White supremacy and Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’

2018/02/05

So this happened on Facebook this past week:

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Donaldson has made his FB profile private now, so I can’t point down his metaphorical road and say, “Gary, that’s where you ****ed up.” Therefore, it might be too late for this racist, but maybe not some of you.

“Wait wait wait, Sampson,” someone is saying. “Yeah, this dude is clearly underinformed, but RACIST? Come on.”

I stand by it and here’s why.

1. The Marvel Comics character Black Panther debuted in the company’s flagship title “Fantastic Four” in 1966 several months before the founding of the Black Panther Party. There is no connection between the two.

Either asking a friend who might be in the know (say, a black friend or a comics fan) or conducting a simple Google search would have yielded that information readily. But he decided to spout off this racist nonsense instead.

It’s racist because it is SO EASY now to find answers to questions. All he needed was a smidgen of curiosity. The same effort he expended to call for a protest could have been used to ask an honest question, such as:

“Why in the world are they making a superhero movie based a terrorist group?”

(The original Black Panther Party was no such terrorist group, but some people honestly believe that, so let’s just go with it for now.)

If only he’d had that little smidgen of curiosity about people outside his circle, he would have asked the question and made SOME EFFORT to find the answer. But he didn’t.

To the degree that he lacks said curiosity but still feels confident to speak what he thinks is absolute truth on racial matters is the degree of his sense of racial superiority.

He thinks he can talk with authority on a matter of which, based on his completely uninformed response here, he has NO knowledge — simply because he has internalized the myth of white supremacy so deeply that he doesn’t think he needs to ask the question.

I see this brand of racism a lot. It’s not the sneering, snarling kind we saw at Charlottesville, Va., last summer or the sort that motivates the Dylan Roofs or Richard Spencers of the world. It’s rather the kind that thinks white people are losing something precious as darker-skinned people begin to take more of center stage in politics, in media.

It’s the kind that thinks “not seeing color” is something to aspire to rather than the insult it is.

It’s the kind that dismisses reports of racism as mere anecdotes, as exceptions to the rule in modern times, even though most every person of color in America can probably share multiple such experiences. That, my friends, is quantifiable reality, not just anecdote.

It’s the kind that, in making the movie “Hidden Figures,” led to decisions to add scenes of Kevin Costner’s character smashing a “colored only” restroom sign and later inviting Taraji P. Henson’s character into the mission room when neither actually happened. Because this need for a white hero is also an element of racism.

 

2. He’s equating the Black Panther Party with the Ku Klux Klan. The latter, composed of a largely secret membership, has more than a century of documented terroristic activity across the South, while the former, a public organization openly active in the community, was essentially destroyed by the mid-1980s due to extreme persecution by the authorities.

There’s just really no comparison. But Donaldson here assumes that because both are nominally separatist groups aligned by race that the BPP is simply the KKK in blackface. That’s because he, like American society at large, sees the white version as the default and the others like it as mere imitation.

 

3. There was a movie released almost exactly 103 years ago starring the Ku Klux Klan in the heroic role. It was called “Birth of a Nation,” directed by D.W. Griffith. It was a fantasy, one that, using white actors in blackface, demonized black men, who were already an oppressed class, and indirectly led to the resurgence of the KKK and its reign of terror for another 50+ years.

“Black Panther” is also a fantasy. It’s the fantasy of what the future of Africa might have looked like if not for the triple scourge of the slave trade, imperialism and colonialism by outside powers, mostly European.

Some white people are afraid this movie is going to demonize white people the way Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” did black folks. I haven’t yet seen the film, so I can’t say for certain. I can’t imagine that it won’t make zero reference of the above-mentioned scourges.

But “Black Panther” is clearly intended to be a rousing popcorn flick that features a majority black cast with zero stereotypes — most of which were birthed out of the racist imagery of “Birth of a Nation.” This is a film where we black people are not just the comic relief or even the plucky sidekick. Indeed, it’s a film where we black people actually DO get to just be people and not the token diversity figure, as much as we usually still appreciate such efforts at diversity.

__________

I genuinely hope that some of those 35 comments on Gary Donaldson’s FB post were correcting him on his woeful post, letting him know that the Black Panther character has nothing to do with the militant group, which is itself not simply an African American version of the Ku Klux Klan, which was already lionized in a far-too-influential film 100 years ago. I hope some of his circle let him know that Black Panther the superhero is as far from racism as it gets; that it actually represents a powerfully ANTI-racist ideal of what a world without anti-black racism might have looked like.

But most of all, I hope he was stunned out of his complacently myopic, self-righteous and unconsciously white supremacist view of the world, because that’s what was driving his response. And I hope he regains a sense of curiosity about us people who don’t look like him.

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