‘Go Back to Africa’: The X-Men and the continuing war against racism

Cover of Storm No. 1 | Credit: Marvel Comics

Just a few short years ago, politicos, pundits, and the press were celebrating a long fought-for victory — the election of the the first black president. And with it came the arrival of a prophesied paradise — a post-racial America — that moment when our fair nation would final show once and for all that we were all equals, regardless of the color of our skin.

They were full of shit, of course.

Anyone who was paying attention to the 2008 presidential campaign that eventually led to the election of Barack Obama could’ve told you that.

After all, a sizable number of conservatives had no problem making Obama’s race the central line of attack against him. They were a minority, mind you, but a very vocal one.

Among racist dog whistles, their charge was unique.

By questioning the Obama’s place of birth — the African nation of Kenya — the bigoted blowhards created a narrative in which the Democratic candidate wasn’t even a natural-born American citizen, and therefore not able to run for president.

Although it was an effective attack, particularly among the simple-minded racist marks, the carnival barkers’ pronouncement were in the same fetid league as the statements from the post-racial sideshow — they were full of shit.

And not because Obama’s place of birth mattered.

It didn’t.

As the son of an American citizen, he was an American regardless of where he was born.


Be that as it may, the lie never went away.

In the months before Obama left office, and as the race to replace him heated up, the Birthers and the white-fright class reared their heads again.

Perhaps they were emboldened by the eight years their racially charged cause remained a fixture of Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and conspiracy-minded charlatans like Alex Jones of InfoWars.

Perhaps it was the emergence of Donald J. Trump as the GOP nomination.

Or perhaps it was simply because they had been freed from the burden to keep their racist comments to themselves thanks to the one-two-three combination punch of lost jobs, opioid addiction, and endless hucksters selling them a zero-sum, us-against-them snake oil game show in which the truth was called a lie, lies were called the truth, and everybody that didn’t believe exactly what the far-right believed were either seditious socialists or the lizard people who used false flag operations to push their new world agenda.

The reason doesn’t matter. Any of them are plausible, as are countless other possible causes.

The point is the post-racial paradise was a self-delusion at best and a negligent look-away lie at the worst.

The truth is, the United States is at yet another high-tension tipping point, and once again, much of the mess is centered around race, more specifically the very real prejudices that exist in modern American society.

Black Lives Matter. The Emanuel Nine. Colin Kaepernick. Motherfucking Starbucks. Do I need to go on?

I was reminded of this earlier this week when I came across a tweet reportedly presenting two 1976 letters to Marvel Comics. The subject: the X-Men’s new-found diversity.

One writer praised this new team comprised of unexpected additions like Storm, Banshee, Thunderbird, Sunfire, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Wolverine, each one representative of the new multi-national, multi-cultural society that was then beginning to emerge in America.

A black female reader, the writer said that this new team of X-Men gave her hope. And speaking for myself, a Southern white man who was a child at that time, it did the same for me.

But the other letter writer, not so much. This team seemed alien to him. It wasn’t the Real X-Men, a lily white, Beaver Cleaver team composed of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Ice Man, Beast, and Angel. And his argument can be best summed up by this line:

“Have Colossus and Storm get married and leave the X-Men and go back to Africa or some other place, as long as it is far away.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a reader wished that Storm would go back to Africa.

What’s most interesting about this clearly racist directive is how it resonates differently in America 2018 than it would have in America 2008 or 2000 or 1992, times when we honestly thought that a post-racial paradise was on the horizon.

In those earlier years, we would have read that fanboy’s complaint and shaken our heads at the misbegotten, malignant beliefs of the desegregation era.

Unfortunately, today we read this complaint as the summation of a present reality, a world in which the racists are still very much a part of the public sphere and a political force. They burn torches on our college campuses. They dress in riot gear and swing sticks at those who advocate tolerance and peace. They run mainstream news sites designed to spread hate and fear. They even sit in the Oval Office, where they call immigrants rapists, murderers, and, perhaps worse of all, animals.

This is the very future books like the X-Men were trying to help us avoid.

Yet it’s here.

And has been.

And will be.

Just as the X-Men continue to fight for a world in which mutants are not longer hated and feared, we must continue to fight for a better world of our own. —Wyatt Duvall



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