Guys…X-Men: Apocalypse is out today.
I’ve been following news about this movie for a while now, and by the time you are reading this I will be sitting in whatever theater chain I think will have the least people playing hooky, eating popcorn, and trying not to shout my emotions at the screen because I’m in Boston (so I might be the only Black woman in the theater REPRESENT).
I am crazy excited to see Oscar Isaac (Apocalypse), Alexandra Shipp (new Storm yaass), and Lana Condor (Jubilee) represent for POC actors. But one of my favorite COCs (characters of color) to follow up on in this film is an oft misunderstood angry blue woman: the world-straddling Mystique.
Do I still have you? Or did you close the window in total disgust?
Alright, for the crew that stayed around let me explain myself. I am only talking about MCU Mystique. While I’ve read many of the X-Men comics, I have not read enough that feature her character to really get a read on whether the cinematic version is completely aligned with her print story. The plight of Cinematic Mystique is a beacon to me, representing the awkwardness and pain of being able to walk in two worlds. I see her struggle and I empathize. Also, the thought of someone consistently telling everyone that they’d rather be running around naked, blue-skinned, and yellow-eyed than present phenotypically as Jennifer Lawrence? It tickles me to no end.
This isn’t a new storyline for her. Rebecca Romijn Mystique had that fabulous moment where she tells Senator Kelly “You know, people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child”, expressing how much she wanted to just be herself rather than morph into something passable. While almost all mutants have abilities that present in ways that allow them to either walk among the humans unnoticed or be immediately identifiable as “other”, Mystique is unique in her ability to choose. This also makes her a target of persecution in both worlds.
While the animosity from humans is pretty straightforward (ewww mutant!), it’s the backlash from her own community that stings hardest. Her own brother rarely sympathizes with the emotional burden that comes from constantly denying herself in public. Honestly – for someone so in tune with the mind, Xavier is oddly tone deaf when it comes to her. Maybe it is because he never has to make the choice himself, and is always interested in blending in and not disrupting the status quo. Maybe it’s because he’s a dick. Not sure yet. X-Men First Class Beast is visibly upset that she is at all conflicted. He would trade in those weird feet in a heartbeat to be their (the human world’s) normal because he has internalized their definition as the only definition. Sound familiar? I’ll continue.
When we think of passing in the historical sense, most people will go to the racial context. Light-skinned POCs were sometimes able to claim whiteness and exist in that society (if you haven’t seen the 1959 masterpiece that is Imitation of Life, I suggest you fork over 2.99 to the streaming service of your choice and grab your tissues and Milk Duds.) This ability was not just used for social climbing. It could be life-saving in many Southern situations. Walter Francis White was the head of the NAACP from 1931-1955. He was also blue-eyed, blond, and had incredibly fair skin. This allowed him to get more information about lynchings and discrimination because he could walk among the White population. He even infiltrated the Klan to get better evidence. That is service to your people. And yet, he was still vilified. His second wife was a White woman, and that brought intense backlash and claims that he always really wanted to be White at his core. His son even dropped the family name in disgust. Damn.
There is another type of passing, and it is relevant to the complex world we live in today. When passing moves to the sociological context, it broadens to a person being regarded as a member of that group but now reaches to categories like class, religion, gender, etc. This is commonly seen in the survival strategy we call code-switching.
If you are a POC in a PWI (Predominately White Institution), you knew where I was going. Politics, college, professional spheres, you name it. A lot of the places of power in America are places of whiteness. And the ability to change tone and syntax, to hide accents and limit cultural slang, is necessary for survival in those halls. It also means that when you come back to your people you can become a target for “acting White”.
Because enunciated English, SAT-level vocab skills, and knowledge of all the names of the Stark’s direwolves (you’re right @blknerdproblems, they DO deserve better) is exclusively the realm of the fair-skinned.
Except, it’s not.
While I am not going to rehash the whole #dem #dat battle on Twitter this past week (hear about it from Ms. Broadnax herself) I have to focus on the fact that those fools (who will NOT be linked to) were policing the blackness of the @BlackGirlNerds creator by saying that they did not hear her commonly using AAVE (African American Vernacular) so how Black was she really? This goes straight to my heart folks.
If you know me, you know my speech is laced with just as many “like”s and “hella”s as it is “y’all”s and “nah”s. I grew up in a predominately White neighborhood and when I started getting into the nerd scene there were not a lot of other blerds around. And by “not a lot” I mean exactly one, but I still see Gabe at cons in Boston to this day, which is super comforting. Love you fam!
When we are already being hit at from every side as a community, being attacked for the ability to flow seamlessly from world to world is ridiculous. There will always be the suspect, the Don Lemons/Clarence Thomas’/Raven Symones of the Black world that seem to have turned their back on the community. But why should their perceived sins extend to every other tan person walking those halls? The fear of rejection from White people is nothing compared to the hate you catch from your own community’s fear that you may have willingly assimilated to White culture. As cruel and exclusionary as a White person may be for taunting a little girl that has afro puffs instead of ponytails, the same brand of animosity can come from a Black person scoffing at your choice of Mega Ran over Future, or Dear White People over Friday After Next for movie night. Internal policing of blackness is literally a game (that I own, and will be bringing to the reunion in July because…conflict). I’ll quote that same concert from above, because Donald Glover knows our struggle intimately:
Lovin’ white dudes who call me white and then try to hate
When I wasn’t white enough to use your pool when I was 8
Stone Mountain you raised me well
I’m stared at by Confederates but hard as hell
Tight jeans penny loafers, but I still drink a Bodine
Staying on my me shit, but hated on by both sides
I’m just a kid who blowing up with my father’s name
And every black “you’re not black enough”
Is a white “you’re all the same”
So if there is anything I want you, my lovely /diverse/multi-layered reader to know it is this:
It is entirely possible to stay true to yourself & your community and still have a foot in each world.
(Well, it is for us. Poor Mystique, she’s just going to be mad as hell for the foreseeable future. Let’s see if she can settle this before I don’t know, X -Men 3002: Electric Boogaloo)