It’s February: Black History Month, Martin Luther King Day, #BlackComicsMonth, and Dwayne McDuffie’s birthday all rolled into one month. An entire month meant to be a showcase of black pride in the US, celebrating and uplifting the voices, and creations of black people, highlighting the history that is whitewashed away in an attempt to minimize it. In line with that thinking, Milestone Media colorist Jason Jones Scott shared a story on his experience being racially profiled at DC Comics.
Jones is responsible for creating the first black mermaid in comics, Lolina, who appeared in Adventure Comics #1 along side (early and beloved 90s) Superboy. The character was created by Ivan Velez Jr (writer) and Steve Lightle (illustrator), but Jones takes responsibility for purposely making her black. It would seem, perhaps, a small thing. However fans and critics alike still debate the validity of mythical creatures being people of color, and fantasy settings including them. So to see a black mermaid in the 90s in a big named publication such as DC Comics? Yes, that would have been quite remarkable.
Even more remarkable was the reason behind Lolina being specifically colored as black. Jones stated, “The reason I made Lolina the Mermaid, Black, was I’d had some bad experiences at DC Comics related to racial profiling.” Shocked? You shouldn’t be.
Major comic publishers are still a place with little behind the scenes diversity. There’s only a handful of creators of color (illustrators, writers, colorists, etc.) working at Marvel, DC, Image, and other, smaller publishers. There’s still a huge disparity between the amount of white creators and creators of color within the industry, particularly at the bigger publishing houses.
Without diverse voices behind the curtain, we get end up with a comics industry that fosters incidents like Strange Fruit‘s publication, appropriative Hip Hop covers, transphobic storylines, editors and writers claiming queer characters aren’t queer, not to mention a lack of diverse casting in TV to screen adaptions of comics. The lack of diversity behind the scenes can also affect the environment as well. No one is immune to internalized isms or prejudice.
Jones, in his post, explained that he often personally dropped off his work to the DC offices since he resided in the area. What should have been a simple trip to find a color chart for his editor became a frustrating and insulting experience of racial profiling. A female staffer stopped Jones in the hall, proceeded to grill him on his purpose there, and was soon supported by another senior staffer (who Jones says he knew from previous engagements). When Jones asked why it was such a big deal, the senior staffer responded, “It’s for your own good, lately there’ve been a lot of thefts around here, things missing from offices. Stuff like that.”
That’s racial profiling in a nutshell. See, some people like to think if you’re a person of color, or queer, or a woman, or a woman of color, and you’ve “made it” to the big world of business you don’t experience prejudice anymore. These type of people will attempt to uphold you as an “exception” to your marginalized group, which is responsible for their own oppression. Or you become proof that the rest of said marginalized group isn’t trying hard enough to make it, don’t want it badly enough, or aren’t talented enough to deserve it.
None of this, of course, is true. There’s a huge opportunity gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged. Even for those who “make it.” Jones earned his place working at DC, and went on to work at Milestone during it’s original inception as Color Editor and Department Manager. Jones has worked on Blood Syndicate, Impulse, JLA, Static, Icon, Adventure Comics, Flash, Wonder Woman, X-Force, and many other major works. By all appearances, Jones has “made it,” yet that still didn’t prevent or protect him from being racially profiled by people who knew him, people whom he spoke with and interacted with before.
They still saw a suspicious black man walking the great (white) halls of their publishing house first and foremost. Not a talented black man who earned his spot there, but a suspicious—possibly thieving—black man threatening their safe (white) environment. Jones described feeling, “frustrated and pissed,” stating, “I’d made it to this big company, DC Comics, I’d presumed because I demonstrated enough ability and skill to get in to comics, and all I needed to do was continue to do good work, to stay and be comfortable in comics. And then suddenly clearly I was literally put out for reasons that had no consideration of my work and skills.”
Jones ended up confronting the senior staffer in a rather epic turnabout fashion, and used this incident as righteous inspiration for Lolina. “I thought it was a vital act of personal protest to show more Black faces in unexpected (for some) and unimagined places,” Jones said wrapping up his post.
We’d like to believe, much as Jones did, that our talent would be enough to speak for us. That people of color wouldn’t be judged or profiled without empathy or consideration. While this incident happened in the 90s, can we say for sure such things don’t continue to occur behind the scenes? We’d like to believe it doesn’t, and personally I don’t like the idea of spreading baseless rumors or casting a negative veil without proof of corruption. But one fact is known—lack of diversity within the industry is a problem.
In this month where we need to celebrate and uplift black creators and voices, we must also acknowledge stories like Jones’ and work to make sure they don’t continue to occur. Breeding an environment of true inclusiveness and equality, that builds an industry of actual acceptance and equal opportunities.