Magneto Knows That Diplomacy Has Real Costs, Too.

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Recently I had a conversation with my sister about how villains are almost always right. Iago from Othello, Ra’s al Guhl, Darth Vader, and Scar all come to mind when I think of villains who either had the right idea or who understandably ended up who they were.

I mean, Scar’s parents named him garbage and Anakin’s bro left him ON FIRE thinking his wife and kids were all dead.

But the villain I want to focus on today is Magneto.

Magneto is one of the villains that interests me most because of the obvious parallels that can be drawn between the two opposing characters in the Marvel Universe and the Civil Rights Leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And some of their key differences surround the issue of diplomacy.

Magneto and Professor X have very different ways of viewing the world, and even though they’re both valid, they both require sacrifice. The reason Magneto paints a picture of Professor X that is of blind naïveté and arrogance is that Professor X refuses to admit that diplomacy has costs. His main contention is that through being diplomatic, he can hold congress with the humans, and get to a solution that doesn’t require bloodshed. War. such as Magneto suggests, he thinks, requires bloodshed, but diplomacy spares lives.

And he’s kinda wrong about that.

As we can see with non-violent movements in India as well as the US, there is a real cost to diplomacy, and the further down you go in the socioeconomic ladder, the more likely you are to be paying that cost. It’s not that Magneto is wanting to provoke a full-out war, but he is seeing humans that have no wish to live with mutants, who fear and hate mutants, who create serums to eradicate mutants, and who will not be reasoned with.

And he’s kind of right about that.

I’ll let Timothy B. Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name (a book about a racial murder in Oxford, NC in 1970) tell you more.

“The Black Power insurgents of the 1960’s, disillusioned by the assassination of Dr. King, and keenly aware of themselves as a new generation, rejected interracial approaches and non-violent direct action.

‘We wanted the whole system to change,’ Eddie McCoy explained. Those civil rights Negroes, the professional people, they was nice, they talked to white people. I didn’t think that would work. Martin Luther King was never my favorite. I admired him, I liked what he stood for,’ McCoy said, ‘but I didn’t think it would work. When nonviolence did work, it was mostly because white people were scared we was gon’ burn the place down.”

“In the years since the freedom movement ended, the memory of what had been required of people faded, McCoy explained to me, and people no longer appreciated the sacrifices that had been made regardless of methods. ‘I was doing stuff back then, sit-ins and marches and all the rest and nowadays nobody even knows what it was like. People right now think the white man opened up his drugstore and said, ‘Y’all come in now, integration done come.’

But every time a door was opened, somebody was kicked in the butt, somebody was knocked down and refused and spit on before you went in them places. It wasn’t no nonviolence in Oxford. Somebody was kicked, and bruised, and knocked around – you better believe it. You didn’t get it for free.’

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been a good thing, McCoy conceded, but it was the determination of local citizens, not the legislation itself, that made the new law meaningful. ‘Law or no law,’ McCoy spat, ‘somebody had to go in there and get kicked in the ass. And by the time they killed Dickie Marrow, nobody was having that shit anymore.'” – (Blood Done Sign My Name, p. 166)

The point is that people died on Professor X’s watch, too. He battled his ideological war of tolerance and non-violence, but didn’t always have to pay the costs of it, which is something we should all be aware of.

In my opinion, it’s more powerful to be able to admit that both approaches have their sacrifices and that you believe that yours is better, and why. You can say you believe it spares more lives. You can say you think it’s more effective. Whatever you say, being honest about gray areas enhances the nuance of the argument, and allows us to avoid harming those we wish to be helping by acknowledging the simple truth:

That blind naïveté as just as dangerous as blind rage.

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Photographer: Christopher Chong
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