by Gray Graham
Before this year I wondered how many people knew who the Falcon and Captain Marvel were. The Falcon has been on the scene as the first African American superhero in comics since 1969. He has been a major character at Marvel ever since as a member of the Avengers and fighting alongside Captain America.
Captain Marvel has been around since 1982. She was one of the first major African American women to appear in comics joining the Avengers and eventually becoming leader of the team replacing Captain America. Wait what?
So you didn’t know that Captain Marvel was first an African American woman? That’s right Captain Marvel was an African American woman for years at Marvel after the original Captain Marvel died in the comics. Carol Danvers, the person you know as Captain Marvel today, until recent years was known as Ms Marvel, a groundbreaking character in her own right.
At some point Marvel decided to take the name Captain Marvel away from Monica Rambeau and give it to a white male character. They then had the character give up her new name Pulsar to another white male character. In order to make their universe more equal and diverse, Marvel decided to focus on diverse characters to give them more exposure to the public. Ms Marvel was one of the characters they decided to elevate but instead of going with her groundbreaking original name they decided to call her Captain Marvel instead. I am going to let you decide why Marvel thought this was a good idea. On their website they say it doesn’t matter what Monica calls herself because she is awesome. Seems like it mattered to someone.
We have to understand that many African Americans can only identify with white superheroes and their experiences. They can only envision themselves as a Black person in the role of a white character. They don’t get behind original African American characters or the African American experience.
Before Disney/Marvel made the Black Panther movie, I remember speaking with an African American blogger about positive African American characters she could introduce to her young son. Falcon was one of the characters I mentioned to her but she quickly rejected the idea because no one knew or cared who he was.
There are a lot of African American creators who probably have thousands of similar stories. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told “Why I got to like (insert African American character) just because I am African American. Many African Americans don’t truly believe that African American culture exists. I have been told countless times over the years that there is no such thing as African American culture. African American culture has little value to many African American fans of super heroes. Even today I am willing to wager that most African Americans superhero fans would still choose to be Batman over being Black Panther. I guess that’s why in 2021 you still have African Americans calling themselves the Black Superman, the Black Batman, the Black Wonder Woman, the Black Spider-man, or any Black version of an established white character.
Sadly there are many African American creators that also don’t see the need to show African Americans. I am sure you have a better chance of a character being accepted in the media if they are Jamaican, Haitian, Brazilian, or any African nation than just plain old African American. African American just aren't exotic enough or have enough shock value for the larger public.
African American children need super heroes just like all children need superheroes. They don’t need to know people with super powers can beat people up, they need to know that people with a big heart that care about people can make a difference in the world. They need to learn to dream of things bigger and more unimaginable in their everyday lives. They need to learn about hope and faith. Superheroes embody this in the modern world and children learn this at an early age. African American children are also learning that they are sometimes an afterthought in the superhero universe.
Too many African Americans don’t see themselves as a community, an ethic group. They see themselves at best as just an unnamed part of the African diaspora and at worst a second class dark version of white Americans.
This seems to be something that only African Americans suffer from. Other Black people in the world take pride in their culture and do everything they can to make sure it is represented and respected. There are many people that proudly say they are Afro Latino, Haitian, Brazilian, Jamaican, Nigerian, or Ghanaian, but African American, not so much. They just want to be Black and not much else.
African American culture matters. The African American experience matters. There is a difference in this world between being an African American and being a white American. There is a difference between being an African American and being an African immigrant. There is a difference between being an African American soldier from New York and being king of an African nation. Even to the racist, there is a difference. Too many people lose sight of this fact. For many embracing your African American heritage is an affront and attack on other Black people around the world.
I do appreciate Marvel, DC, and other media companies for creating many great African American characters. It was not so long ago that showcasing these characters would have been impossible and you would have lost your job or company just trying to make it happen. Even today the public is more receptive to the Black exotic character that is taboo instead of someone that looks like they live in their neighborhood, goes to school with their children, or their African American co-workers.
Much progress has been made that we have a major character called Captain America that is African American with no sugar coating the irony of this fact. I hope this is just the beginning. If we support African American creators and all creators that care about the African American experience instead of people that don’t really care, then we can teach future generations of African American children to love themselves more.
I try to do my part, I hope more people join the work that I do to share the African American experience. African Americans are nowhere close to reaching the point where we can move on from our struggles for our struggles have been long and hard and much work still needs to be done. Superheroes are just the first step. Scientists, physicians, engineers, and just a happy average African American human being is the final goal.
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