To the Practitioners of Hate: Stan Lee’s Rally Against Racism Still Relevant 50 Years Later
Stan Lee referred to the world around him as “Spaceship Earth”, and throughout his near 80-year career penning comics, he never stopped preaching the importance of our duties as “co-travellers” to “respect and help each other along the way”.
Following Lee’s passing at the age of 95 on November 12th, 2018, the world has seemingly cut through the divisive nature of news and current affairs to pay their respects to the comic book writer, editor, publisher, and visionary that put the Marvel Comics universe on the map.
Though Lee will be best remembered for leaving behind co-created characters as iconic as Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, the X-Men, Iron Man, and Thor — just to name a few — it is as equally important to remember Stan Lee’s persistent efforts to establish moral and philosophical points of view that he believed were missing in the world of comics.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Stan Lee addressed his readers directly in his Stan’s Soapbox column often found in the Bullpen Bulletins news and information section that were included in most monthly Marvel publications. Establishing an editorial voice for his Marvel creations, Lee was often criticized for “moralizing” too much, but the critiques of his platform only fed his drive to challenge the status quo in the comic book world.
“It seems to me that a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul” Lee wrote in his Soapbox column in a 1963 issue of The Avengers. “In fact, even the most escapist literature of all—old time fairy tales and heroic legends—contained moral and philosophical points of view.”
Perhaps the most fervent of moral stances to follow Lee throughout his body of work was his advocation for equality and tolerance, and his battle against “the venoms of bigotry”.
“From where I sit, bigotry is one of the main strains upon the human escutcheon which must be eradicated before we can truthfully call ourselves civilized” Lee wrote in the 1960s, in response to a request that he define “What is a Bigot?”. “It comes in many forms and shapes, but it’s most easily recognized in the form of cruel and mindless generalizations; such as when you hear some yo-yo say “All Italians are like this”, or “All Germans are like that”, or “All women are so-and-so” or “All Blacks, or Catholics, or Jews, or redheads, or whatever are like this”. Well, they may not be aware of it, but the turkeys that talk that way—and it’s always done in a disparaging put-down manner, of course—are bigots, plain and simple.”
“You wanna dislike someone? Be my guest. It’s a free country. But do it because he or she has personally given you a reason to feel that way, not because of skin color, or religion, or foreign ancestry, or the shape of their toenails, or any other moronic, mixed-up, mindless motive! Because, if you justify your hatred by smearing everyone in any given group with the same brush, then you’re a bigot, Charlie!”
Over 50 years after Stan Lee began his Soapbox column, the tumultuous political climate of the United States in the final years of his life saw many of his moralistic rantings resurface. Unfortunately, some of the spiels from the Soapbox didn’t return for nostalgic purposes, they became social media memes because of how hauntingly relevant they are today as they were in the 1960s.
In the tiki torch light of the violent white nationalist “Unite the Right ” rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, Stan Lee took to Twitter to share a specific entry in his Soapbox column prefacing it with the comment that it was “as true today as it was in 1968″.
“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today” wrote Lee.
“But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater — one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen — people he’s never known — with equal intensity — with equal venom.
Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race — to despise an entire nation — to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God – a God who calls us ALL — His children.”
In a widely shared video from October, 2017, the 94 year old Stan Lee affirmed his stance once again on how he, and his vision of the Marvel universe, will continue to tell tales of heroism.
“Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender or color of their skin,” Lee stated. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry.”
As we celebrate Stan Lee’s contributions to popular culture, and as we dive into the fantastical worlds of the stories he brought us to learn, grow and escape the monotony of our every day lives, let’s do our best to follow his wisdom and lets not “blanket our brains while we read it”.
R.I.P Stan Lee, December 28, 1922 – November 12, 2018.