Humanity Not Included: DC’s Cyborg and the Mechanization of the Black Body

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is our second guest post on the New Teen Titans (or one of them anyway).  If you are interested in writing something for us, click the “Submit” button on top and contact us.


A retelling of Cyborg’s origin from Tales of the New Teen Titans #1 (June 1982)

DC Comics’ Cyborg is my least favorite black character currently being published in comic books. He illustrates how the black body functions in a white supremacist framework and embodies so many different offensive stereotypes of black people that it is necessary to enumerate these characteristics as some of them may be missed by the casual reader, while others work as complicated dichotomies, masking the problematics beneath superficial attempts at “post-racial” inclusivity.

For the uninitiated, Cyborg (aka Victor Stone) was created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez for their wildly successful 1980s revival The New Teen Titans. Back then, Cyborg was the black hero in a comic that mistook tokenism for diversity. He spent a great deal of time mourning his plight as an accident turned him from a star athlete into a human/machine hybrid. Even though this accident gave Cyborg powers beyond those of mere mortals, he considered himself a freak. All he wanted was to be a “regular” human being. The rest of his time was mostly spent secretly longing for a white woman, Sarah Simms, who teaches him how to love himself. During his emotional love affair with Simms, Stone was in a relationship with another woman, a black scientist by the name of Dr. Sarah Charles.


Batman and Catwoman delivering the ragged torso of Victor Stone to his father (from Forever Evil #2 – Dec 2013).

Victor Stone whined and complained and was possessed of a great deal of self-pity, which seemed to be some sort of subtextual commentary on how white people feel about black people’s complaints regarding structural and social anti-black racism and white supremacy. Through Cyborg, the white gaze was able to position black people and our grievances against our circumstances as not only invalid and pitiful, but also as self-inflicted (Victor’s mother and father, Drs. Silas and Elinore Stone, experimented on their son and Silas was essentially responsible for the accident that required his son’s transformation). It was always, to me, even reading these books as a teenager, a deeply problematic view of the plight of black people (it was white people, after all, who experimented on black people in this country). But this view of black people as the source of our own suffering was to be expected; these were the Reagan years after all. But, for the most part, Cyborg was all black kids had. So we ate the scraps we were given.


Wonder Woman and Cyborg in the JLA Monitor Room (from Wonder Woman vol. 4, #36 – Nov 2014)

In the “New 52” retconning of the DC Universe, Cyborg is a founding member of the Justice League, the token minority replacing the former (imaginary) token minority, J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, and sitting right alongside the token woman, Wonder Woman. This is no accident. For many white people, diversity and tokenism mean precisely the same thing, but beyond that, they are also looking for a particular brand of marginalized person to include; someone who will not disturb the existing state of affairs, who will operate, essentially, as a white, heterosexual, gender-conforming, middle-class man, but in slightly different drag. In his previous incarnation, it was unclear whether Cyborg was a fully functional, sexual being. In the New 52, it’s clear that Cyborg has no genitals. The accident that turned him into a cyborg has taken every bit of his flesh other than his torso, arms, neck, and head. Thus, it’s safe for him to be around Wonder Woman as he serves no sexual threat and no competition for Superman. (I should note that, at the same time, Wonder Woman loses her personhood to become the prize. Please watch the animated film Justice League: War if you don’t believe me. You’ll see the male members of the team, except Cyborg of course, each attempt to call “dibs” on her—including the pubescent Billy Batson/Shazam.) This, to me, is the comic book version of the historical castrations that white supremacists often enacted against black men, of whose sexuality (which they exaggerated and demonized) they were enormously envious and frightened of. Cities in this country were bombed to oblivion on the word of lying white women falsely accusing black men of rape.


New Teen Titans #35 (October 1983), in which Cyborg saves Sarah Simms from a hostage situation.

At the same time, conversely, Cyborg serves in the racist mold of “the Buck.” So, of course he’s an athlete; of course he plays football. White supremacy must always find some “productive” use in black bodies, must always be able to capitalize off of our labor. Oftentimes, when white writers are attempting to write black characters, they rely on stereotypes because they can’t imagine black people as actual human beings. These are the creations of people who don’t know any/many black people, but have seen plenty of them at basketball games or on television, or maybe even had a beer with one once, and considers them a “friend.”

Cyborg is also the resident chauffeur, “Boom Tubing” the Justice League wherever they need to go—Hoke Colburn to the Justice League’s Miss Daisy. He is their digitized administrative assistant, interpreting and relaying data at their command, serving, actually, as their very means of communication—as much of a tool for the League as a cell phone or as enslaved black people were to the plantation owners of the American antebellum period. And the stereotypes don’t end there. He’s best friends with a young white boy (who transforms into the adult hero, Shazam), a relationship that is nothing more than an updated version of Jim and Huck from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, encompassing the same racist subtext that places black adults on the same emotional and psychological level as white children.

Could Cyborg be the comic book superhero representation of white supremacy’s effect on the black body? To have a black person transformed from a metaphorical machine to an actual one? Whose fantasy is this? Cyborg has the distinct textual feel of some white person’s answer to the question: What would it be like to bring a lynched black person back to life? The problem is they’ve gotten it entirely wrong and I think that’s on purpose. They’d imagine that person being compliant, thankful, eager to please white people, and not a disruptive and liberating figure of rage? Mary Turner, her husband, and her baby, shaking the rafters of every house in America for nearly 100 years now, tell us a great deal about the aggrieved souls of lynched black folk. Compliant is not in their ghostly vocabulary. These haints mean business.

Sufficiently neutered, Cyborg is DC Comics’ idea of a black character safe enough to be embraced by white people. So he’s leapt out of the comic books and onto television screens. On television, in Teen Titans Go!, Cyborg is the comic relief. To be fair, all of the characters are comic relief, though; it’s a comedy. But there’s a certain racially offensive tenor to Cyborg’s shenanigans. Like when he goes into stereotypical black woman pantomime: “Girl, that girl is bad girl news, girl!” and the like. And, since Billy Batson is unavailable in this version, he’s the best friend of the trickster white boy (who happens to be green) to keep that Huck and Jim vibe going.


Cyborg and Changeling from Teen Titans Go!

Soon, Cyborg will have his own film (starring an actor that is at least three shades lighter than Cyborg’s color in the comic books) and his own comic book, written by a black writer, David Walker, and drawn by one of the best artists in the business, Ivan Reis, who hails from Brazil. That he’s being written by a black person and drawn by a person of color may prove to be meaningless and immaterial, however. People of color, including black people, are just as capable of perpetuating white supremacist ideals as anyone else (see Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or CNN host Don Lemon). And the writer and artist are also subject to the whims of the corporation that owns Cyborg, a corporation that has proven itself to have neither the foresight nor the insight to produce anything but the most banal and unimaginative of material, catering, mostly, to the lowest common denominator, hoping that economic (and psychological) prosperity might be found there. Therefore, we cannot expect some radical shift in Cyborg’s depiction in Walker and Reis’ hands. He will not suddenly grow a penis. He will not refuse to be the mule for League business. He will likely not have any black friends of his own age to shoot the breeze with. He will likely not be in a healthy and loving relationship with a black woman. He won’t be saving the Aiyana Stanley-Joneses and Tamir Rices of the world from the police. He will likely continue his role as one of the police. And it is in this particular lost opportunity that I am most disappointed.

I’m not sure it’s fair to place such a heavy burden on Walker and Reis, as what they have to work with is 30 years of the problematic representation listed above. Nevertheless, this must be said: The mainstream comic book industry is afraid to tackle the notion of what a truly radicalized black person with superpowers would actually look like and what they do with those powers. They don’t want to discuss what they would tear down and who they would free, because to do so would be to frighten a great deal of the white people they believe to be their primary audience. So instead, we get a few of these token Negroes who are complicit with the status quo, who challenge nothing and who change nothing because, if we’re being honest, that’s just the way most white people fantasize about racial issues. White America wants black people either docile or caged. Or dead. (And I base that educated guess, as James Baldwin once said, on the state of American institutions and the performance of the country itself.) Isn’t that what the research reveals, that right alongside magical and impervious to harm, white people also see us as dangerous and scary? That is to say, White Americans see black people as both superhuman and quasi-human at the same damn time. Full ranges of humanity are reserved only for the people they consider full human beings.

If the Cyborg comic book and film do well, white supremacy will be fine with that since he was designed to be the epitome of black harmlessness and profiting off of blackness is something white supremacy has been doing so well for hundreds of years. If they don’t do well, however, it will be a…black mark on all attempts for a solo black character to have a franchise of their own. You know how it works in the world of white supremacy: If a product featuring a marginalized person does well, it’s a “fluke” (it is not as if the success of the Blade films, for example, led to a string of black superhero action movies); if it does badly, it’s because of their marginalized status. This, then, leaves black consumers once again deciding which is worse: bad representation or no representation at all. I don’t purport to have the answer to that quandary.


Black Vulcan!

I was walking to the train station a few weeks ago and a black dad was having a conversation with his two elementary-school-aged sons. They were talking about Cyborg. The kids had so many questions and their father had so few answers. I wanted to intervene and share everything I knew and everything I thought, but there was no reason in the world for me to break those kids’ hearts. Those kids loved Cyborg. I could tell by the way their eyes lit up when they were talking about him. It reminded me of the first time I encountered Black Vulcan on The Super Friends. His appearances were few and far between, but I relished every one of them and in the schoolyard, all the black kids—boys AND girls (there were no black, female superheroes on television at the time; so the girls, too, had no choice)—fought over who would be Black Vulcan when we played superheroes because he was the closest thing to any of us that any of us had. So I walked on past the father and his children, but I still haven’t stopped thinking about those children. They’re me at their age and so they’re blissful and probably in their own schoolyards fighting over who is going to be Cyborg. They don’t yet have the gift of discernment that would enable them to recognize the not-so-surreptitious messages being sent to them via this particular piece of racist propaganda.

But I recognize it.

And so whenever I encounter Cyborg, I feel the same way I did when Condoleezza Rice went shoe shopping as thousands of black people suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—and didn’t, at first, understand what the big deal was. I feel how I do when Clarence Thomas co-signs on a ruling that penalizes marginalized people. I feel how I do when Don Lemon and Pharrell Williams talk about “respectability” and “new blackness.” I feel a deep, abiding shame, but more importantly, a rigorous distrust.

Whose heroes are these?

Not mine.


Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer and editor from Brooklyn, N.Y. He is the creator of the social justice media brand, Son of Baldwin. He is currently working on his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @sonofbaldwin.

161 thoughts on “Humanity Not Included: DC’s Cyborg and the Mechanization of the Black Body

  1. Thanks again for your contribution to The Middle Spaces, Robert! The moment you said you had something to submit I was beyond excited and when I read it I was like “YASS!”

    What stands out to me about this essay is how at the end despite your spot on and uncompromising read of Cyborg, you still express an understanding of the need for people of color to see themselves represented in these works – thus your reluctance to want to break the hearts of those Cyborg-loving children. The hope I have is that kids like that will grow up to develop the discernment to see the problematic frame characters like Cyborg are made to exist in, but also the tools of critical engagement as readers that let them re-frame and re-imagine those characters through their reading practice and participation in fan culture that is increasingly about taking these properties and making them our own.

    Actually, the post that I originally planned to have go live today was about that, but I figured it was better served to wait after yours went live. I hope to have it up and ready to go next Tuesday. If not, then definitely the Tuesday after.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Thanks, Osvaldo. And thanks so much for your insights during the revisions process. It’s exciting to see the essay published here.

    And it was just as exciting to see that David Walker, the upcoming writer of the Cyborg comic book, enjoyed and felt challenged by the essay!

    Thanks again.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. This is a great piece, made even more frustrating because as a person who knows about the character, I recognize there was a period in the character’s life where he had completed the character arc and had gone from Human, to half-machine, to mostly machine, to recovering a cloned body and even keeping his powers through the use of technology. See: Omegadrome.

    Cyborg had become a flesh and blood human again, and I suspect the fanboys didn’t like his return to humanity. Even with all of that, ultimately the writers/editors decided the only Cyborg that would work was a broken man, dehumanized, and without any form of real masculinity as you outlined in your article.

    DC had an out, they had an option to make Cyborg as human as the next man and chose NOT to exercise it. This is why as much as I loved the industry growing up and spent far too much money on comics, I eventually moved away from them as I realized they were not writing for me, about me, or even to me.

    Their goal was to create within me (whether it be a conscious effort on their part or not) a self-loathing, which would undermine my efforts toward self-realization. This is why so much of my writing is toward creating characters whose self identity as People of Color is as self-affirming as DC tries to make all of its White protagonists.

    Well done, I will share this article with everyone I know.

    Thaddeus Howze
    (speculative fiction author)

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for commenting!

      The only element of your comment I’d take issue with is saying he has “no masculinity” since masculinity is not determined by male reproductive organs, but a socially constructed performance of a felt gender identity.

      Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you!

      I would also say that I was hoping that Cyborg could embody a different kind of masculinity, one that doesn’t rely on force or other patriarchal demands in order to manifest. I’m thinking about power as only a liberating force, not a colonizing, imperialist one.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yes! Let us hope the new writer of his most recent appearances in the DC Universe will be able to talk about power, masculinity and liberation in a way that is both empowering and psychically satisfying to a starved populace looking for Black, male and heroic representation. Please keep writing these truths. I do a bit of this kind of writing about Blacks in comics, diversity and its social ramifications, when the mood strikes me, but you sir, have brought down the HOUSE! Well done!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Wow. I’ve never read an article putting so much bs allusions and implications into a story. Good job.
    Cyborg’s whole story is about how he built himself up as an athlete and had all his accomplishments taken away from him when he was rebuilt as a cyborg. That’s the source of his pain. It’s not some allegory of the black experience. It’s just a update of the John Henry folk tale.
    Get over yourself and focus your energy on actual injustices.

    Liked by 5 people

    • My usual inclination is to simply moderate and not approve comments like these, but despite your too easy dismissal of Robert’s well-thought through and written post, you did not use any actual invective (though “get over yourself” is rude), so I will give you the benefit of the doubt this once and respond in good faith (at least in my role as editor, since I cannot speak as author), but I want to give you two things to think about.

      1) Why do you think that a story/character only has one possible meaning? There is nothing about reading Cyborg as a version of the John Henry folktale that negates Robert’s reading. In fact, now that you’ve made that connection for me, I want to go back and re-look at the story of John Henry with the lens made available to me by this post. When it comes to John Henry, I usually think of Steel (who is named for him).

      2) I am also confused why you think that engaging in a critical examination regarding representation of race (and gender and sexuality – seriously, you should read the other posts on this blog – it is what this whole blog is about!) in comics and other forms of popular culture is mutually exclusive from other forms of social and political action. You don’t know how else Robert does the work of an activist and it is myopic to assume that he doesn’t because he took the time think about the media he consumes. Regardless, I would posit that these things are strongly linked. Critically examining the stories that represent subaltern groups is necessary in challenging the ideas that undergird attitudes about those groups (both implicit and explicit) that have material results in our shared culture.

      Thanks for commenting, but in the future, please work to engage with the ideas presented in order to participate in a good faith discussion.

      Liked by 2 people

    • The John Henry folk tale is, itself, one of the most racist folk tales America has ever produced. A black man so willing to prove (to whom?) that he is better than a machine that he works himself, literally, to death?

      Again, whose fantasy is that?

      Liked by 2 people

  5. damn good read. you’ve given me new insight into my favorite comic. and hey, isn’t Dr. O like the best editor guy ever?

    i’m always fascinated by the discussion of tokenism vs. actual representation, especially in comic books. i’d argue that bad representation is better than no representation initially, but it can easily become a self-fulfilling dead end, much like the blaxsploitation films of the 70s. and i agree with Dr. O regarding the bit about not wanting to disappoint the children. it really humanized an already excellent academic discussion of a sensitive topic, and closed on a powerful note.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Very interesting article. I did not read Cyborg really, though. I read Blade. Have you written more on him? I’ll try to look for it. I’d be interested in your opinions about the messaging.
    I felt connection with your experience of seeing the racism in the character, but also craving the experience of seeing media that reflects your identity. I was born in 68. Growing up as a fairly self-aware gay boy, I consumed anything I could find about LGBT which in those days was very scarce. I watched a movie called, “The Boys in The Band” when I was 11. The film takes place over the course of an evening at the Manhattan apartment of a gay man in his late 30s. His friends arrive one by one and they drink and talk the whole night, but it’s a really depressing movie that depicts the life of a gay man as sad, lonely, unloved, bitter, and ugly. I remember being transfixed by it, though, because although not the first, it was definitely the most realized representation of gay men I had ever seen. I remember thinking that my life was going to be horrible and wondered if I should kill myself.
    I still think most of the depictions of lgbt in media are based in homophobic stereotypes, but that includes a lot of the work of gay people who all too often create gay characters whose struggles are about how they fit in with straight society, or mainly about how straight people see them.
    I see examples like this as places where gay white men and black straight men can find some common ground without being simplistic by trying to say each person’s experience is the same in its degree of oppression. But I think its why you can ask a thousand white straight people about Trayvon Martin and a majority of them say something like there was not enough evidence to convict, but you ask most gay people and they know exactly what’s going on. You don’t have to convince us.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I will let Robert address your further comments (though my guess is as a queer black man he has a less optimistic perspective on the possibilities of solidarity btwn white gay men and issues of race, but I don’t want to speak for him – and I could be wrong).

      However I did want to address your question about Blade. Neither I, not any guest writers have tackled Blade on this site yet, but I do have the Marvel Essentials of Tomb of Dracula, which includes his first appearance, so I’ll add that to the list of materials to look over and see if I want to write about it.

      Liked by 3 people

    • You should come back next week and read a post I’ve written exploring how PoC navigate problematic figures in media we love, that addresses in part how we deal with characters like Cyborg that we may like even when others in our identity group object to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow…I mean WOW. This is really how I’ve been feeling about, not just Cyborg, but the myriad of other “minority” heroes that appear in comics and TV Shows. I can totally relate when the Super Friends came on TV, and I always looked forward to seeing Black Vulcan, Samurai, El Dorado (who ever really saw him?) But I’ve felt this way every time a new character is added to a roster. The most recent hero that came to mind for me was Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who was (is?), in the X-Men comics, a feisty Hispanic woman under stress. Her character was defined as a doctor, but her power was to generate force fields to protect her and those around her….like a doctor. I immediately thought “well, how stereotypical”, and I hated her and what she was like. But I wasn’t necessarily mad at the character, but really at the writers for how very lazy it was on their end to introduce this character. Is that really how they view Hispanics, particularly Hispanic women? There really aren’t a lot of very positive minority(now the majority) characters in comics with the exception of a few, like Storm, Black Panther, Falcon, Ultimate Spider-Man, but it still seems for the most part, they are relegated to just a quick story or 2 before disappearing into the background again.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I feel as if cyborg’s appearance in the flashpoint paradox movie was the perfect example of this article…even as the most grotesque character of the movie, he was still the government yes man who believed in the power and righteousness of “massah”. It is amazing how Cyborg’s role in both timelines is that of a “field hand” to do the dirty work for everyone else/

    Liked by 3 people

  9. This article leaves me vexed. I can appreciate the writer’s clear understanding of the various racist tropes Cyborg inhabits; though I might quibble on one or two. Without doubt though, a convincing case has been made above to establish Cyborg as a racist superhero character; this post is required reading for those who assume superhero characters deserve universal support. Yet the post also supports the desire from some children of color to imagine themselves as superheroes.

    This is the part I do not understand. If Cyborg is as horrible on race and gender concerns as was presented above, if new writers and artists are too constrained by DC Comics’ corporate culture and/ or roughly three decades of publication history to be redeem this character with new perspectives, then what is the point of supporting characters like Cyborg? Why not discard the superhero concept as meaningful for people of color entirely?

    Cyborg isn’t alone in presenting Black men as devoid of both sexuality and political concern; he’s so standard, so run-of-the-mill in this that I question why the post focuses so desperately on Cyborg, when he appears more the effect of the superhero concept’s failure to grapple race and class and gender humanely, rather than some standout cause. Knowing characters like Cyborg exist in the fashion you describe, why support superhero comic diversity at all? What’s the point?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Great response, J. Lamb!

      Personally, I believe the “modern” superhero concept is borne out of an imperialistic, imperialist, puerile, hyper-masculine, white supremacist, anti-woman, anti-PoC, anti-queer, anti-disability ideology.

      I’m not sure that it can be “reclaimed” and re-presented as something useful and liberating, or as something meant to truly inspire us to be our best selves in a way that isn’t synonymous with colonialist interests/worldview.

      But just because I’m not sure doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

      Liked by 3 people

    • @sonofbaldwin This is probably my favorite line in your response: “But just because I’m not sure doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

      All things considered that’s a pretty optimistic outlook.

      Liked by 4 people

    • @Aaron Radney:

      Thank you.

      What I don’t wish to do is mistake my own limitations for the limitations of the world, as Arthur Schopenhauer once said.

      The universe is open to every possibility, has room for every possibility, even the ones we aren’t yet capable of imagining or implementing. Even in my most cynical and pessimistic of moments, I try to remember that. I know enough to know I don’t know anything with absolute certainty.

      Is that optimism? I don’t know. I’ve always just considered it pragmatic.


      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi

      I was thinking same thing, Cyborg was created over 30 years ago. Race relations are different now. But, I don’t think he was written to be millitant, like Blade, or string willed like GL John Stewart or Storm. When Milestone Comics came the 90’s, Cyborg was less important once we had heros like Icon, Brick, Hardware, and Static. And really , these are just comic books. While I liked the essay, most comics book readers under 12 aren’t going worried if Cyborg had a penis or not. (James Baldwin is one my heroes by the way)

      Liked by 2 people

    • Superheroic myths are not pro-white any more than any other legendary or mythological tales are. There is nothing inherently White seeing how so many of these heroes come from archetypes pass down through history. Samson, Gilgamesh, Tiamat, Hercules, Jason, Anansi, Isis, Shango are all legendary beings who could easily pass for superheroes today. When I look at comic heroes (and having read and studied comics for over thirty years) The failing is not in the heroes themselves, but of the limitations placed on said heroes who tell their stories.

      Any time I look at a character like Cyborg or Luke Cage, born of stereotypes, chained by stereotypes and unable to be liberated from them, those characters rarely change, rarely achieve true character arcs, or development because they were being written by people who did not believe it should be so. They are held in thrall by legends such as John Henry which promoted the idea that the Black man could be superhuman, he could challenge the limitations of his station, he could indeed challenge everything we know about what humanity could be about, but it would be better if he were dead.

      In a world where the super-science of cloning and aging of entire bodies, complete mind-transfer, magical powers of spiritual manipulation and exoskeletal enhancement, there is no reason Cyborg couldn’t have acquired an entirely new body during his 30+year tenure as a superhero. (Indeed, all of these things were done, and he DID get a new body.) So why is he back in this half-man, half-machine travesty? Because Black heroes cannot transcend the limitations placed on them by White writers.

      White comic heroes never have to worry about limits. I can name a half a dozen White heroes who never have to worry about limitations to their abilities: The Hulk, The Sentry, The Phoenix, Franklin Richards, Valeria Richards, Doctor Doom, Magneto, The Molecule Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, etc. The list goes one. Most of these characters will have whatever powers they need to solve whatever problems are presented to them. They will grow, evolve, change and become something better by the end of said apotheosis.

      Poster Child for this idea is Kyle Rayner (to keep it DC Comics). Started as an artist who was suddenly gifted by an alien being, arguably one of the most powerful tool/weapons in the Universe, the ring of Green Lantern. Okay, no big deal you say. There are after all 7200+ Lanterns of one sort or another these days. But Kyle would go during his tenure as Green Lantern from being the only Green Lantern to reviving the Green Lantern Corps, to becoming a host for the Green Entity, Ion, to becoming the most powerful Green Lantern in existence to becoming one of the only Green Lanterns to ever wear every ring from every color Corps in existence, to merging the energies of all of those colors into a new superlative White Lantern, the most powerful Color Corps member in existence. Not bad for a White guy who started as an unknown artist.

      White characters can transcend their state. They can transcend their limitations. White characters can grow and evolve and become more than they ever dreamed of. But this does not have anything to do with the genre. It has everything to do with the genre creators. Kyle Rayner has become what he has because White writers decided he should be able to.

      John Stewart, (another long-term) Green Lantern who is Black has had exactly the opposite career. He was a decorated military man who served his time and became an architect. He became Green Lantern AFTER two other people were deemed worthier. But okay, he still got the ring. He would serve in an auxiliary capacity for decades before getting a shot as a mainstream character on television for the JLA/JLU Animated Series. But who gave him that shot? A Black producer named Dwayne McDuffie, a writer/producer who knew the difficulties of working in an industry rife with prejudice and mischaracterization. For a decade, John Stewart would go on to be, for some people, the only Green Lantern they knew. Televised John Stewart was bold, heroic, action-oriented, respected (though he did have the traditionally stereotypical relationship with women, loving White Women/having to choose between Black and White women) but overall the character was highly successfully depicted.

      In the comics, he was not so lucky. His run as a character ended when he was involved in the destruction of a planet due to hubris. As far as I am concerned, this was the low point his career and he has never recovered from it. After the destruction of Xanshi, Stewart wouldn’t be seen until his depiction on JLA/JLU. After television, he would return to the comics as one of Earth’s four Green Lanterns, but ultimately he would never be the same. And he would again be responsible for the death of another planet, the beloved Mogo, the heart and soul of the Green Lantern Corps.

      I say all of that to say this: Why is it when something needs creating, protecting, or defending, it is summarily left to White heroes to grow and develop into characters that can resolve, handle, correct said difficulty. While when there is something that needs destroying, it is often left to Black characters to do said dirty work and often suffer the loss of their careers, their abilities or even their sanity (See aforementioned: John Stewart) and ultimately are discarded after use?

      It isn’t the mythology of superherodom that fails Black characters. They could be allowed to grow and evolve just like their White compatriots. It is the nature of the medium, with its lack of perspective, lack of vision and definite lack of equal representation on their writing/editing/leadership teams which prevent those characters from getting equal treatment under the pen.

      There is nothing wrong with ANY Black character that a good writer/editor team sympathetic to said character that couldn’t turn them from being just run of the mill cannon fodder to being as great as any previously depicted White hero on the page or in the theatre. The real question is why aren’t they?

      Whatever the reason, you can’t blame the medium. There are plenty of Black writers out there creating three-dimensional, non-stereotypical Black characters out there in independent comic companies who would not only tell you this but insist that companies like DC and Marvel have never wanted to create meaningful Black characters and give them equal status. Today may be a new day, but until I see it, until someone shows me a Black character who is both the equal in his personal life, his heroic mettle and his character arc to any White hero, I will have to say my love affair with comics has ended with a broken heart and an understanding that comic companies with the creation of their products, just weren’t that into me…

      Liked by 2 people

    • I remember seeing John Stewart sitting on a rock, dejected, after his malfeasance had resulted in the destruction of a planet. I remember thinking: this doesn’t happen to white superheroes! John Stewart has been a very problematic character for DC. He is at once extremely accomplished, but also, like so many other black characters has his share of chips on the shoulder.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you very much for sharing this. The argument here is in fact very good and brings up a number of points (many I didn’t know). I’m not entirely sure I agree but I also don’t disagree with the interpretation either. My only exposure to Cyborg was back in the original Teen Titans cartoon before Go where Cyborg and all the titans were a much more fleshed out bunch. Due to my attachment to that show I can’t be entirely unbiased, but Cyborg was never more than a blip on my super hero radar.

    Cyborg still had the wanting to be human again thing going on as well as the athlete backstory but his angst over it only came up twice and he worked through both on his own without help even from the rest of the team. He was a nice combination of brains and brawn in that show and by the end, he understood that his robotization didn’t make him any less human or his human side any less important.

    He did have a love interest in Bumblebee if I remember correctly but it’s downplayed as opposed to Robin and Starfire, Terra and Beastboy and even Terra and Slade to a slightly creepy extent (but nowhere near as much so as the comics). That said, there was an episode where Starfire is dealing with an alien who’s basically a racist and spends the entire episode calling her a racial slur that none of the other team members catch because the new alien seems cool and of course, they don’t know the language. It’s telling to me that the first person Starfire blows up up at is Cyborg for his using the word as well, without knowing it’s meaning. She explains the situation and asks him if he’s ever had to deal with something similar in a manner that we as the audience are CLEARLY expecting something serious to go down, and his answer is “of course I have. I’m part robot.”

    Always seemed like a major cop out to me. All of that said, I find this an exceptionally interesting piece and it does make me think about another show that I liked as a kid that an argument could be made has some problematic issues as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. @Osvaldo – I’m looking forward to next week’s post. Thanks!

    @sonofBaldwin – I would suggest that the superhero concept is not capable of meaningful narratives on human difference, and that structural concern causes stereotype-ridden mistakes like Cyborg to persist in superhero comics. Itemizing the many flaws in Cyborg’s character is fine, but if the claim is made that Walker and Reis will not present a narrative that challenges these many problems, before they’ve had the chance to try, then perhaps that notion deserves more discussion, especially in light of your reluctance to explain to young people that Cyborg is not a meaningfully Black character.

    Or put another way, if Osvaldo is right about this piece’s ability to recognize “the need for people of color to see themselves represented in these works”, then that implies that positive depictions of people of color are possible within the superhero concept. I completely disagree with this idea; I think the superhero concept requires Whiteness too strongly for people of color to gain meaningful representation. To me, this post on Cyborg wants to have it both ways. So I’m vexed, and seeking clarification.

    Liked by 2 people

    • @J. Lamb I’m curious if you could expound on this actually: ” I would suggest that the superhero concept is not capable of meaningful narratives on human difference, and that structural concern causes stereotype-ridden mistakes like Cyborg to persist in superhero comics.”

      Could you please elaborate a bit on how you believe the super hero concept itself is incapable of representing non-whites? I’ve never seen this argument before and I admit you’ve got me curious.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think that fundamental disconnect or confusion that arises is that you’re seeking an either/or proposition when I’m presenting, with some trepidation, a both/and.

      The problem doesn’t rest with Walker and Reis. My reluctance in explaining to a stranger’s five- and six-year-old children why Cyborg is problematic should be evident: They would not yet understand. The explanation would, at their level of maturity, leave them more frightened of me than of Cyborg. Could you imagine explaining the cultural and racial significance of castration to a five-year-old stranger? Why wouldn’t the father have me arrested on the spot?

      Nah. The problematics of Cyborg require an adult-level of historical understanding and academic rigor that we cannot expect from children that young. Maybe one day I will talk to the father about the problematics and let him decide how best to break it to his kids. Or maybe I won’t and they will come to discover them for themselves as I did.

      The easy answer is to say that the superhero concept is inherently problematic and, thus, should be done away with altogether or be replaced by…what exactly? I want to suggest something much more complicated and difficult: sit with the dissonance instead of running from it.

      The human desire for stories featuring fantastical, wise, and powerful characters is way older than the superhero concept as we understand it today. Anansi, for example, is a very old Ghanaian concept created by the Asante people. Anansi isn’t called a superhero, but still embodies some of those same archetypes, though with a much more liberating intention.

      As I said before, I don’t share your certainty about the superhero concept itself as inherently anti-woman, anti-PoC, anti-queer, or anti-disability. It could simply be that the people who have been creating these superheroes–who own the industries that produce them; who write and draw and distribute them–are the ones who are anti-woman, anti-PoC, anti-queer, and anti-disability.

      So I don’t think you’re going to find in this essay the satisfactory and definitive answer you’re looking for because that wasn’t at all what the goal of this essay was. This essay exists in a liminal space and it seems you are looking for something to confirm your own foregone conclusion–a conclusion I don’t necessarily share 100%.

      But I thank you for your perspective, though. Because I need it.


  12. Interesting take of the character’s evolution or lack there of… In the aside that proves nothing, Vic did have a working “unit” back in the Teen Titan days as he was once taken down by a shot to the groin. Can’t remember who did it off hand, but I do recall it worked.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Wow. I agree with most of what this article has to say. I especially feel that the New 52 suffers from a “young white male” point of view on things, and the “dibs” thing you pulled up from “Justice League: War” is a perfect example of how both POC and female characters are being portrayed by DC.
    I’d like to know your take on the character of John Diggle from CW’s show, “Arrow”. I see hints of “magical black man” in that he is often portrayed as a moral compass to serve Oliver Queen, but at the same time, so are the female characters (the only other white male on the team, Roy, seems to be the only one taking moral guidance from Arrow, while Diggle, Felicity, and Laurrel are there to remind Arrow of what’s right). At the same time, Diggle does have a past- a dead brother, past failed (and one rekindled) relationships, and a child. I’d like to know what someone with your analytical skills and life experience feels about the character.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Rise in Excellence. I enjoyed reading this important document. It cannot be said enough. Our perception of what Heroes are as Nubian People cannot be presented properly unless it is by us.
    Cyborg represents how other cultures view us: mentally crippled and physically dependant on the care of others through technology and psychological treatments.
    I am state this without animosity towards Europeans and their descendants, I state this to rally other artists with the same viewpoint.

    Liked by 2 people

    • At the very least, it’s good that conversation spurned from legitimate observations is getting started. Hopefully this leads to growth for many of us and what we see and hear in all aspects of our lives, even in comics


  15. Thank you for articulating the anger and frustration I’ve had since like, forever. Even as a kid watching the cartoon Cops, I was proud that a black man led the police force of bad asses, but cringed at the fact that his entire torso had been blown off and was replaced by machinery, essentially ridding him of his penis. Mind you you didn’t see that so much in the show as you did with they toy. That was a powerful message to little kids.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. A facsinating article. Intelligent and well thought out.

    My only concern is when I hear black people say blacks shouldn’t date outside their own race. As a product of a mixed-race union it makes me really sad to hear. I realize you were siting Cyborg’s “crush” on Sarah Simms and how it’s a racist trope that black men are after white women, but it does touch a nerve with me because I genuinely feel people should be free to love whomever they choose without worrying what others will think. Far too often I see members of the black community say that black (men in specific) shouldn’t date outside their race, and if they do, they’re “racist” themselves. Sorry, I just can NOT grasp that concept no matter HOW it’s dressed up.

    I loved you on Phil Jimenez’s panel on equality on Youtube and was delighted that you pointed out that it was odd that the young man was okay with equal representation “as long as it’s accurate”. It really illustrates how even the most “liberal” of white, hetrosexual males still harbours that white privilege without even being aware of it.

    Is there a way to follow you on Facebook?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Alex.

      That panel with Phil Jimenez was interesting because I felt like the lone person trying to represent for people of color with panel of people who largely didn’t get it.

      Son of Baldwin does indeed has a Facebook page:

      Thanks for reading.


    • Regarding “interracial” relationships, my own feelings are complex:

      The term “interracial” is disturbing to me. It seems to suggest, at least to me, that when people of two different races are in a relationship, there is something inherently unnatural about the union and that unnaturalness must be given a special name. It seems to suggest a coming together of peoples who are not considered to be on the same level, where Whiteness is dating beneath itself and Color-ness is dating above itself. And this seems to also apply in black/brown situations as well. There seems to be a “lighter the better/the darker the worse” undercurrent to the term.
      I believe love is where you find it, of course, and transcends, to some degree, race. That said, I do believe that are there social forces that make us look for love only in certain people and places. Are people of color–and white people–conditioned to think of Whiteness as the be all/end all; the MOST desirable thing; the pinnacle–and does that influence our personal desires and attractions in favor of Whiteness (even when dating PoC)?
      Is real love between white people and people of color possible in a white supremacist society? How does white supremacy affect the concept of love itself? Does racism make all love received from white people tainted, flawed, harmful, condescending, deceptive, dangerous, duplicitous, suspect? (I wonder if the same questions could be asked about the love women receive from men in a misogynist society.)
      Black people loving black people in a white supremacist society is truly a revolutionary act since the entire society is dedicated to portraying Blackness as the lowest of the low and the least desirable of all states of racial being.
      Who other people love (consensually) is honestly, really, and truly none of my got damn business.

      All of those things I feel/wonder at once.


  17. As black man, I disagree with the article. I think the biggest problem with most black comic characters(especially black men) is that their devoid of a personality. The Falcon, Black Goliath, Mr. Terrific, Black Lightning, they’re all interchange. They’re are a couple standouts like Luke Cage and Black Panther. I think the most interesting they could have done with The Falcon is keep his drug dealing past, and depict him as someone who was in that life, but now moved away from it. I want to see black people depicted as dangerous, with attitude, as forces to be reckoned with.

    I liked original Teen Titan Cyborg, and the cartoon one, but this new one is just boring. Every thing else I don’t have a problem with. I don’t have a problem with him moving away from the mechanical look and getting more human, but for a long time that was an important part of his character, and I never had a problem with it. I feel like the only reason Cyborg is even on the Justice League is because, hey, kids know him from Teen Titans and writers probably don’t know what to do with him. He’s nothing li

    Liked by 2 people

    • And I used the phrase don’t have a problem with. and their instead of they’re. Wish I could edit :/


    • I wasn’t saying that it’s not a retcon, just that it didn’t need to be erased. It could have been worked with, but I see why they got rid of it.


  18. Powerful illuminating essay. The links to horrific historical events and current present-day tragedies really drove home your points. I am very moved. So many ideas to comment on. I did want to take issue with some of your points, but the force and logic of your arguments really overwhelmed me. Then, too, as a non-black person, I’ll be honest, I feel how dare I argue? Yours is not some highfalutin abstract argument, but rather one cogently articulated, underpinned by your own experience since childhood, and bolstered by your education and knowledge of history and culture. I realize I can’t love Cyborg any more, but that may be for the best.

    I realize now that his characterization like every other representation of a PoC is problematic (are there ANY representations of Latinos?), but I also admit I thought Cyborg was cool and tough. A superficial reaction. Obviously I wasn’t looking deeply enough. Difficult, if Cyborg were white, then would the character become acceptable? At the end of the day, I agree, it is an issue of tokenism.

    The truth is, as much as people can love the superhero genre/medium, it continues to be problematic. Some artists have taken the problematics and turned it into a new source of inspiration. But superheroes (white, black, brown, whathaveyou) either exist in “a perfect world” without racism and we deny actual history, or the comic companies embrace history/reality and produce comics that reflect life. In the former scenario possibly appealing to a wider sector of society, our heroes could only battle racially indiscriminate criminals or more likely strange inhuman aliens. Heroes need dragons, correct? In the latter scenario, I would think economics come into play: who can afford the prices of these “real” books? Kids in the ghettoes and barrios? I could only afford one or two books a month growing up, a special treat. So, Marvel and DC cater to a slim demographic that afford their substantial prices, the dreaded male white demographic. But this…I am oversimplifying things, I realize.

    Your essay was thought-provoking! The links harrowing and eye-opening, and has given me a lot to think about. I really look forward to the day (hope there’s a day) when this “heroic” genre embraces all peoples of every stripe and promotes those excellent agreed upon heroic qualities respectful of actual true histories. In the meantime, I look forward to reading and learning more from this blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Sad that criticisms are “moderated” (read blocked) from being printed. Especially when one levels the sort of despicable accusations this author does. I would follow up my previous comment with the observation that you should probably avoid reading mainstream comics if you despise them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We don’t block criticism here. If you read carefully through the comments on this post (and some other posts) you will see there are plenty of folks that disagree in whole or in part with the contentions of the article(s).

      What is blocked here is name-calling, broad characterization, willful misrepresentation, use of time-worn cliches meant to derail frank and honest discussion of race (or gender, or sexuality) either through coded language or explicitly, and all comments of a similar bent.

      If you want to write a comment articulating why we should read Cyborg in a different way that does not ignore or downplay the history of racial representation in America (and the world), you are welcome to do so – but if you cross the line it will be deleted and you’ll be banned. Who determines the line? I do. There are plenty of other spaces that will let you say whatever you want, however you want to. This is not one of those spaces.

      Lastly, I want you to consider that cultural criticism, the best criticism, the kind that Robert Jones shared with us here, comes from a place of love for the medium, perhaps for the genre, and most of all for ourselves and our communities – why else would we care?


    • Randy,

      What I understand your comment to mean is that if I can’t say what you want me to say about something you enjoy, then I should be silent. Otherwise, my opinion interrupts your joy or annoys you because it doesn’t represent your view of things.

      I refuse to comply.

      As you have the right to hate every word I write and argue your perspective, I have every right to encounter a piece of media and share what I find problematic about it.

      You offered that I should stop reading mainstream comics if I “despise” them (I never said I despised them, by the way; that was your own assessment), but you exclude yourself from that advice by reading criticisms that you regard as “despicable”?

      Why the double standard?


    • I do find people taking the medium I love and twisting the four colour fables through a warped prism of divisive racial or gender politics (sethe painful Mary Sue) to be problematic. Very gosh-darned problematic. As my first comment was blocked from appearing (and met none of the criteria you mention) I was doubly perturbed.

      Cyborg is not any sort of example of white-supremacy. He is a comic book hero. In fact, his origin is similar to many who’ve come before, regardless gender or ethnicity (Ben Grimm, Rogue, etc) individuals transformed by circumstances beyond their control, struggling with feelings of isolation and refusing to succumb to self-pity… Rising above their circumstances to be heroes.

      Cyborg would even spend his spare time working with disabled children. In fact, he was a character uniquely relatable to young fans with prosthetics.

      What is presented as positive – you paint in ugly hues.

      Sorry if that seems harsh and I don’t doubt you honestly feel Cyborg represents those ugly racist symbols you say


    • Hey Randy. We’ve gotten a ton more comments than normal in response to this post, so if your original comment really was reasonable and it got trashed, I want to apologize, it was probably just a victim of trying to moderate comments using the crappy wordpress app on my iPhone while on the subway.

      As for your reading of Cyborg as a potential positive figure. . . I don’t think you are wrong about that possibility, but I do think you are wrong to characterize the post as “twisting” or paint[ed] in ugly hues.” There is not one thing in Robert’s reading of Cyborg that does not emerge from the history of representation of black characters in literature and media. And here’s the thing, all black superheroes are framed in system of white supremacy. . . even when we like them (and clearly, Robert does not like Cyborg) we have to read them that way to remain aware of the myriad of meanings emerging from their narratives. It could be that Cyborg is also a positive image of people with disabilities (I don’t know, I am not an expert in either disability studies or Cyborg), but that wouldn’t make what Robert revealed untrue. . . “both/and” is a much more useful stance than “either/or.”


    • You seem to be seeking to control other people’s reactions to things you love.

      Good luck with that.



    • Osvaldo,

      Randy was previously posting under cdcw. Over and over again. Even at my Facebook site. He’s mis-characterizing the objectivity of his previous postings. His posts were not merely criticism, but direct insults on my personal character.

      Also, just to clarify:

      I don’t object to Cyborg’s disabilities (or enhancements, depending on the lens through which this is being viewed). I object to two things:

      His castration as a connection to the real-world white anxiety and violence toward black sexuality; and
      His disability as an ongoing source of shame and pathos.

      That he might be able to still be viewed as a source of inspiration for disabled people doesn’t negate anything that I’m saying. In fact, the essay, toward the end, shows that despite all the cultural flaws I view as present in this character, he still serves as an inspiration for some black people.

      I still think Randy/cdcw’s complaint really boils down to “stop saying bad stuff about stuff I like.” Which I can’t take seriously as an argument.


    • Over and over again? No. I had my initial comment blocked (for whatever reason) not many, nor have I made many. I did get linked to this article from someone on FB but I’ve never posted on your FB (unless your using multiple aliases, I just use my own identity). On that link I expressed the same disappointment/disgust I did here that folks would take something created for pleasure, for joy, and hurl invectives at it and its creators because they haven’t qualified and clarified each and every story to ensure it satisfies some socio-political standard. I would recommend the Patton Oswald Twitter feed from the other day for a satirical example if such absurdity run amok.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Randy,

      Oh, you’re not cdcw? My apologies. I’m sorry. I thought when you said “I posted multiple times…” that it was you because cdcw has posted here multiple times without being published.

      To your other points: Cyborg is a creation, a fantasy, a figment of someone’s imagination, a representation of a thing. You and I, however, are living, breathing human beings. Let’s please keep that foremost in our minds here.

      I do detest the way you’ve framed my position as being inherently faulty because of what you think the creators’ intentions were. Intentions matter, but less than impact. This essay is about Cyborg’s impact on ME. This is about MY view of Cyborg based on how I receive this piece of media based on the space I occupy as a black, queer, male person. I’m entitled to talk about that even if it disturbs you.

      It strikes me as incredibly privileged to mock the notion that a creator should consider sociopolitical and cultural concerns when they engage in their work. But you’re correct; no one has to consider the sociopolitical aspects of a thing they’re creating if they don’t want to. But that thing remains subject to sociopolitical critique when it is released into the world. And that remains so even if it means that you have to encounter opinions you dislike.

      I’m not subject to anyone else’s ownership. My agency isn’t up for debate or sale. This is not my first criticism of the comic book industry’s intrinsic bigotries. And it absolutely will not be my last.

      If your joy is contingent upon my silence, be prepared to be joyless for quite some time to come.


      Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: “Humanity Not Included: DC’s Cyborg and the Mechanization of the Black Body” : The Cultural Gutter

  21. This is a very interesting article, it puts some things in perspective. As a queer white man I have my own bug bears with comics. But its often difficult to see things from others perspectives. Only very recently have there been any moves to really put effort into LGBT characters and with a few exceptions its feels really forced. I say this not as a means to hi-jack the conversation, but to highlight my personal experiences with the medium.

    I feel token characters work for a short while in order to raise awareness for different groups of people, but very quickly become a problem when it looks like the writers go “Ok we have done out good deed, now lets go back to the ‘normal’ characters” With LGBT characters I tend to get shouted down when I criticise because “At least they are putting LGBT characters in their stories now”

    I confess I am not as aware of the problems with non white characters, that’s not that I don’t care or am oblivious, but I think its human nature to notice the issues that apply to you more predominantly. That is why I found this article so interesting. it really highlights something I think I should have been aware of.

    There are two major factors I see as big problems in the main studios at the moment.
    -First any character that is not a Cis white straight male is defined by their race/gender/sexuality. Cyborg is a black superhero, not a character that happens to be black. Wonder Woman is a female superhero and so on ad nauseum. These are not defining characteristics. Sure they inform a characters background and history, but they don’t define them. Superman is not a Straight White Male superhero, nor is Spiderman etcetera, they are just superheroes. This is a big problem with writing in general I feel.
    -Second is the lack of evolution in the main comics. Sure they have story arcs, but they constantly and consistently reset the plot. This means that any and all character development is ALWAYS reset. THis is so they can constantly trot out the same linup of characters and keep selling books. I can understand the finances of it, but it leads as you so correctly put out about Cyborg to them erasing any good things or progressive things that have been written. It creates a very stagnant and regressive element to anything they write.

    Though I will say I really think this is a big studio thing rather than comics in general, since there are a lot of good independent comics and smaller studios like image that are dealing with race gender and sexuality an awful lot better than say DC or Marvel. Especially as most of them tend toward closed stories that end or at least maintain character development.

    Sorry for the long post, but your article really got some gears turning in my head. Thank you :D

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Pingback: “I Know It When I See It”- Race, Relatability, and Reading Practice | The Middle Spaces

    • This comment is interesting to me, not in that it ignores the fact that objections by the people being represented has historically NOT stopped creators from going ahead and doing what they want, but that in the implication that the “artists” must be white.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Complete and utter nonsense. Nothing stops them from doing whatever they feel compelled to do. Since it is rarely about representation and mostly about making money, comic creators will likely continue to create stereotypical creations about People of Color, getting it wrong until they realize as their market share diminishes, if they want to get it Right, they will have to either: make friends with People of Color and discover they are just like everyone else; beings with stories, with lives that matter and worthy of being represented properly, or they will hire writers/editors of Color who will create better representations which may not carry as much emotional baggage while they work on the book. When that team moves on what happens, of course, is anyone’s guess.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I always find it fascinating, and revealing, how some people actually believe that being labelled a racist (or, in this case, one’s work being labelled racially problematic) is placed in the same category of offense as actually being the target of racism or racist propaganda. It’s a relatively new pathology that has entered the debate, close kin of the “calling me racist is racist!” mindset.

      Also interesting is the knee-jerk assumption that creators, white or not, instead of learning from the criticism, will, instead, become “reluctant” to create minority characters–because, you know, it’s “really hard” to make minority characters that don’t rely on stereotypes? And asking these creators to dig deeper and do better, like they do when they are creating majority characters, is just, I guess, an unfair burden to place on the privileged?

      I also find the false premise of the extremes–“Exclusion is racism, inclusion is tokenism and racism”–intellectually disingenuous. And I question the mentality that can only, conveniently, for the sake of winning its own argument and proving it’s own point, imagine those two possibilities.

      Exclusion is racism and inclusion can be tokenism for all the reasons I describe in the essay. If you are putting ONE minority character on a team and they are outnumbered, six to one, by majority characters, that is, by definition, tokenism. That isn’t, by definition, diversity.

      This reminds me of that study in which white people were shown photos of a group of white people with one or two people of color in a group. They were then asked, afterwards, to recall how many people of color they saw in the photographs. Most of the white people answered that the photographs contained 50% people of color in the group compositions, when in reality, people of color made up 1% of the compositions.

      It also reminds me of the study which found that despite all of the evidence to the the contrary, most white people believe they experience more racism than people of color.

      It also reminds me of the study that revealed that most white people believe black people either don’t feel pain or feel pain to a lesser degree than white people.

      All of this stuff appears to factor into the annoyance white people feel whenever anyone brings up the subjects of racism and white supremacy. The gut instinct and reflex is denial or to lay blame at the feet of the people making the critique. Anything to avoid having to grapple with the hard work of undoing the racist thoughts, beliefs, and actions, whether conscious or not.

      White people are “so tired of black people complaining about everything and making everything about race!”

      Meanwhile, no one is more tired than black people who have no choice but to complain because of the construct of race, created by white people, relies upon black suffering.

      As James Baldwin once said, the race problem is not a black people problem; it’s a white people problem. And the problem will persist for as long as white people continue to think they’re white. For racism to be undone, whiteness must be undone. But the vast majority of white people has no intention of giving up their whiteness because it affords them way too many benefits, large and small.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Osvaldo Oyola – I imagine that no artist wants to be tagged as a racist, minorities included.

    Ebonstorm – being labeled as a racist can have very serious consequences to one’s livelihood. Do you think that DC has made a ton of money off of the Cyborg character? If it is more trouble than it is worth, these types of characters may disappear, it will become more trouble than it is worth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Given the longevity of the few Characters of Color in the DC and Marvel Universes, it is unlikely they are going anywhere. Cyborg has has a nice long run as Teen Titan both in the comics and on television as a member of Teen Titans and Teen Titans, Go! He is about to appear in a number of potential movies and the Black Panther will also be appearing on screen.

      Diversity isn’t out, it’s in. I don’t see any writer worrying about being perceived as a racist (unless he outs him/herself as one). People just want to have quality entertainment that doesn’t treat them as if they’re stupid, doesn’t talk down to them, and doesn’t present unpleasant stereotypes that are obviously and egregiously racist.

      Your concern is misplaced. Most writers and artists are only too desperate to find work and would rarely put themselves, knowingly, in a position which might exclude them from work. I don’t think anyone is going to lose their job over representing Cyborg or any other character of Color in a positive light and representative light.


    • I am just putting myself in the shoes of the artists who created the comics that are the subject of this blog – it certainly can’t be uplifting to hear that one’s work is racist and tokenism.

      I was a very avid comic book collector in the late 70s – 80s, and I seem to recall most comic books were rather simplistic and cartoon-ish because they were intended for kids and teens. I realize that they have evolved substantially over the years and that there is more adult readership, so the plot lines and character development have had to evolve. Some of the examples in this blog were from the early 1980s, back when the pictures were much more important than the dialogue or character development, at least in the mind of the teen I was back then.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I’m not an expert about mainstream comics at all, in part because they really never did represent me… and so I found them mostly boring… but to affirm your article…The super hero is based on a white supremacist POV because the hero is based on what Nietzsche was describing when he wrote about the Ober-man. The “over” man. He was critiquing and debunking Christianity (jesus is the white superhero which Superman is based on) at a time Germany was elevating/creating the dominant aryan man. Without going into the actually philosophy there is a dynamic between the figure that frees the slaves and the figure that represents the top tier of intellectual enlightenment being capitalized on in D.C. and Marvel. Propaganda (like nazi posters) are very comic bookish and stylish. Stan Lee’s marvel comics like with Captain America were predominantly sold to young men who were soldiers before the industry broke open to “wider” audiences… so they appeal to destroying enemies typically fought by “stereotypical” white american men…

    I realize how I’ve written this is overly simplistic and I’m leaving a lot out, for the connections I’m making, and I haven’t mentioned Cyborg, but bottom line is the representation in comics does favor “traditional white supremacist roles” even when it comes to forms of how to protest or battle, because those were the fears and hopes of comic book creators, who birthed the industry and maintained a very narrow field. They want us to fit into their version and acceptance of a hero and or be rescued by that version when really, we should be able to save our own selves… and not look to the great savior complex.

    Maybe I’m reaching… :) But regardless, interesting article.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hey thanks Karl. :) I think Nietzche is more interesting than the D.C. comics and surprisingly (or unexpected to me) funny, so I fear I am largely a “Han Solo” in my “mainstream comic book” conversations. Haven’t seen the new star wars film btw, just saying I’m a bit of an anti-hero. Aw, well.


  25. I really appreciate this analysis. I knew that there was something lacking in the representation of POC and WOC in the comic industry, but I stopped there. Thank you for raising a lot of relevant and often overlooked points.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. How do you feel about independent publishers like Image? As a (white) female comic book reader, I feel drawn to Image because of its very non-gendered narrative almost across the board (especially Saga and Rat Queens). I feel like actual progress is being made. Do you think these more progressive comics are racially progressive as well?

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve found that non-mainstream works–like B*TCH PLANET, TREES, and THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, all Image books–fare far better, in terms of race, gender, sexuality, disability, class, etc., and handle those identities with far more skill, grace, aplomb, and thoughtfulness than just about anything DC or MARVEL produces.

      The majority of comic books I collect are not published by either DC or Marvel. I’ve been cutting back on DC and Marvel since realizing that there are problematics at those institutions that are structural and endemic and the stories they produce are merely a by-product of that core toxicity.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I find myself gravitating towards Image books and staying away from DC especially. I have some loyalty to MARVEL especially because of Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel – Ms. Marvel feels totally unprecedented culturally in my experience of comics. Here you have a young woman who becomes a super who is also in a seemingly traditional Muslim household. Have you ever seen a Muslim character in comics?

      I also agree about Btch Planet and Trees being far more progressive on all fronts. Rat Queens and Trees both include trans characters. And Btch Planet (at least from my point of view) seems to be hitting the mark with race and also body image, especially the one shot issue #3.

      Honestly, if Scott Snyder ever stops writing Batman, I don’t think I’ll read DC anymore.

      Thank you for writing this insightful article. I feel like I’ve seen a clear perspective from a person of color’s point of view in a way that I can understand it. And I feel a little more equipped to evaluate the things I read from a race point of view (which I struggle with, I think in the way men might struggle with understanding the female point of view) even if I can’t really empathize with the experience of being othered because of race.

      Liked by 3 people

  27. Well written a poignant piece regarding the white-male-patriarchal archetype portrayed and perpetuated through the entertainment medium of comics. Insightful, honest and well thought out analysis/reflection. This theme and concept of the token character can hold true for so many stories across so may mediums..

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Thank you for the insight, what an eye opener! I thought racism was on its way into oblivion but, how wrong. Black, white, yellow or brown we are all the same underneath. Wake up and, this is definitely a call to arms, smell the coffee no race is “supreme”, we are all equal. The same is true regarding gender, equality of humans has to be achieved. No one is or can ever claim to be superior as a result of skin colour or gender.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Amazing article. I real all the Teen Titans as a kid and still have them in my garage. I never noticed this when I was younger. Maybe because I was innocent, but more likely because I was much more interested in Wonder Girl. I want to go dig out my old issues and re-read them. (Also, I agree that Wonder Woman’s new role is absolutely disgusting. It goes against the whole point of creating her. If Superman just wanted someone to save he should have stuck with Lois Lane.)

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Love the article/essay and some of the comments/discussions going on here. As a somewhat avid reader of comics I do see where you’re going with this. I can appreciate your view of the “impact” of this character.

    This reminds me of a similar article and discussion needing to be had regarding video games and cinema. Where people of color are often relegated to being a token (see Deus Ex or Hunger games), not represented (see minority report or Watchdogs) or poorly represented (see Catwoman or Final Fantasy 13). Tokenism is alive and well, and while the face of our society changes (to be more colorful), it still thrives. Why? I believe your essay speaks to those reasons. What I hate in regards to discussions like this is when the person who opposes your opinion (which is asinine to begin with) does so by saying, “If you want more [insert color/gender] in [insert media type] then make your own.”

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Well written article, but as soon as I see people categorizing other human beings as white or black it’s like this whole subject becomes racial again. The Cyborg character has nothing to do with race, the writer of this article uses skin color to justify certain aspects of the character. He just so happens to be a man, turned cyborg with disappointment about his father’s decisions. See what I did there? I took away the color filter, he’s just a human being like anyone else in the justice league. The only way we stop racism is stop dividing ourselves into races. We’re humans, that’s our race. Just like lions are lions and birds are birds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • All that so-called “colorblind” attitude is really good for is maintaining the status quo. I know that people who maintain such a point of view think they are adopting some noble perspective, but it is anything but. . . It is the equivalent of the proverbial ostrich’s strategy of putting his head in a hole in ground to avoid danger.


  32. On the contrary Osvaldo, I believe you are deliberately creating issues where none are. This is what keeps racism alive, people create illusions about inequality to justify some decisions that are completely coincidental. My perspective is not a ‘noble’, it’s the perspective that needs to be adopted for a world where we can stand side by side, not side by side surrounded by a fence with a sign to state what country, religion, or race i’m from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • PSYCHOLOGY TODAY: “Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism”

      “Many Americans view colorblindness as helpful to people of color by asserting that race does not matter (Tarca, 2005). But in America, most underrepresented minorities will explain that race does matter, as it affects opportunities, perceptions, income, and so much more. When race-related problems arise, colorblindness tends to individualize conflicts and shortcomings, rather than examining the larger picture with cultural differences, stereotypes, and values placed into context. Instead of resulting from an enlightened (albeit well-meaning) position, colorblindness comes from a lack of awareness of racial privilege conferred by Whiteness (Tarca, 2005). White people can guiltlessly subscribe to colorblindness because they are usually unaware of how race affects people of color and American society as a whole.”

      Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly, but you’re putting me in a box with the people who are indeed colorblind. I’m not colorblind, I acknowledge we look different, but what I’ve read in your article is that you contribute outside factors to personal exterior or heritage. Since it’s an article about DC comics, let me remind you that Batman once said “It’s not who we are, but what we do that defines us”. Even Morgan Freeman who stood side by side with Nelson Mandela shaking hands, congratulating him with his victories, was once in an interview with CNN. The interviewer asked Morgan Freeman “How do we stop racism?” Mr. Freeman looked at the man and replied “Stop talking about it”. Now knowing his heritage, his skin color and his beliefs, this man affirms everything I just said. Is he colorblind to his own skin? No, he’s doing what everyone on this planet must learn to see, to stop capitalizing on something that has nothing to do with what a person can become or is, solely based on his skin color. It’s not skin color that creates bad opportunities, it has to do with the person itself, his own mindset. Is he going to sit in a corner and weep for his people’s current state? No, one must fight to be where he wants to be just as any person on this planet of any color spectrum. Morgan Freeman got where he is today by working hard, grabbing opportunities, dealing with failure, so did Obama, Mandela, King and so on. That is the real big picture within the American Society.


    • Daniel,

      It seems that you misread or misinterpreted that Psychology Today article, or at least it seems that way to me based on your response.

      I simply don’t have the time to break it down for you why your response remains problematic–suffice to say, you delve into respectability politics and use “exceptional” black people to support your thesis, which (and I’m not sure if you know this) is a classic racist rebuttal. It tends to make white people feel better about race if that can point to black exceptions/mouthpieces and say, “SEE??? Race is not the issue!” But that strategy has little to no basis in the reality of black people. Morgan Freeman knows that, too. But he has to say something different when white people are in the room. Next, you’ll be quoting Clarence Thomas, Herman Cain, and Dr. Ben Carson. LOL!

      Here are some articles I think you should read. Thank you for the discussion, but this is where I end my responses. I appreciate you.

      Have a great day!


    • And thank you for the discussion. I believed to be speaking on the same level, but as soon as I read “But he has to say something different when white people are in the room. ” I understood I was dealing with a prejudiced person, whose convictions are anchored too deeply to be convinced otherwise. Based on Sherif’s social judgment theory (1961) I’ll end my discussion here, as it will only root you deeper into your own point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. I would most definitively agree that there is a serious problem with “color blindness”. It isn’t just something humans devoid of color (white people) do exclusively, people of color do it also.

    Typically when people of color do it they are trying to ignore/avoid/renounce their own experience, and when people devoid of color do it (the well intentioned) do so out of ignorance.

    History matters and that history has created different culture and experiences. So a white person will never know what it means to be black and a black person will never know what it means to be human. Never having the luxury of deluding ourselves that we can be just that.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. This a very interesting article. A lifelong fan of comic books, I have become disenchanted with them over the years as they display the same lack of vision and prejudices that plague the rest of the mainstream American culture mill. Mostly everything has been said already above, but I would add that this reminds me of a spot Arsenio Hall did years ago (yes, back then, when he had his own show) on Star Trek New Generation. In a typical funny-man way, he pointed out how all the black characters on the show were somehow disfigured, or disabled. Gordie, the guy with the glasses. The klingon character with the spine running down his forehead. I never watched the show, but even as a kid, this discrepancy in characterization made an impression on me.

    Thanks for the insightful post!

    Liked by 2 people

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  36. Wow, I’m impressed by how thoroughly you’ve analyzed this character. I’m only familiar with Cyborg from the show “Teen Titans Go!” Even though I do find him funny at times, I definitely noticed how he’s portrayed as a wimpy, whiny, crybaby with this pseudo Black-woman vibe. The analysis you’ve done, though, has really enlightened me as far as understanding the history of this character, and all he really represents.

    Liked by 2 people

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  38. I found this post, ironically, looking for the release date of Cyborg #1 by Walker and Reis. It and Martian Manhunter, next month, are anticipated new series for me. But, what you’ve said about Victor, as a character, I can’t really argue with. A lot of it I’ve come to see, myself, and reach on my own. These things I’ve already taken issue with. But, you’ve raised further points I had yet to notice or accept, myself.

    When it comes to race, I tend to not know how to feel. My emotional reaction is complex. On one hand, I – like everyone, have to deal with my conditioned sense of racism. I won’t lie and say I don’t have my own prejudices that I must struggle against, like everyone else. But, my sense of empathy and scruples are outraged by the obvious injustices. So, I’m trying to learn. To be better.

    What I’m genuinely curious about, though, if you pardon what is likely inarticulate and insensitive wording, what would you do to make Cyborg better? What would you, if you were to pen Victor Stone, do to make him a better character? To address the issues you take with him and, for lack of a better phrase, “fix” them. I just think in the solution, we might find some answers. So, I’m curious. I’ve heard a lot of alternate fan propositions for Cyborg and I’d like to hear yours.

    Liked by 2 people

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