In issue #106 of Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane, DC attempted to solve the racial problem once and for all. Lois goes to Little Africa, Metropolis' answer to Harlem, to report on... something. It's never really clear, just that she's going to go there and learn about "black... ness" and hopefully earn a Pulitzer for doing it. "Gosh, my readers would love how oppressed and poor you are. Whattascoop!"
Lois gloats, while Clark wonders if "Black people" can technically be considered a thesis statement.
Lois travels around Little Africa, but everyone either avoids her or calls her "Whitey, the enemy."
Lois concludes that this has nothing to do with her waltzing around asking people to tell her what it's like to be all black and stuff, but simply because she is white, so she has Superman change her skin color for a day with his Transformoflux, that way she can get a better understanding of what it means to be black.
Superman goes on to clarify: "How could you accuse me of racism when I'm the only fucking alien on the planet?"
So, How'd That Go?
This comic clearly meant well. It was obvious that the creators wanted to teach a message of acceptance, and the idea of "we're not so different, you and I," is certainly intact, but it's the poor, ignored black people in the story who learn the lesson. Lois shows up as this well-intentioned white woman and gets ignored, turns into a black chick and gets invited to parties. She never acknowledges that showing up as a privileged white woman who finds black culture "neat" might be ignorant. She doesn't remark, "Hey, I guess my snooty, insensitive questions were in hindsight, rude," she just concludes that black people hate white people for no reason. That isn't sending a message of tolerance; it's saying "black people are racist." Also that Superman really needs to use his ultimate power on more worthwhile causes.
In her journey, Black Lois meets an impoverished family living that takes her in for a while. They're under some hard times, but they're some of the sweetest and most optimistic people in the world. Lois reacts thusly:
"Excuse me, I'm just so moved by how shitty your life is."
Sure, the woman is smiling and has a healthy baby, but that doesn't stop Lois from thinking about how truly awful their life is. She can't even stop crying just thinking about what a horrific life these black folks have...
Lois also comes across an improvised kindergarten and an activist (who, when she was white, called her "the enemy"). They are extremely friendly with each other, until he is shot by some drug dealers. Sidebar: Even though Superman makes it clear in the comic that, as an alien, no one knows what it's like to be an outsider more than he does, but that doesn't change the fact that he clearly could've saved the activist from getting shot:
"Don't worry, Lois, I got your back. The black guy he- he looks like he's got this under control. We cool?"
Lois donates her blood to save him and just as he's about to wake up, her blackness fades away, and she's back to being white.
This is where the big moment in this comic comes. Will this black man still call her "the enemy" after she so valiantly gave blood to him, even though she's white? She honestly wonders that. She's unsure if this man is open-minded and enlightened enough to see past her skin to the wealthy, successful, working woman who saved his life.
He can! He learned a valuable lesson today: Reporters who show up and think the way you are forced to live as a result of racially prescribed socioeconomic circumstances would make a quaint story for their white, privileged readers should be trusted and welcomed into your life. You never know when a white person might help you out if they feel like it so, you know... be nice to them and entertain their questions.
Man, the Falcon looked like he was going to be the exception for black superheroes. He wasn't a former slave or drug dealer and, hell, he didn't even have "black" in his name. He debuted in the pages of Captain America #117 in 1969, and represented a giant leap forward in the treatment of minorities to that time. Falcon was even granted the ultimate tribute of being among the very first ever "comic book action figures" before that term even really existed.
They were dolls. Deal with it!
Falc was, almost immediately, Captain America's straight-up partner, sharing equal billing on the cover for years. They both relied on each other and were both extremely qualified superheroes working together. Truly, Marvel didn't need to do anything else to make this character inoffensive and not insulting or condescending. All they had to do was not screw it up.
So, How'd That Go?
Enter issue #186. With absolutely zero build up or foreshadowing, writer Steve Englehart revealed a heretofore unknown past life of Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon,
Aka "Snap" Wilson, super pimp.
"Weren't green no more?" Have these writers ever even seen a black guy before? All at once, with no prior indication that he had ever been anything but an average guy who could talk to birds, we find out that the stalwart Falcon was originally a Gangsta from da Hood or what-the-hell-ever, mind-fucked by Captain America's archnemesis, The Red Skull, into a dupe in a very long drawn-out scheme to kill Cap.
You're a total chode, Red Skull.
It couldn't have turned out that Sam was just an ordinary guy, or a hero like Cap who just wanted to do the right thing; he had to be under mind control. And even so, it couldn't have turned out that Sam was, in a past life, a cop or accountant or, frigging, anything; he had to be a thug. A superfly thug.
Bang up job, Englehart.
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