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The Importance of Arab-American Representation in “Geiger”

“Geiger” is the newest release from Image Comics, the third-largest comic book publisher behind behemoths Marvel and DC. “Geiger” follows the lead character, Tariq Geiger, after he somehow survives a nuclear apocalypse without protection. It has been praised for its detailed and moving artwork by Gary Frank and its impactful story by long-time DC comic writer Geoff Johns in his first foray into creator-owned characters.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Geiger’s character is his Arab background. Johns has talked extensively about his Lebanese-American heritage, and after writing Simon Baz as a Muslim Green Lantern, Geiger was a natural next step. Comics are on the cutting edge of inclusivity for Arab-Americans and Muslims. Here’s why that is so important.

Arab Representation Impacts Social Expectations

While it didn’t have to be Johns bringing an Arab ethnicity to a broader audience, “Geiger” is one of the few Arab or Muslim characters in comic books, or the wider world of pop culture, for that matter. Being inclusive, giving representation, is important on many levels. First, it affects how others see a minority culture. When mass media portrays a minority group in a certain way, that is how the broader audience perceives the minority. It’s a power that can be used for education or for reinforcing negative stereotypes. Geiger is the hero that can change how people who have never met an Arab or Arab-American perceive everyone within that minority group.

Arab Representation Impacts How People See Themselves

Perhaps more importantly, in a world where mass media is still overwhelmingly white and male, allowing minorities to see themselves represented in positive ways gives them a reflection of what is possible. For young people, seeing themselves portrayed positively in the media can help them see their own potentials, while seeing themselves displayed negatively can feed into feelings of depression and inadequacy.

Much research has been done on this topic in regard to the Native American community in the United States, where portrayals in the media are either historical or tend to be negative, implying that contemporary Native Americans are stuck in a cycle of poverty and addiction. Studies have shown that these representations cause Native youth to feel less hopeful about their communities and their own prospects. The same can be said of any minority population.

According to “The Nerdist”, a 2017 study of Middle Eastern and Northern African representation in mainstream media found “92% of all scripted shows had absolutely no MENA representation. Among the few that did… 78% of characters… were portrayed as trained terrorists, agents, soldiers or tyrants.” “Geiger” is more than a new comic with beautiful illustrations and a gripping storyline, it is a shot across the bow of traditional mainstream media. Even if its protagonist widens the perspective of someone who doesn’t know an Arab-American personally, even if only one Arab-American child finds a hero who looks like himself, it is a place to begin.

Comics themselves have become increasingly mainstream. Recognized as the birthplace of the graphic novel, more kids than ever are reading them. It can only be hoped that this Arab Spring in comic protagonists reaches far beyond the pages of “Geiger.”

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