Captain America. The quintessential all-American hero. Nice Brooklyn boy willing to subject his body to medical experimentation to win the opportunity to fight for the little guy, freedom, and your grandma. Always has been. Still is even though someone else has taken up the title, the mantle, and the shield.
Steve’s thoughts on his chosen successor? “When I handed that shield over to Sam, it didn’t come with a rule book. I trust him to do what he thinks is best for our country.”
A large sector of the population, however, isn’t willing to accept the new Cap as “their” Cap despite Steve’s endorsement. Why? A questionable past? Does he booze it up with Stark? Go on shooting rampages? Run people down with his car on the sidewalk in Vegas? Sell drugs? Do drugs? Embezzle SHIELD funds? Play his music too loud? Kick puppies?
Sam Wilson is daring, daring, to Cap while African American.
That can’t possibly matter! you’re thinking.
To you? I hope not. To me? No. But I read Ms. Marvel also, so, you know. I’m one of those (*read in sarcasm font*). To a shamefully large sector of the American population, whether they’ll admit it or not (and, sadly, a swath of them are perfectly willing to admit it), yeah, it does.
You’ve heard who the Republican front-runner is, haven’t you? And while my friends list is, for the most part, a giant blob of liberal, there is a sprinkling of conservative, but to a person, they also think that front runner is a moron, which leaves the will of the American people at large as the explanation for Mister Toupee’s popularity.
So, yeah, the color of Captain America’s skin probably would matter, wouldn’t it?
“Steve Rogers in his heart believes that when the chips are down,” Sam says, “his country will do what’s right. I can only hope it will.” (Emphasis mine.) Thus far, that country has failed Sam in ways he would never even consider failing it.
Here are only a very few examples from the first three issues:
- Sam is “out” as Captain America. He still wears a mask while in uniform, but apparently only because it looks cool since the average dude/dudette frequently points at him in street clothes and says, “Hey, Captain America!” Despite this, he still has to explain to airport security that the Cap shield isn’t a weapon. Shall we discuss the likelihood Steve Rogers would have had to do that? Rhetorical question. We all know the answer. It’s “zero.”
- While Steve Rogers wasn’t apolitical, he was generally seen as principled and a doer of common good, even if we commoners didn’t understand his good in a given moment. Iinsert “there are always exceptions” caveat here. Everything Sam says is immediately subjected to massive media scrutiny and labeled as radical, to the point where, when Sam takes a stand, when he dares to have beliefs, when he sees, “… intolerance drowning common sense out,” and tries to be, “… more than a symbol…” (and I’d point out he, at least, takes the time to explain what he’s doing and why he’s doing it), he is crucified in the public eye. Conservative and liberal alike call for him to give up the shield. When folks call him “Captain Socialism,” it’s not in the nice, harmless, middle-aged, white dude, Bernie Sanders way; it’s because he’s trying to help people crossing the border from Mexico who are being kidnapped and sold to a human trafficking ring or flat-out murdered. He’s even accused of showing favoritism to children of color over caucasian children when judging an educational contest. Tony Stark, Sam’s co-judge, is not accused of any similar bias toward the white kids. Or any biases at all. Let’s not go into whose idea it was to let Tony Stark near impressionable children.
- Steve is eventually forgiven for transgressions against S.H.I.E.L.D. and the government. He is, in fact, still working for both and, despite having lost his age-resistance. (Aside: he looks pretty good for a guy born in nineteen-freakin’-twenty. If you haven’t had your coffee yet, that makes him ninety-six this coming Fourth of July according to Wikipedia). When Sam speaks out against a dangerous S.H.I.E.L.D. program involving Cosmic Cube fragments and the ability to manipulate reality without any oversight whatsoever, he is summarily dismissed by the same organization. Completely cut off. Begging for the money to do his duty to his country. He’s told by a flight attendant in coach that he can’t have any orange juice because he’s, “… not my Captain America.” She is, of course, perfectly willing to serve the irritating, white, frat boys on either side of him whatever they want.
Is this making you uncomfortable? Good. It makes me uncomfortable too.
Not because I, personally, would do any of these things, not because I’d think them, because I wouldn’t, but because, in my mind, I thought we as a nation, we the people, had come a little bit further than all of that. I’ll admit to avoiding the news because it’s very rarely good, but I know the score. I know there are still pockets of Klu Klux Klan. I know there’s still racism and segregation. I’ve heard people make comments about my Muslim neighbors, about immigrants, about people of color (I’ve even tried to set them straight, but sadly, that new maxim “haters gonna hate” is right 99.9% of the time).
I’ve had ethnic epithets aimed at me. I’m caucasian, yes, but raised moderately observantly Jewish. I’ve had ignoramuses of the same sort as mutter about women wearing hijabs call me a “kike,” and spew vitriol regarding my part in the death of Jesus. Which would make me way older than Steve Rogers, by the way. In my mental mapping schema, those folks were isolated pimples of dumb. More prevalent in states that didn’t touch an ocean or South of the Mason-Dixon line. (There you have it, one of my own prejudices rearing its ugly head).
The more I think about it, though, and the more issues of Sam Wilson: Captain America I have a chance to read, the more I realize what’s happening to Sam in the comic, including the backlash, the spewing of hatred, the bringing out of prejudices and biases, the accusations of same, are exactly what would happen in the United States we live in now if superheroes were real and were Captain America, or any major symbolic figure, a person of color.
Ms. Marvel may be escaping it to some extent due to her youth but can you imagine the s&*$storm that would come her way if people were to find out she was Pakistani-American? That she’s Muslim?
Sam, as an adult, black male, is feeling the full brunt of deeply ingrained social prejudices. The weight of history.
And, horrifyingly, he is losing to it.
The fact being hard to admit doesn’t make it any less true.
He hasn’t stopped fighting. It doesn’t appear he plans to. He may hate what you have to say, he may hate what you think, but he is willing to die to protect your right to say it.
Thank you, Sam Wilson, for showing me how far we still have to go because I can’t help fix a problem I don’t fully understand the extent of. And while I’m not an expert, I’m starting to get it now. I’m starting to see the breadth and the scope and the depth and it is not okay. It is not okay, and I am going to lend my voice to rooting it out and burning it to ash.
I’ll always have a place in my heart for Steve Rogers. But, Sam Wilson, you are my Captain America. You will be my kid’s Captain America.
And I hope, soon, you’ll be everyone else’s too.