By Jazmine Joyner
White feminism affects every aspect of my life on the daily basis as a Black femme/woman in America. But none so much as my experience with it within the comics industry. I own and operate Visionary Comics, a comic shop in California. I was the first black woman on the west coast to open a comics retail store. As a black woman in this industry, I have faced my share of harassment. I have been called SJW trash and racial slurs, I have had customers smear my character on the internet and spread lies about me in secret Facebook groups.
Comics isn’t for the faint of heart if you are a Black woman.
So when I heard about the Valkyries I was excited to have a network of women to commiserate with about the day to day chaos that is working within the direct market in an industry that is sexist as hell. Within a few months of opening my shop, I was invited by a friend of a friend to join them. The Valkyries are a group of women (mostly white, I later learned) who work in, own, or manage comic retail stores. They have a Facebook group, which I joined, where they discuss tips and event ideas, and share horror stories of customers from hell and dudebros mansplaining the importance of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight in excruciating detail (not that exactly but you catch my drift).
I instantly noticed a lot of the Valkyries were white women; few were Black women or women of color. My issues with the group started early: in fact, right when I started interacting with them. There would be a call out in the group for ideas on events to get more customers in the door. I would comment with some things my shop was doing, and I would get immediately bombarded with criticisms. It happened with every post I commented on. So I stopped commenting altogether. I would just watch from the sidelines. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I decided to leave the group altogether.
The inciting incident was #makeminemilkshake. In June of 2017 Heather Antos, a Marvel Comics Editor (and a white woman), tweeted a photo of her and her female co-workers going out and getting milkshakes. Only for her innocuous post to receive hate and vicious DMs from Marvel fanboys accusing her of politicizing comic books, and being the reason for the decline of the quality of the stories being told by the publisher. Basically saying women editing books are the reason Marvel’s stories are garbage. An outpouring of support came from all over the industry on different social media platforms. Twitter user @Corimarie21 created the hashtag #makeminemilkshake in solidarity with Heather Antos. Women and creators in the comics industry posted pictures of themselves drinking milkshakes. The hashtag went viral and hundreds of women and men participated. Even Marvel and DC tweeted in support of the hashtag, affirming their support of women within the industry. I believe what happened to Antos was awful and no one deserves to be harassed for drinking a milkshake with their friends.
The problem with the resounding response to her harassment is Black women and women of color in comics get hassled and harassed on a daily basis. Yet no one makes a hashtag for them. No one fights for them when the comics dudebros go after their stories or their art. It’s because of this lack of support of Black women and women of color in comics that I didn’t want to participate in the hashtag. But the Valkyries were mobilizing their troops. They were posting picture after picture of themselves drinking milkshakes for Heather Antos, all while ignoring the valid conversations about the WOC who felt that this protest was the embodiment of White Feminism.
I brought this up with one of the Valkyrie founders, the woman who recruited me. I told her how insensitive it was for them to blindly follow this hashtag without realizing that it erases the black women and women of color who get harassed in comics every day without a hashtag or a hoard of white women coming to their rescue. She seemed to understand, especially after I said that, as a black woman, The Valkyries didn’t seem to be a safe place for my voice. I told her that I might leave the group. She admitted to me that the Valkyries admin team was completely white and the group was predominately white as well. I saved my decision for the next day. I wanted a night to think about it. The next day I decided to leave. That same admin had taken our conversation and my grievance with the group and turned it into an article published on a large comic website. She was praised for writing about the exact concerns I brought to her.
I asked to leave the group immediately after I read the piece. It felt like my experiences and concerns were used for her personal gain. And instead of encouraging or helping a woman of color have the opportunity speak about this issue she chose to do it herself. The comments after the piece were a mix of white women praising the author and telling each other how they needed to do better, with the irony of their dialogue taking place in a predominately white space seemingly lost on them. Most of the spaces I work in within the comics industry, whether it be retail or journalism, are predominantly white spaces. Navigating this world is like tripping through a minefield. After my experience with the Valkyries and #makeminemilkshake I have a hard time figuring out who’s a true ally.
White feminism is something that probably won’t be leaving comics anytime soon. Not unless we prioritize Black women and women of color into every facet of the comics industry.