On Captain America and racism

First things first: I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as I can, and really, Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not really an episode that can be spoiled, but something minor might slip through here and there if you haven’t seen the episode yet.

So, the whole thing about this show is this extended meditation– and, to put it out there, it’s a process I’ve very much enjoyed– on what the idea of Captain America is, and on what America itself is, and what it means when America’s so-called ideals don’t match up with America’s actions. We’ve been repeatedly reminded that the super-soldier serum makes you more of what you already were, and we’ve had the moral exemplar of Steve Rogers hovering over the entire show as someone everyone on the show is trying to live up to. Left unclear is whether Rogers is actually still alive; Sam and Bucky have both used the word “gone” for him several times, and everyone else thinks he’s dead, but I don’t know exactly what the situation is there.

They’ve done a good job of making John Walker a character who people can empathize with to some degree without making him sympathetic, I think, and it’s clear and getting clearer by the moment that he’s not up to the job of Captain America. But is anyone? Is Sam, who Steve Rogers actually gave the shield to, worthy of it? Is Bucky, for that matter, who doesn’t seem to want the job but also seems more than anyone else in the story to need there to be someone out there called Captain America? (Bucky, by the way, has served as Cap in the comics. So has Sam.)

And then there’s this specter of racism that’s hung over the entire show. Early on, Sam and his sister Sarah are denied a loan by a bank officer. He blames it on the effects of the Blip, and of course they leave that frisson of deniability in there, but you wonder. There’s Isaiah Bradley, a Black man experimented on in the process of developing the super soldier serum and later locked in jail and forgotten. Walker literally tells Sam to his face that America will never accept a Black Captain America– and, hell, judging from the reaction when he was Cap in the comics, America had a lot of trouble with a comic book about a Black Captain America. And then there’s Walker himself, a less-than-great white man propped up by a Black wife and a Black best friend, introduced to a screaming crowd by a Black marching band, and who only has the shield in the first place because a Black man gave it up and the government stole it.

All this is leading into me wondering why the hell Bucky and Steve aren’t big racists.

Now, okay, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: these versions of those characters can’t be racists, and that’s why they aren’t. Marvel needed Chris Evans’ Captain America to be all-caps-and-italics CAPTAIN AMERICA, and while Bucky is allowed his dark side, what with the decades of murdering, we still need him to be sympathetic and a hero. Both Rogers’ and Barnes’ man-out-of-time thing is played mostly for laughs and nothing else; Cap doesn’t understand pop culture references and doesn’t like to swear, and Barnes read Lord of the Rings when it first came out, because he’s a hundred and nine damn years old. So we’re just going to choose to ignore certain aspects of being a white man in 1945 who suddenly wakes up in 2015 (or whatever year Captain America: The First Avenger was set in) and is immediately confronted with a Black man in a position of enormous power and has absolutely no questions about it. Bucky Barnes grew up white in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 40s but he has a date with a Japanese girl in the first episode and has immediate chemistry with Sam’s sister in the fifth, and never once treats his Black Best Friend ™ with a drop of paternalism or condescension or anything.

Well, okay, he won’t move his seat up, but I don’t think that counts. And maybe you’re wondering Wait, Luther, are you seriously saying that every white person in the 1940s was a racist? To which my answer is, yes, I absolutely am saying that, at least by modern-day standards. And Steve and Bucky haven’t had eighty years of changing society to drag them along, they got plucked out of one timeline and dropped into another with no time to adjust in between.

But, to be clear: I don’t actually want Bucky accidentally dropping the n-word about Sam’s sister and having an episode where he apologizes. I don’t want Steve Rogers calling the Black Widow “Toots,” or blowing the Scarlet Witch shit for being Jewish, assuming she actually is Jewish in the MCU, which is sort of up for debate.

But it would be damned interesting to see a sort of What If? or Elseworlds-type series where Cap gets brought back by the type of person who is always holding up the forties and fifties as some sort of American Golden Age, something we should try to get back to, only to find out that the guy who was such a big hero in World War II is a massive asshole by anything approaching modern standards. The Ultimates universe leaned into this a little harder than the regular Marvel universe ever has; their Cap was jingoistic and a sexist and a whole lot of other things, but it was mostly played for comedy and/or shock value; what I’m looking for here tilts closer into villainy, and I want to see a story where America’s reaction to Captain America is part of the story. They got into that a little bit when Sam Wilson became Cap in the comics, now let’s see what happens when Steve Rogers himself is held up as this great guy and turns out not to be. What if Cap came back to modern-day America and rejected it? What if America rejected him, and said this is not who we want to be?

It’s been fun to think about, at least.


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I gotta move out of this neighborhood

(That’s a BB King song)

Today was fucking awful.

We had … I dunno, six fights in the building today?  Let’s say six, it was close to that one way or another.  One kid caught what I think is probably the worst ass-whipping I’ve ever seen short of Rodney King.  I hope to hell the other kid is in jail right now.  I don’t know why they don’t take you to jail when you attack someone at school; school is the only place you can just beat the shit out of someone and then expect to go home afterwards like nothing happened.  This kid should be in jail.  He should be there until he turns 18, frankly.  But he’s not, because he attacked someone at school and not out on the street.  

Go ahead; there’s six plus years of damn near daily blog posts around here.  Hell, the running average is probably still more than one a day.  I wrote a whole-ass book about teaching that you can look through too if you like.  See if you can find another post where this kid needs to be in jail for what he just did is the topic.  I can’t think of one.  That rough of a day.

And I do not have a hard job, guys.  I really don’t.  There’s a lot of moving parts but I don’t have a hard job, not compared to what everyone else in the building is doing.  And today was damn near too much for me anyway.  I don’t know how the hell any of these people get up and go to work every day.  I do know that there’s no way in hell I return to this building next year.  Not if my life depended on it.  Which means I get to start jobhunting again.  There’s a chance to do the same job just in some other school but for various reasons (which I’ll probably get into eventually, but not now) is not as likely as I’d like it to be, so the best move is to start looking for alternatives now.  Because I can’t be in a place with this rotted a culture any longer.  I’ve never worked in a school this bad.  Not even close.  And I’ll make it to June, but I need to be gone after that, and if something good turns up before then I’ll jump ship.  I’ll be burning this bridge for the last time, but I think it needs to be done.

(Then again, for fun, especially if you know me in the real world, think back over my life since graduating in high school and count the good decisions.  Other than marrying my wife, there aren’t as many as I used to think there are.  I’m actually not very good at this being an adult nonsense.  I remember when I thought I was good at stuff; it was a while ago.)

And tomorrow I’ll get up and do it all over again.  Six more days with the kids and then I get a couple of weeks off.  I can manage this, I think.  I don’t have much of a choice, one way or another.

Hey, remember this?

Let’s see how old my readers are:

This isn’t exactly a deep revelation or anything, but for some reason this commercial popped into my head this morning as I was getting ready for work.  I strongly suspect if you’re within five years or so of my age you have this jingle memorized still, but have you ever really thought about just how impossible it would be to market My Buddy in today’s kids’ toys market?  Things weren’t as rigidly gendered in the 1980s as they are now– that is a straight up doll being marketed directly to boys, doing boy things like riding Big Wheels and hiding in a clubhouse and climbing trees.  They’re not even trying to muddy the waters with the label “action figure.”  My Buddy was a doll, and never wanted to be anything else.

There are not many ways in which I think American culture has backslid since the 80s, but the rigid adherence to gender essentialism in absolutely fucking everything related to kids is definitely one of them.  I had a parent come in this morning looking for white bedroom furniture for her son, and it threw me for enough of a loop that I almost needed to have her repeat it to make sure I was hearing her right.  Because no one buys white bedroom furniture for boys.  We have a couple of sets that are gender neutral and you should see how incredibly confused people get when they can’t immediately figure out what genitalia the children in the room with the furniture are supposed to be.  It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

In which I contain multitudes

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I have always been very ambivalent about Santa Claus.  Hell, as a non-Christian I’m ambivalent enough about Christmas, so the idea that I’m compounding celebrating a holiday that’s supposed to be about the birth of a divine being who I don’t believe in with lying to my kid about a white dude who drops presents down the chimney just hasn’t ever sat well with me.  I don’t like lying to my son– and yes, I think telling your kids about Santa is lying to them, unless you also want to explain why Santa seems to like wealthy white kids more than everybody else.  But I’m not so opposed to the idea of Santa Claus that I’m stomping on it, so to speak.  The position my wife and I have evolved over the years is that we simply don’t talk about Santa.  My mom can tell the boy whatever she likes; he can absorb whatever messages about Santa he wants from the wider culture.  Hell, I’ll even read A Visit from St. Nicholas to him on Christmas Eve if he wants, like my parents used to do with me.  I let him read Captain Underpants and don’t make a big stink about him not being real; why should Santa be any different?  My policy has simply been to neither confirm nor deny, and I don’t write “from Santa” on presents that we bought him– the “from” tag on all his presents is just left blank.  He hasn’t seemed to notice that Santa seems to think he lives at his Grandma’s house.  And we’ve never done the “go to the mall and sit on Santa’s lap” thing either.  Which, honestly, as I’m typing this, I gotta admit I regret just a little bit.

So last week he told my wife that one of the kids in his class was telling everyone that Santa wasn’t real.  My wife, caught by surprise, fell back on our usual “What do you think?” shtick and eventually he dropped it, or so we thought.  This morning, as we were getting in the car to go to school, he ambushed me with the same question, and seemed frustrated that I reacted the same way.  He is 6, and in kindergarten, just so you can properly contextualize this if you’d like.

And then he said something that really caught me by surprise, which was that he thought that this other kid was “ruining Christmas” and “taking all the fun out of everything” by telling the other kids that Santa wasn’t real.  I pushed back on this as gently as I could– if Santa wasn’t real, does that mean that the tree and the lights and the presents and the cookies and the family stuff weren’t fun anymore?  Surely the fat white guy isn’t the most important part, right?  He didn’t answer, but I could see him thinking about it.

And then my reaction surprised me, because I found myself more than a little bit pissed at this kid, and by extension this kid’s parents.  I think the family in question is at least nominally Muslim, as I’m pretty sure they’re ethnically Pakistani, but at any rate they’re from that area (the boy may or may not have been born here; I’m certain the parents weren’t) and while in general they’ve struck me as more or less secular people they’re definitely from an area where Christianity isn’t the majority religion.  So, okay, your kid got raised with no Santa.  You told him the truth.  Cool.  But maybe you go ahead and make sure your kid knows that showing everyone else the light isn’t so much the way to go?  My son is friends with this kid, and he’s visibly upset with him for, again, “ruining Christmas.”  And if my son decides that the boy is right about that, then I’m going to have a talk with him about not screwing the shit up for the other kids.

And I gotta admit, I’m thisclose to dropping an email to either my kid’s teacher or this other family (our school makes sure everyone has everyone else’s emails) and in the most polite way I can manage to phrase it suggesting that they tell this other kid to knock it off.

That’s probably in utter contradiction to everything in the first couple of paragraphs.  Do I care?  I dunno.  I care enough that I wrote this to try and hash it out in my head, and I probably need to be talked out of contacting any of the other adults involved– which, again, I promise I’d do politely.

“Eventually ruining Christmas for him was my job, dammit” is not the most persuasive line of argument, after all.

Blech.  Parenting is stupid.

#Bowie

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