America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.
– Richard Spencer, The National Policy Institute
Your skin so golden brown. Be young, be dope, be proud.
Like an American.
– Lana Del Rey
A little over a year ago, I never thought we’d be where we are right now. I never thought I would be on the verge of living in a country that once again legitimizes hatred in such an institutional way. That half the electorate would vote men into the highest offices of the United States based on a campaign of derision and promises of oppression of women, Muslims and Jews, people of color — specifically Black and Latinx persons — and LGBT individuals.
I should have known. The racism of the 1950s Jim Crow era in America never went away. It morphed into a subtler campaign of criminalization and incarceration, and in fact, popped its head up noticeably in reaction to Ferguson and other instances of murder-by-police in the Black community.
I should have known. The backlash against the legalization of same sex marriage and the (temporary) defeat of multiple attempts to outlaw queerness on the basis of the First Amendment hit the trans community particularly hard. Those who would see queerness wiped out chose some of the most vulnerable of our community and ravaged them with bathroom bills, picking up the same 1950s rhetoric of queers as sexual predators and deviants and just honing it down.
I should have known. Because the harder those of us who are Other — not white, not Christian, not straight, not male — pushed for visibility, for representation, for civil and human rights, the more threatened those with power (and those without) felt. We live in a country — probably a world — where the desire for equality is seen as a degradation of the conditions for those who already have power. The very act of the Other asking to share visibility and control is perceived as an oppression.
And for as hard as we fight to be recognized, to take ownership of our share of the freedoms this country has provided to date, there are forces working even harder to prevent that from ever truly happening. They never stopped. And it was stupid of me to ever think we were close to winning.
But something has changed. The narrative has shifted in this country to one where outright white supremacy and nationalism no longer hides in the shadows. It wasn’t just election day that brought it all back to life, but it certainly was the final drop of the curtain on white America pretending it wants to tolerate an overwhelming (and exploding) non-white demographic, sexual and religious diversity, or women in any form having autonomy.
They say they want to take their country back.
And I say, you can’t have it. It was never really yours. You stole it from people of color indigenous to this land, who still are being beaten down and violated simply for wanting clean water. You used Black bodies to build it, and crushed them under your control, first with slavery, and ultimately through a begrudging second class citizenship. You incarcerated Asians and turned away Jewish refugees, who sought to come as you had in a time of religious oppression. You stood by and watched millions of queer people die, and then flipped on your television or headed to the theater to take in the fruit of their pained labor. And you scapegoated an entire world religion for the devastating actions of a few individuals while pretending every instance of white serial violence was somehow the exception, and not the norm.
This is not America. This is what the straight, Christian, white population have done. And to conflate the concept of America with any of these acts is to admit something I refuse to admit: that America belongs to white people.
It does not. No matter how much they want you to believe that it does, it doesn’t.
It’s going to be hard, in the coming months, not to start to believe this fallacy. It’s going to be hard, when we install a man into the Presidency who welcomes leaders of the alt-right (white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and nationalists) into the Oval Office as advisors. It’s going to be even harder if, as I believe we will see, huge swaths of people in our country are put on the path to having their citizenship revoked, as was the case in 1932 Germany with the installation of the Nuremberg Laws. Maybe it starts with undocumented immigrants being rounded up. Muslims visitors or immigrants having to register at our borders upon arrival. But it can easily end in the same place.
We can’t forget that we own this country. Black men and women. Muslim men and women. Jews. Latinx families and individuals. Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans folk, and those who are non-binary, intersex, or otherwise gender fluid. Asian citizens. And all manner of intersections of the above.
This is our country. We are not Other. We are AMERICA. THIS is America.
Marvel Comics has chosen, whether they fully grasp the significance of the above or not, to recognize this very fact with the long-awaited March arrival of a solo ongoing title featuring Miss America Chavez, former member of the Young Avengers and current leader of the Ultimates. And what are they calling this book?
Not Miss America. Or Ms. America. Or America Chavez. Just simply AMERICA.
That’s huge. That’s huge and it matters. Because in a country where the Ku Klux Klan now feel vindicated in hosting a celebratory march in North Carolina in honor of the election of Donald Trump, what you call a book starring a queer Latina super-hero whose whole shtick is the intersectionality of the multiverse is important. It’s so important.
I hope Marvel understands how important. Because this is America.
America is Latina. America is queer. America will kick your ass if you don’t respect her. She is everything we need to remember about what our country really is in the face of what may be the biggest challenge of a generation. This is America.
I hedge on my feelings about Marvel’s commitment and understanding of this vision because in terms of movement, particularly on the front of queer representation, the company has been either reticent or outright antagonistic, depending on your generosity of spirit. This is new territory for me, seeing this growth where I perhaps had least expected it.
It was only a little over a year ago that I felt the crisis of conscience finally wear me too thin and I had to stop giving my money to Marvel, a company I felt disrespected me and my community at a base level. Their editor-in-chief, in fact, vocally denied the queerness of a lead character, Angela (who spent more than one full-page spread passionately kissing her lover Sera), by claiming that “We’re not looking to put labels on the character or the series.”
Combined with a complete lack of support for queer lead titles, and more than a few inflammatory public statements and attacks on fans from corporate employees and freelancers, this led me to walk away — angrily, but justifiably.
But just as our country is reaching its most outwardly divisive moment in decades, there is a seeming turnaround, slowly but surely, in what deeply hurt me about Marvel’s practices in terms of queer representation. First there was the announcement of Black Panther: World of Wakanda, which would star in its lead story the lesbian couple Ayo and Aneka, two members of T’Challa’s security force, the Dora Milaje. But more than simply a starring role, their story would be written by prominent queer Black writer Roxane Gay and illustrated by Black artist Alitha E. Martinez.
Gay, in fact, would go on to expressly use the word “queer” in an interview with The New York Times, the first time in years by any Marvel publishing employee or freelancer. In tweeting out support for her own issue #1 the week of its publication, Gay actually used the phrase “Hot lesbian action.” To say this approach won me over is probably a huge understatement.
What’s most encouraging is that with the announcement of the America series, Marvel Comics hasn’t just chosen to feature a Latina queer lead, nor chosen its title so wisely. The powers-that-be (editor Wil Moss and editor-in-chief Axel Alonso) have enlisted queer Latina writer Gabby Rivera and Latino artist Joe Quinones to helm America. Rivera’s previous work outside of comics is rooted in Young Adult fiction aimed at — thank you very much — queer Latina women. She is also a youth programs manager at GLSEN, a prominent LGBTQ non-profit that champions queer issues in K-12 educational environments.
In other words, they went out and got the goods.
And like Roxane Gay before her, Gabby Rivera has been very outspoken about what it means to be writing a lesbian character for Marvel. And Marvel seems willing to reciprocate, hosting a brief interview and press piece on their own domain that explicitly uses the word “queer.”
It matters what words we see. It matters who says them and where. It mattered when Marvel wasn’t willing to “label” Angela just as it matters that they are now willing to stand up for outspoken queer representation with Ayo, Aneka, and America.
And it matters because as America hits stands, many of us are going to need that visible, positive queer representation more than ever before. We’re going to need an Uncle Sam to point at us or a Rosie the Riveter to say we can do it.
We’re going to need to know that America isn’t what our president and his cabinet and staff tell us we are. We’re going to need a sign that Breitbart and every fake news or Russian propaganda effort can’t transform and sicken into a symbol of hate. We’re going to need to know we belong — Latinx and Black and Asian and Muslim and Queer and Jewish people — that this is our country, and that we’re going to need to kick ass, maybe even just to keep our heads above water.
And thankfully, Marvel came through just when we needed them to, with the perfect symbol for what America is and always has been. And for that, I cheer. I rally. I am grateful. And I prepare to fight.
Because THIS is America. And we can’t let anyone convince us it isn’t.