I was talking to someone on Twitter the other day about whether or not it was unfair that black superheroes tended to shoulder the burden of addressing racial issues in comics & movies, like the stereotypical angry black man or the uncountable comics where a black hero points out to his white mentor how grimy life actually is when you’re colored.
I agreed that it was unfair, but that we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. White characters will never shoulder that burden because white is treated as the default. They get to have regular adventures because they are treated like regular people. Black people are special. We’ve got baggage.
So the choice is either deafening silence, which is in and of itself an implicit suggestion that things are a-okay, or one type of character being expected to deal with one type of story before they can move on to regular stories. My point, I think, was that it was unfair, but necessary, because you can’t expect white characters to shoulder that burden and someone has to.
I really like this Nike campaign. “Find Your Greatness.” It’s another hit for Nike after a long line of them, and I love that it focuses on regular people instead of superstars. All the spots are pretty good, though I think the one with the diver is my favorite/the cutest.
But I think it’s notable that in a campaign that includes a wide variety of people, from black kids to Chinese martial artists to a kid who plays baseball with just one arm, the only spot to be explicitly educational, in a cultural sense, is the one that features Muslim women wearing headscarves. (The conceit of the campaign is that it’s documenting athletes in not-England Londons, but I’m not sure where in this case.)
The voiceover: If we think greatness is supposed to look a certain way, act a certain way, and play a certain way… we certainly need to rethink some things.
It’s not a complaint, exactly, more of a plain observation. I think it’s interesting that this is the one that has the “Be more accepting” message. The other short spots are of the motivational variety. “If greatness doesn’t come knocking on your door, maybe you should go knocking on its door.” “Greatness isn’t born. It’s made.” “Greatness is a scary thing. Until it isn’t.” “Sometimes, greatness is about overcoming insurmountable adversity. Sometimes it’s just fun.” That kind of thing.
But this one, the message is more pointed. Americans hate Arab peoples and distrust Islam. The role of women in Islam has been boiled down to “oppressed, forced to wear oppressive clothes.” The role of men has been boiled down to “sexists, murderous, terrorists.” That is the narrative right now. Don’t believe me? It was just last year, 2011, that Representative Peter King put American Muslims on trial for the actions of a few.
The narrative needs to be corrected. Which means that people need to be educated. Which means that these messages of empathy and acceptance… need to be said. It needs to be said, it desperately needs to be said to correct the poison we’ve been tainted with, but it is only ever said by, or by way of, the people who are victims of false and hurtful narratives.
That’s the rock and a hard place. It needs to be done, but it’s unfair at the same time. Why should I have to reprogram your idiotic beliefs when I had nothing to do with them being invented? But if I don’t… then the poison continues. And if that poison doesn’t directly affect your life, you’re probably not going to be particularly active about getting rid of it. It’s like being trapped in someone else’s box.
“Find Your Greatness” a great campaign, and I love the message behind it, even the “Stop being so mean to Muslims and Arabs you incredible jerks” one. This one’s my favorite spot, though: