Black Features Shouldn’t Mean “Other”

Happy Black History Month, dear readers! This month has always meant a lot to me on a personal level. Being a Black person, I’ve witnessed erasure of our achievements, dismissal of our problems, and omissions of us from opportunities. These types of slights often expand into nerd media, where representation is already scant. In that spirit, I want to discuss an issue that makes the existing representation troubling. We need to stop giving non-human characters Black traits to code them as “other”, as alien from the protagonist and audience. These characters, rather than just being another character in a group, are specifically different or strange.

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Business with “Bismuth”

I don’t think anyone would disagree that this season of Steven Universe is tackling some very difficult, mature issues. From feelings of inadequacy, to the struggle with accepting grief and moving on, to ways of coping, approaching, and dealing with different forms of abuse, the crew behind the show seem genuinely invested in giving kids (and their older audience) outlets and role models for healthier ways of dealing with these very real problems. So when the newest episode “Bismuth” came up, many were interested in seeing what issues it would tackle. The crew had teased Bismuth’s existence by proof of her gem for a while, and designs of her humanoid form had been floating around way before the episode even aired: needless to say that there was a general consensus of excitement over having another Black-coded gem joining the cast, if only for a little while.Yet, after the episode, many fans were left confused and angry by Bismuth’s episode. Indeed, despite their best intent, the heads behind Steven Universe tackled an issue that they didn’t have time to account for, and in the end this lack of time hindered Bismuth as a character, the Crystal Gems, and the perception of the crew behind the show.

Steven Universe Bismuth Title CardMajor spoilers for “Bismuth” under the cut.

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