Dwayne McDuffie on the realities of the Black writer in the comic book industry

"It makes the readership uncomfortable because they’re not used to seeing it."

Key takeaway—they’re not used to seeing it, and it makes them uncomfortable. The “Rule of Three”—that three black characters makes it a “black story”—is a very common assumption in white audiences, the idea that it’s “not for me” anymore. We think the more mainstream audiences see diversity everywhere, the more they’ll embrace it. But we (they) have to get past any assumptions of agendas and focus on how awesome the story is. It’s a challenge sometimes.



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It is easier to write Neutral characters (white, straight, able-bodied, non-religious, mostly male). Less controversial, strangely. If the major characters of all your books resemble the cast of Friends, you’ll get occasional questions as to why but no major protestations. Because we’re all…

I am going to completely skip the book-specific arguments. Those are big tangled arguments on both sides. You guys go educate yourselves on that if you want. 

That said, I have been reading over our submissions for our annual short story contest for teens. This year we had about 130 teen authors ages middle to high school from a variety of backgrounds submit stories. Some of these teens are from the suburbs, some are from rural areas. The people who submitted stories are fairly diverse— with parts of our county being heavily Indian and El Salvadorian.

These teens overwhelmingly write white characters with no disabilities. I can think of four of these stories that involved diverse characters and one that involved a character with a disability. That’s 5 out of 130. 

Obviously every author has an imagination that they are putting to use. They have imaginary characters who they are building. But what does it mean when teens with multi-ethnic backgrounds choose instead to write about white people? I don’t know. I wish I did. 

It means that many kids are trained implicitly that “books” are about white people, not people who look like them. See also this article at Media Diversified, "You can’t do that! Stories have to be about white people!"



#EarthDay DOCUMENTARY: “Taking Root - The Vision of Wangari Maathai” (film clip).

Taking Root tells the dramatic story of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy—a movement for which this charismatic woman became an iconic inspiration.

Born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940, Maathai went on to study at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas where she obtained a degree in Biological Sciences in 1964. Maathai furthered her studies at the University of Pittsburgh where she graduated with a Master of Science degree in 1966,  obtained a Ph.D. in 1971 from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. This qualification saw Maathai make her history as she became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. At the University of Nairobi, Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively, once again becoming the first woman to occupy those positions in the region.

Wangari Maathai is best known as the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and the author of the book ‘Unbowed’.

The Green Belt Movement is an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods.

If you would like to share her story with kids, a wonderful place to start is the Lee & Low picture book Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler, which was listed on IRA’s 2011 Notable Books for a Global Society, was a Smithsonian Notable Children’s Book, and won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustrations. There’s also a classroom guide (roughly grades 3-4).