By Arturo R. García
There’s a lot to unpack from LL Cool J’s recent appearance on The Tonight Show: his statements that “you can’t fit 300 to 400 years” into a song like ‘Accidental Racist,’” and that he would never compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag–despite his linking the two in the line, “If you don’t judge my do rag, I won’t judge your red flag.”
But his insistence on defining the “conversation” (read: nearly unanimous critical disdain) around the song around “extremes” stuck out for the wrong reasons for me. It smacked of the same kind of defensiveness the comics industry has been deploying more and more in recent years.
“If people are upset and want to talk about this, by all means, let them come!” Breevort wrote. “But expecting me to go to their neighborhood so that abuse can be heaped upon me over this scene is maybe not thinking things go through too well.”
That would be the same Tom Brevoort who went from saying this in regards to white privilege:
I think you cannot overestimate the power that readers, especially younger readers, seeing a heroic character that resembles themselves, can have. For white guys like me, that’s easy–there are hundreds of them. Not so for almost any other demographic you might choose to name. That’s why, I think, people are supportive and even delicate with any character of a particular race or orientation or background. It’s a diverse world out there, and any time we can reflect that diversity in a meaningful way, it’s worth doing.
To telling Son of Baldwin that the “law of averages” dictated that 99 percent of superheroes be white. In other words, he should know better and, thus, should know the reasons why people would be upset about that comic: writer Rick Remender not only scripted a Mutant protagonist to call the word “divisive,” but denied the term has anything to do with people of color before telling critics online to “drown themselves in hobo piss” and to kiss the characters “shiny red d-ck.”
Brevoort’s pearl-clutching is as galling as LL’s assertion to Tonight host Jay Leno that, ”If I want to get along with someone who I don’t understand, I can’t walk into their room with a baseball bat and just start smashing the furniture and telling them what they owe me.” Even accounting for the actual extremists out there–like the ones captured in the (trigger warning) Public Shaming Tumblr–both of them ducked dealing with more structured criticism by using the same strawman. Because according to his reasoning, not only is our own Joseph Lamour a violent home offender, but so is someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates:
In an artform distinguished by a critical mass concerned with racism, LL’s work is distinguished by its lack of concern. Which is fine. “Pink Cookies” is dope. “Booming System” is dope. “I Shot Ya” is dope. I even rock that “Who Do You Love” joint. But I wouldn’t call up Talib Kweli to record a song about gang violence in L.A., and I wouldn’t call up KRS-ONE to drop a verse on a love ballad. The only real reason to call up LL is that he is black and thus must have something insightful to say about the Confederate Flag.
The assumption that there is no real difference among black people is exactly what racism is. Our differences, our right to our individuality, is what makes us human. The point of racism is to rob black people of that right. It would be no different than me assuming that Rachel Weisz must necessarily have something to say about black-Jewish relations, or me assuming that Paisley must know something about barbecue because he’s Southern.
While Remender apologized for his behavior, Breevort attempted to defend the writer by saying it was “funny” that people criticizing the scene in Uncanny Avengers also had high praise for his work on Uncanny X-Force. As if it’s somehow irrational to have different thoughts about different works.
But, of course, that might be reason that LL, like his collaborator on “Accidental,” Brad Paisley, went on Leno’s show to begin with: to mollify people who might not have any questions at all about the song’s unfortunate, if well-intentioned, attempt to “start a conversation.” Brevoort also suggests being willing to talk to a more industry-friendly source, like “somebody affiliated with” Comic Book Resources, which never mentioned the problematic speech in its review of the issue, never got a comment from Remender on it and devoted only one column on it that did not touch on specific criticisms. Moreover, as of this writing, there’s no comment on either the comic or the ensuing criticism from Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso, and it’s not for lack of opportunity — he takes part in a regular Q&A feature.
This approach may be good enough for both LL and Marvel’s existing fanbases, but one reality of our increasingly segmented media spectrum is that there’s going to be more people emerging outside of those circles and migrating to places that accept their views as something to be counted, not dismissed with rhetoric like LL’s advice that, ”if the playing field is unlevel, and you feel it’s unfair, maybe putting down some of that baggage will help you make it up that hill a little easier.”
Lovely sentiment, but for many people, that weight isn’t “baggage” that they can discard–it’s weight that is put upon them by others, and forcefully. Young people who look like Trayvon Martin are very likely to have the worst thought of them in their neighborhoods, or at the grocery store, or driving in their cars, whether they’re wearing a hoodie or not. And for many Marvel readers, the X-Men are a needed symbol of not just diversity, but equality, no matter how much Brevoort’s company wants to whitewash that. To ignore those viewpoints doesn’t just come off as privileged; it’s becoming increasingly bad business.