A need for black superheroes?

Image credit: unleashthefanboy.com

This right here, from one of my favorite sci fi sites, Chronicles of Harriet, is what got me thinking:

Unlike ordinary heroes, superheroes must have abilities that normal people do not and cannot have.   A superhero like Brotherman – a great comic book hero and protagonist of a comic book series of the same name, brilliantly realized by writer, Guy Sims and his brother, artist Dawud Anyabwile – has no super powers. He belongs to the uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck camp. …


Steamfunk Harriet TubmanWould this make Harriet Tubman a superhero? The great freedom fighter, spy and warrior of history is certainly a hero, however, while she possessed a supreme amount of bravery, endurance, skill, luck and the gift of accurate visions, her abilities were attainable by anyone – except, maybe those accurate visions. They were not uncanny, or otherworldly.


It got me thinking about the whole issue of what constitutes black science fiction, and what, if any, special obligations this particular genre may have that mainstream scifi/fantasy doesn’t necessarily concern itself with. Since there is such a relatively small acknowledged presence of African Americans in sci fi, the issue practically raises itself about whether black sci fi has an obligation to be more socially conscious,  whether it should focus primarily on storylines/issues that are more recognizable and relatable to a predominantly black audience.

Or is it OK to just be black and write sci fi, knowing that whatever you write should automatically be considered black sci fi because you’re black and you wrote it? As you might be able to tell, I tend to lean more towards what I perceive as the freedom of writing whatever we want to write. To me that’s what freedom is, and that’s what I’m about. But still I can’t divorce myself from the raw truth in the argument that if black sci fi doesn’t contain any recognizable elements of the black experience then how will our experience ever truly translate into the realm of sci fi?

Which, of course, drops us off in the territory of whether or not black folks need black superheroes, or are black heroes enough? Or are black heroes (Harriet Tubman et al) actually superheroes? I confess I still haven’t resolved the argument in my mind about what – if any – the obligations are of black science fiction writers should be other than to write great science fiction. If I ever come up with an answer I’m comfortable with and I think is honest I’ll let you know. However, I definitely have an answer about the need for black superheroes, and that answer is an unqualified oh hell yes. Because if we’re going to do this thing with sci fi and fantasy and graphic novels and all of that, then I think we need to acknowledge some of the rules. And the number one rule that binds all of those genres together is not simply allowing your imagination to run wild, but demanding that it do so. And I think it’s way past time for black folks to show we’re just as wildly imaginative as anyone else. We don’t have to keep mining the same patch of earth that keeps producing the same set of stories over and over again.

Why do we have to be the ones chained to reality?

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