Reading various essays on the racial politics of the new X-men movie—see, for example, Ta-Nehisi Coates, N. K. Jemisin and Matthew Yglesias—reminds me just how sophomoric the whole “let’s use mutants as a metaphor for the oppressed minorities of the real world” conceit is. I mean, if African-Americans could fly or shoot laser beams out of their eyes or read white minds, the whole civil-rights movement would have turned out a bit differently, eh?1
And when I squint at the idea long enough, it reminds me of how people who have not grappled with their own prejudice can relish their “positive” stereotypes about marginalized groups. Jews are smart; Asians are stoically hard-working; African-Americans have natural rhythm; Roma have magical powers; gay men have excellent taste; etc.2 I guess I’d rather have undeserved praise than undeserved condemnation, but compliments based on a stereotype are not really compliments, and the Jews who are “smart” one year can be “crafty” the next.
A well-chosen metaphor can illuminate the truth in a way that literal statements cannot, but this one does more to obscure than illuminate. Better super-metaphors, please.
1 Now there’s a concept for a superhero comic.
2 There’s another concept: The League of Stereotypical Heroes! Umm… maybe not.