By Contributing Writer- Jeremy Wilkerson.
Growing up as an African-American kid, the biggest and most popular heroes were white. Whenever I would watch a show, or a movie, the protagonist was most likely someone with a different skin tone than me. This seeped into my young head, I found myself asking why most of my heroes growing up were white. Anytime I did see a black character, they were either the sidekick, or simply there for tokenism, with no real agency of their own. I didn’t want to be the sidekick, I didn’t want to just be a small part of the story, I wanted to be THE hero. To put it simply, I wanted to be white.
As I grew up, I did have a few heroes I looked up to and related to. Static Shock was one of the first black-centric cartoons I’ve seen as a kid. I was immediately fascinated by him. This was an unapologetically black character, leading his own show, and going through the trials and tribulations my people go through. It was quite frankly, amazing, Static wasn’t sidelined, he wasn’t stereotypical. I could truly relate to him, and I still do to this day.
Another big influence for me was Cyborg. I was introduced to the character from the Teen Titans animated series. Victor is also one of the characters I still love and connect with to this day. Teen Titans didn’t have any one clear lead, instead all 5 superheroes were given equal screen time and ample time to develop their own stories. Cyborg was a main character, a major part of the team, a vital part to the plot. The importance of Cyborg can not be said enough. Knowing even more kids will look up to Cyborg, now that he has made his live action appearance in Justice League makes me happy. Victor is a rare character because he inspires black kids but disabled kids as well.
I also came across a few more obscure (at the time) black heroes, such as Luke Cage and Black Panther due to the Ultimate Alliance video game. After being introduced to them through this medium, it made me intrigued to look up their history.
Now l look at Luke Cage in his very own TV show, and Black Panther in his upcoming movie, and I can’t help but to feel so grateful and proud that these heroes gave finally made it to the mainstream. Whether it’s Luke Cage’s Netflix show, or Black Panther’s film, kids and adults alike will have unprecedented access to heroes that look like them. This is something I did not have growing up but it is such a great sign for the future. It can not be understated how important it is for these heroes to be given the screen time, the care and attention that their white counterparts get. I am very proud of both DC and Marvel for progressing in this area.
Another area I’ve come to appreciate is the adherence for diversity and making sure characters are utilized in a way to make them inspiring. While some might find it controversial, having characters like Wally West, Nick Fury, or Deadshot be made African-American is a step forward. These changes can do a great job in giving representation to a new generation. It’s wonderful to have black kids who can say that they grew up with a black Kid Flash or a black Deadshot, giving them a wider and more robust palette of black characters to choose from rather than a bare minimum.
One of my all time favorite black characters in fiction, and the the main inspirations of this article is Finn, portrayed by John Boyega in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When I was introduced to this character, I instantly felt a connection to him. While Finn was not the first black character to be in the Star Wars franchise. Finn connected with me in a way unlike the previous characters of Lando or Mace in Star Wars. Finn was truly something special. Star Wars has a ways to go to truly diversify their franchise but having Finn as one of the main characters of this multi billion dollar franchise means the world to me.
Overall, diversity in fiction has improved since I was a kid. When I was young, I only had a limited amount of options. Static Shock and Teen Titans were the only two shows connected with me. But today, I see Cyborg being a main lead hero in Justice League, Luke Cage and Black Lightning taking over TV, and Black Panther coming to the big screen with a historical predominant black cast. The right steps are being made and I feel that the future of nerdy black kids like me will have the representation that they deserve. Kids now will look up and see themselves in these characters. They will imagine themselves to be the main hero and it will lead them to discover and read more about them. When I was growing up, I wanted to be white because only white heroes were the main characters. Today, I can say with confidence kids won’t have to think that way. I will always be wanting more diversity and I feel it will be even better for years to come.