist in a society that hates her, it was comforting to think of standing up for one’s self in such a powerful way. I live in a world where I wish I could change things, protect myself, my loved ones, my people – in his world, he can. He defends his own against the forces that want to kill them simply for being who they were born to be. Even at 12, I knew that I wanted to fight back.
It was while watching “X-Men: Days of Future Past” recently that I turned to my sister-in-law and vocalized what 12 year-old me couldn’t, the chief reason I’d been so I drawn to this series ever since I was a kid.
“Being a mutant is totally a metaphor for being black in America.”
I know I can’t be the first to draw such a connection, but when I was 12 I wasn’t exactly critically examining pop culture for social relevancy (which is why media literacy is a thing that should be taught in schools – just saying).
I’m older now, and I still find solace in the stories, if only for nostalgia’s sake – in desperate times, when I want to escape through media and stare blankly at a screen in the hopes a story like ours will be reflected, I settle for mutants fighting back against the hostile environment they were born in.
It’s funny. People enjoy media about overcoming oppression all the time, and it’s not just X-Men or traditional underdog stories. Look at Pocahontas. Avatar. The Hunger Games. These are all stories about overcoming oppression.
And yet, these same people – they hate us. They get in their cars and plow through crowds of protestors, running them over like ugly animals or zombies. They rejoice at the lack of justice. They’re sick of hearing us complain when the police gun down our children and don’t get so much as a slap on the wrist.
To relate to our stories and root for us, our stories must be shrouded in metaphor and portrayed by characters who pass the paper bag test. The only way these people would give a shit about the issues in Ferguson (and all over) would be if a director placed Ferguson on another planet or a post-post-post apocalyptic world, cast nameless brown men as those who do the brutalizing, and threw a young white starlet in there somewhere.
“No more hiding. No more suffering.” With recent events, Magneto’s line from DoFP words struck me like lightning from God. I wanted someone to get on the TV right then and say that to me. I wanted a real Magneto to surface – and I know that he has, in the people out there leading the fight, every day. We’re having our revolution. We’re fighting for the right not to suffer needlessly. And we will win.