I grew up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City area of Utah. I was white and surrounded by a lot of people who were mostly like me. I didn’t experience a lot of diversity ion my life when I was a kid. The most I remember from my early childhood was that many members of my extended family were not members of the same church. And, I remember thinking I was weird because my grandparents smoked and drank coffee. This was the closest thing I had to experiencing anything different from em in my early childhood.
Then, around the time I was 11 years old, my parents divorced, and I kind of stopped going to church for a while. Honestly, in the little suburb of Murray, Utah, at the time, I felt like a freak when I went to school. I felt like a freak and weirdo around the other kids in the neighborhood. I felt like an outsider. And it was around this time that I really got heavily into comics, and especially the X-Men. The X-Men were freaks and weirdos too. They were outsiders just like me, and I loved reading about them. I felt like I could identify with them. I felt like they were me.
This was how my 11 year old little mind with little life experience saw the X-Men. As I got older, I began to realize that the X-Men were something else entirely, and something much deeper. I began to understand that there were a lot of similarities with the X-Men and groups I was learning about in school. The X-Men were marginalized and discounted by the main population in the Marvel universe, like so many minorities in the United States. I began to see similarities in the hate groups in the cartoons and comics like the Friends of Humanity, and hate groups in the United States. I began to understand that the X-Men, and reading the X-Men was helping me to understand something else.
My time as an “outsider” was so small and insignificant compared to what a lot of other people had experienced in history. People who were hated because of the color of their skin, or where they were born. Our country’s history is steeped in prejudice and bias and hate of those people who are different, or who we deem different. And to be clear, different than WASP. The people we see as not fitting in with the norm, suffer from this prejudice and hate. The X-Men exposed me to these ideas at an early age, and as I got older and began to see these parallels, it helped me to appreciate and try to understand better those who are hated.
Now, I’m not trying to say I’m an expert on race relations or racism in this country. I’m not. But I am grateful to the X-Men because from reading these stories growing up, it helped me to understand others who are different than me. Why? Because reading the X-Men books made me want to understand others and appreciate them, and not fear them. And dwelling on fear of something or someone can and often does lead to hate. It starts as discomfort but evolves on its own to something else. I think a natural thing, meaning human nature, is a feeling a discomfort around people or situations that are different from what we know. And when we experience that, how we proceed will determine whether we end up avoiding ands possibility hating what is different, or trying to understand and then appreciate.
Reading the X-Men for me, helped me to try to understand those who were different, and it is something I am grateful for. My wife and I have six kids. Three of them are deaf. When we found out, we had some decisions to make about what we were going to do. We decided to learn American Sign Language and to teach our kids American Sign Language. This has meant that our kids are part of the deaf community and participate quite a bit in the deaf community. A community that at the time I was completely uncomfortable because I had no idea about this culture and this world. Today, after years of interacting with individuals who are deaf, I feel more comfortable. But it took time and understanding.
That’s what the X-Men are about, for me, on some level. Yes, I love the sci-fi feel of the comics and the movies, and I love the characters and the stories, but this idea of understanding others, accepting those who are different are at the core of who and what the X-Men are. They live in a world that hates and fears them simply because of a label. Simply because they are born different. People in their world feel threatened by the mutants because they don’t understand. They buy into the fear that their society has sold them. The idea that all mutants are dangerous simply because of who they are. In their world, there are two sets of standards for super powered beings. Humans and aliens like Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man and others are loved by the masses (Spider-Man by most, jut not J. Jonah Jameson). They have super powers and wear costumes, and people love them. The X-Men are very similar- they have powers and wear costumes, and they are hated. It is a clear double standard.
Simply because they are not “human,” simply because they are born different. If this is not a parallel to the racism and prejudice that exists in our world, if you can’t see that, then I’m not sure how to help you to recognize it. And if you are turning a blind eye to what is happening right now in our world and our country, then you are like the mutant haters in the comics. To hate and fear simply because something is different, to make people less than human because they are different than you, it’s not acceptable. I would say it is evil and wrong. And we can do better. We need to do better. The X-Men helped me to see that when I was younger, and I understand that more now that I am older.
This week is all about X-Men on the blog. Check out the post on Monday for more X-goodness. Click here to view it.