Commentary: Fear of a black Spider-Man

The Miami HeraldAugust 14, 2011 

PITTS LEONARD 1

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

CHUCK KENNEDY — KRT

OK, people: chill out. Breathe. Relax.

Spider-Man is still white. He’ll always be white. He’s been white since that day in 1962 when Peter Parker, a high school science nerd, was bitten by that radioactive bug.

In the five decades since, he’s aged about ten years, grown and lost four extra arms, been cloned, and made a deal with a devil that rewrote all of reality. It’s a litany of impossibilities that lends a certain context to the news that seems to have left observers meshuggeneh and verklempt: Marvel Comics has killed off Peter Parker and replaced him with a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, who is black and Latino.

Fox News (who else?) asked if this represented “a radical left turn.” Gary Stein of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wondered if this was a good idea or PC “run amok.” Simone Wilson, a blogger for the L.A. Weekly, celebrated a move that would “open the Spider-Man casting call from pasty crackers like Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.” Someone on a message board at The Root, took Marvel to task for a “colored Spidey” created to make money. Someone on a USA Today message board derided “super hero affirmative action.” And that’s not to mention the folks who say President Obama had something to do with it. Or Glenn Beck, who blamed Obama’s wife.

As a Spider-fan of almost 50 years, I feel compelled to say a few things.

In the first place, this death of Spider-Man takes place in an alternate universe, alternate universes being about as common in comics as sex scandals are in politics. The “real” Spider-Man remains Peter Parker.

In the second place, this is the opposite of unprecedented. The “real” Nick Fury is a crusty white man who looks nothing like Samuel L. Jackson. And we learned a few years ago that the first Captain America was black.

In the third place, as your friendly neighborhood comics dealer will tell you, books starring, ahem, “colored” characters are usually poor sellers, so if this is a money grab, it’s a dumb one.

In the fourth place, the person who seriously thinks the Obamas had anything to do with this should seek help immediately.

In the fifth place, “affirmative action?” Actually, comics have long proven that courage comes in both black and white. Also, orange, blue and green.

In the sixth place, leave Maguire and Dunst alone. Pasty they may or may not be, but they seem to have a modicum of class, which is more than can be said of someone who calls white people crackers.

Of course, none of that addresses the underlying cause of all this angst. Meaning, the nation’s discomfort with its own changing face. America is fast becoming a country where no group will command a numerical majority. Whites will be just another minority group.

If some of us see that as a bracing challenge, others see it as cause for panic. But they better make their peace, because Miles Morales is just the tip of the edge of the rim of the iceberg. This change will not be forestalled. Seal the borders, gnash your teeth, bemoan the biracial Spider-Man. It doesn’t matter. The future will come, regardless.

A smart nation would prepare for that. So it’ll be interesting to see what this nation does.

That’s all I came to say. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my spider sense is tingling.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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