Anyone who’s been reading comics for longer than 30 seconds knows the X-Men are an allegory for civil rights. This has always been the case since the book’s inception in the 1960s, the height of the Civil Rights movement in America.
While the stories of Professor X and his merry band of mutants may have, at that point in history, represented the struggle of African-Americans to establish racial equality in the United States, over time the characters began to become identifiers for any group of people marginalized by society due to the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, and so on.
The inherent individualistic human longing for acceptance seems to always be in conflict with the collective desire of society to resist change, to reject anything that doesn’t fit within well established norms. Rather than differences in each human being considered a thing of beauty, something to, pardon the pun, marvel at, it is a source of fear, as it could pose a threat to the comfort of the already established status quo.
This constant struggle has played itself out on the world stage at various points in human history, and the results were usually a catastrophic loss of human life. Take Hitler and his atrocious persecution of the Jews during World War II for example. He hated a group of people based on their ethnicity so passionately that he committed genocide to try and wipe them off the face of the earth.
The X-Men are so wildly popular today because a lot of people, especially moody, angst-ridden, outcasts who society has more or less thrown in the garbage and forgotten about, can relate to the plight the heroes face by living in a world that hates them.
X-Men stories have taught me a great deal about racial equality, but two lessons seem to stick out in the hollowed canyon of the skull that houses my pea-sized brain.
The first lesson is that in order to change something that sucks in the world into something awesome, you need to be a living example of that change to everyone around you. Second, when fighting for equality, do not end up becoming the very hate you despise.
Let’s take a look at what I mean.
Be the Change
Aside from being an extremely overused quote by Ghandi, being the change you want to see in the world is exactly what Professor X and the X-Men try to do in the comics.
Prof. Xavier understands that the way to achieve equality with humanity is to remove the fear society has of mutants. This can only be done through peaceful means such as education and demonstrating that mutants can be a benefit to society by using their gifts to improve the quality of life for everyone on earth.
The X-Men constantly fight to protect humanity, the very same people who persecute them, in order to be a living example of the change they want to see in the world.
This strategy of loving your enemy and doing him good rather than evil is in stark contrast to the philosophy practiced by Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants, which brings me to my next point.
Don’t Become The Very Hate You Fight Against
Magneto and the Brotherhood started out wanting the same thing that Xavier wanted, which was equality with mankind. Unfortunately, all of the hate and persecution seeped down into Magneto’s soul and embittered him.
Over time he became more and more cynical of the idea of co-existing peacefully with man, believing that the only way to stop the persecution of his people was to do the opposite of Xavier and instill fear into humanity rather than remove it. This was to be accomplished by demonstrating the true strength of the power mutants possessed.
This, of course, had the opposite effect that Magneto hoped for, as humanity reacted out of fear and attempted to annihilate the mutants. Magneto ultimately came to believe through all of this horror that humanity hated the mutants because they were inferior.
Since humanity was inferior, perhaps they didn’t deserve to continue on in their existence. Sound familiar? This is the exact same kind of thinking that led Hitler to slaughter six million people.
In essence, Magneto became the very same kind of prejudiced hatred he fought against. He lost his soul, corrupted by the evil of others. It’s tragic.
Wrapping It Up
I’ve been reflecting on these lessons pretty deeply over the last few days, but all that I really want to say would be way too long to put in an article. That being said, here’s why I decided to share this.
First, while racism in America is much lower now that at any previous point in its history, it still exists, and it still sucks. There are still groups of people being marginalized for what they believe and think.
Rather than attacking those who seem dead set on persecuting others for frivolous reasons, taking a posture of peace, and doing everything in our power to conduct civil conversations and debates on important issues is key to removing fear and opening up serious dialogue.
Secondly, people shouldn’t become so militant in the fight for equality that they hurl insults at their perceived “enemy” and attempt to use violence (verbal and physical) to force someone to accept them or their lifestyle. This only perpetuates the bigotry of others and gives them a reason to continue spewing their hateful rhetoric for the masses to consume.
Well, that’s all the truth I’m dropping today. Let that soak in for a bit, and I’ll see you next time.
Who says reading comics can’t be educational?
Do you guys agree with my points? What lessons have you learned from the X-Men or other heroes you enjoy reading in comics?