Change in Speak: Comics Apologies and Learning to Listen

This article was originally published at Loser City on July 16, 2015.

I’ve said a lot of stupid things.

A lot.

Even in the brief time I’ve been writing about comics, I’ve tweeted or spoken plenty of regrettable things. Sometimes it has been something embarrassing, but relatively small and easily fixed, like misacreditiation. Othertimes it has been something much more challenging, an opinion based on a lack of perspective and thought. Where a brief, sincere apology might fix the former, it’s not enough for the latter.

These situations aren’t times to hide my face or issue a statement and disappear; they’re opportunities for me to listen. When I say something dumb about race, gender, personality, or anything else, it’s typically because I’m not thinking. The solution isn’t for me to continue talking, but to stop. If I hurt someone, it’s more important that I understand what is going on in their head than that they understand what is going on in mine.

Listening, asking questions, and acting with empathy are the foundation of a good apology. Not only do they make the apology sincere, but they help me learn what I did to necessitate an apology and grow beyond those behaviors. Looking back I’m grateful for many of the mistakes I’ve made because they’ve made me a better listener, better question asker, and more empathetic person in every aspect of life, not just when I screw up.

It’s the reason I was able to engage in one of the best conversations I experienced at San Diego Comic Con last weekend. I was speaking with a few friends when the subject turned to hip hop, a subject I know almost nothing about. Rather than try to interject about the few Kanye songs I like or change the subject, I spent the next hour listening. Their wit and enthusiasm about music was inspiring. It was just a delight to listen to them discuss this subject they knew so much about, making me want to learn more so I could better understand and engage.

And that leads us to the reason why I’m talking about apologies: Tom Brevoort said something stupid today (and it involves hip hop).

Brevoort was asked on his Tumblr about Marvel’s upcoming Hip Hop variant covers and the continuing lack of black representation amongst the creators who work there. His response can be charitably described as lacking.

Dumb Ass Response

If you’re not sure what the problem is, that’s not something I’m fully prepared to discuss. As a middle-class, white guy, it’s hard for me to understand the effects of cultural appropriation. Luckily, David Brothers has this covered. He wrote a fantastic piece about why the question Brevoort was asked is important and deserves to be fairly addressed. You can check out Brothers’ essay here.

To Brevoort’s credit, he recognized that his initial response was lacking and followed up with a brief apology and explanation of what he meant to say.

Lame Ass Apology

Except what Brevoort said really isn’t an apology. He apologizes for being flippant in his tone, but not for the content of his response. His response never adequately addresses the issues raised by the question, opting to explain why it’s a non-issue instead. There’s a lot of slick doublespeak going on, but no real substance.

Brevoort acknowledges that Marvel ought to continue to do better, and then pats himself on the back for having said so in the past. He even points out that there are future announcements to be made that COULD represent greater diversity than the almost 50 new titles already announced. He’s asking to be given credit without having earned it. The only thing Brevoort gets right here is that Marvel can do better when it comes to their hiring practices.

From there the issue gets confused in order to make it stop being an issue. Brevoort claims this isn’t an “either-or situation.” It’s not, but that also wasn’t likely the intent of the original question. Asking “how can you print hip hop covers when you don’t employ black creators?” is silly. Of course Marvel can print homages to famous hip hop albums no matter who they employ. The issue is far more complex than that though, as Brothers’ explains in his own essay. Framing the question in this manner just makes it easy to dodge the difficult issues at its core.

Brevoort isn’t listening or dialoguing in his apology; he’s announcing. That doesn’t just give the “wrong impression” like his initial response, it confirms that impression was absolutely correct.

A question like the one Brevoort responded to shouldn’t be reduced to a curt response or poorly phrased apology. It’s an invitation for a very necessary conversation. If he’s sincere when he says Marvel can do better, then this is an opportunity to start a dialogue about how to make that happen.

People aren’t asking questions about this because they don’t care. People aren’t getting upset about this because they don’t care. People aren’t writing essays about this because they don’t care. The truth is that we care a lot. That’s why these questions are being asked.

Representation is a big problem in comics, especially at big publishers like Marvel and DC Comics. It isn’t an impossible problem, but change is coming at a glacial pace. Brevoort has incredible resources at his disposal to help though. Everyone asking, talking, and writing about this issue represents a helping hand that Brevoort can rely upon. This includes creators who have worked for Marvel; Ales Kot turned down work involving people of color in order to suggest other writers. He received the response “we would love that, but we don’t know many people who would fit that.” This fits the same tone-deaf narrative where when a publisher is offered help, they feign ignorance.

Tom Brevoort may have said something stupid, but the real disappointment lies in what has come after. When we say something stupid, our primary responsibility isn’t to apologize, but to listen. If we can learn from our mistakes, then we can improve both ourselves and the world around us. That’s how we will help comics move forward.

We need to start listening instead of just apologizing.

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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