With the announcement of Marvel Comics’ new Muslim Ms. Marvel, that unfortunately means it’s time to play another round in the comic book community’s most exhausting game show, “Check! Your! Privilege!!!”
Contestants on “Check Your Privilege” are exclusively angry comic book fans hailing from the town of Yesterday who describe their favorite hobbies as buying comics that make them angry, trolling and just generally “bein’ a hater.” They have a tenuous grasp on gender and global politics — a fact that only makes them yell louder — and their life’s ambition is “upping their snark game.” This week’s “Check Your Privilege” grand prize is the knowledge that you’ll eventually have to explain your Internet presence to your ashamed children and watch popular opinion leave you behind! Now, let’s play the “Privilege!”
This is a game that we thankfully — yes, thankfully — play with regularity nowadays. I say thankfully because that means that comic book companies are actually shaking things up from the status quo they’ve been operating under since the ’60s. Marvel Comics has particularly shown a commitment to diversity that puts the competition to shame. Miles Morales, Captain Marvel, the all-female “X-Men” team and “Mighty Avengers” are just a few of the big initiatives that have gone a long way to make the 616 universe a much more inclusive place. Now we can add Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, to the list. And no matter how angry I’m sure people are in every comment thread on the Internet, it’s the right move.
With Kamala Khan, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in Jersey City, Marvel Comics has shown yet again that it wants to include groups of the American population that have yet to be personally inspired by their heroes. Unlike previous Muslim superheroes, like Monet from “X-Factor,” or Dust from various teen X-Books, the new Ms. Marvel has her own ongoing series and will bear a very prominent superhero moniker, one previously owned by Carol Danvers.
As a white dude, I can’t really imagine the joy that the entire Muslim and/or Pakistani readership felt yesterday when they learned that after years of Marvel fandom they’d finally gotten a leading character of their own. But also as a white dude, I can’t really imagine what’s happening in the brains of other white dudes that makes them take to comment threads and partake in a round of “Check Your Privilege.” What’s going on, guys?
I’ll address the haters for a bit: So “Ms. Marvel” won’t feature a protagonist that looks like you. This is not a bad thing. It’s not like they’re taking away one of the white male books to make room for “Ms. Marvel”; Marvel didn’t say, “We were going to keep ‘Daredevil’ going but ‘Ms. Marvel’s’ taking his spot!” This book is not affecting your comic book buying habits at all. The only way it will is if you buy it, which — maybe you should. This anger you’re showing, hater, shows a fundamental lack of empathy and understanding for people that don’t look like you. Isn’t it crazy how comic books can bring this out of people? Yeah, it’s true! Us white dudes find it super hard to understand the importance of having heroes that look like you or come where you come from because there are thousands of white male protagonists in all of fiction. Muslim readers now get one leading character in all of comicdom; chill out and be excited.
Kamala’s big debut in the New York Times is being criticized for including the character’s religion in the headline, with people saying that it shouldn’t be a big deal. These people are trying to sound informed and socially progressive while ignoring the actual truth of the situation: It’s a big deal to have a Muslim superhero because our culture has made it a big deal. It’s actually a shame that our media is still so homogenous that any deviation from straight white male-ness makes headlines — but that’s the reality of the situation.
Maybe I’m a bleeding heart liberal (maybe?), but I’m incredibly excited for this book. I’m excited to read G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s take on what being a superhero means to someone who isn’t a white man, or even a white woman. I’m excited to learn more about this culture that I know very little about. You can make your ignorant “keep politics out of comics” argument all you want, but the truth is that comics are where we learn a lot about other cultures. I truthfully don’t know how okay I would have been with my gayness if I hadn’t had decades of X-Men comics preaching tolerance — at times specifically mentioning homosexuals — ingrained in my brain. Cultural awareness is incredibly important, and reading stories about different cultures are where the seeds of empathy and understanding flourish. If you know nothing about people of the Muslim faith outside of how the media has portrayed them since 9/11, I bet you’ll be surprised by what you read in “Ms. Marvel.” You might even be able to relate to her!
Diversity is important in comics, and it’s so important that it’s not going anywhere. If it wasn’t for Marvel editor Sana Amanat’s own personal experiences growing up as a Muslim American, “Ms. Marvel” might not be here today. The Marvel editors might have never even thought to introduce a character like this if they all came from the same basic background. That’s what’s so cool about diversity and story telling; different people tell different stories, and it baffles me that some readers want to put up arbitrary restrictions on storytelling potential. Amanat’s childhood experiences are just as worthy of exposure as mine — and mine can be seen in dozens of sitcoms and movies already. I want a new story, and I’m excited to read one.
Did we learn anything on this week’s round of “Check Your Privilege”? I hope so, but I also have a feeling we’ll be firing up the spinning wheel when-not-if Marvel unveils another character created to give an underrepresented group a voice (trans*, asexual, an incredibly long list of ethnicities). But if this imagined game show goes hand in hand with the ongoing diversification of comics, then I’m glad to keep hosting it.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).