Shattering unconscious biases

More than once in my life I’ve had someone remark “I didn’t know you were gay” or “There’s nothing gay about you. I’d have never guessed.” Statements of that nature reflect the biases about gay people held by that individual. There is no visual characteristic defining all gay people. We’re not a monolithic entity all acting the same. We are human beings with a diverse background and beliefs who express their sexuality in a variety of ways (with some choosing not to express their sexuality). Being surprised that I’m gay or saying there’s nothing gay about me is saying “Your expression of sexuality does not comport with how I think gay people act” (it’s also treating heterosexuality as the default). It’s that thinking right there that needs to be challenged. Gay people don’t “act” in any specific way that would allow someone to recognize their sexuality (just to be clear, I’m talking about engaging in everyday activities like going to the gym, the grocery store, or interacting with employees on the job. I’m not talking about holding hands with a significant other, kissing them, or otherwise acting in a way that signals one’s sexuality).

I’ve also had some personal experience with implicit racial biases. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told “You’re so well-spoken” or “You are eloquent”. Rarely have I heard those words directed at others, so what made me so special? For years, that question lingered at the back of my mind. Then I learned that many people hold unconscious beliefs about black people, and one of those beliefs is that African-Americans don’t speak correctly. While I’m not entirely sure what speaking correctly means, I know it involves enunciating words and speaking clearly (to be honest, I suspect it’s a criticism of black people for not speaking like white people). Here’s the thing though:  all black people don’t speak the same.  Shocker, I know.

It’s implicit biases like those above that need to be shattered so that people can come to view TBGL people, women, and People of Color as people, rather than a collection of stereotypes. In a recent post, I wrote about the importance of diversity initiatives in combating racial stereotypes. One of the suggestions I had was for Hollywood to cast more PoC in non-stereotypical leading or supporting roles. Whether a live-action movie or television show or an animated series, presenting People of Color in a positive role can help shatter unconscious racial stereotypes. What type of positive role?

How about a wealthy globe-trotting black woman who becomes a superhero after acquiring a mystical amulet that allows her to channel the abilities of any animal on the planet?

It looks like DC’s team of TV heroes is growing by one more: Vixen. According to KSiteTV CW a Vixen animated series which will debut this fall on its digital-only channel was announced by the CW at the Television Critics Association event Sunday. The project is being headed up by Arrow‘s Marc Guggenheim, and will reportedly be tied into the DC television continuity shared by Arrow and The Flash.

Originally created back in 1978 by Gerry Conway and Bob Oksner, Vixen is primarily known as a team member of books like Justice League and Suicide Squad. In current comics continuity, she has been a member of both Justice League International and the main Justice League team. She’s made several appearances in various DC animated shows, from Justice League Unlimited to Batman: The Brave and the Bold and even a cameo in Teen Titans Go!.

Guggenheim explained to CBR that the series is initially planned for six episodes, and will be set in Detroit as a homage to the Justice League in the 1980s. The writer/producer said Vixen will be an origin story with heavy magical elements, in constrast to Arrow being crime-based and The Flash being science-based. Arrow writers Brian Ford Sullivan and Keto Shimizu will be joining Guggenheim on Vixen, but said the voice-casting of the title character hasn’t been finalized. Guggenheim did say that The Flash‘s Grant Gustin and Arrow‘s Stephen Amell would voice their own characters in the animated series.

While I envisioned more roles for People of Color on the big or small screen rather than digital (I worry that a digital-only series won’t reach many viewers, but I really don’t have anything to base this feeling on), this is still a step in the right direction.

Shattering unconscious biases