I have seen a few posts floating around about Luke Cage over the last couple of weeks. I’m on episode 10 myself, so I have a little ways to go. The posts I’ve seen have predominantly been shared by white folks, and the reasoning has been, essentially, that Luke Cage is SO BLACK. It’s awesome because there is a Black super hero and strong Black female characters and Black music and ahhhh it’s Black it’s soo good finally equal footing!
I’ve seen a few other posts decrying people who say that there are some racist undertones to the show. “People need to get over themselves” is how those posts tend to go.
When I was in college and grad school, I studied African American literature and history a LOT. I also read the works of Frantz Fanon, who dissected imperialistic powers and showed them for what they were. I read about “the white man’s burden.” I learned about signification, histotextuality, and all kinds of other tools Black Americans have used since they got to the US (sorry, were brought). Were I still a student today, I would write a thesis outlining everything that is wrong with the show Luke Cage. For now, though, I just have this blog site. Instead of doing a thesis, let me just raise a few points for you to consider.
“There aren’t any fathers anywhere”
Especially through the first 4 or 5 episodes, this line is repeated at least once per episode. Sometimes it’s repeated more than once. The line is used in reference to both Black families and Hispanic families. There is never any poking at this statement, so there is a wide open door for interpretation. The audience is led to think to themselves, “Ah, no fathers around because the streets have taken them all. They’re all probably in jail for drug dealing.”
Having recently read The New Jim Crow, this language is telling, misleading, and sad. If you are going to punch around at why so many minority men “aren’t around,” let’s really punch into it. Let’s talk about what “law and order” meant in the 1980s and 1990s. Let’s talk about the infrastructure of our justice system. To just repeat the line as the show does is a subliminal message. “We’re being very realistic here. It’s so sad that Black dads and Hispanic dads are such losers.”
The Wild Black Woman (Here there be spoilers)
This is a pretty big spoiler, so if you haven’t gotten to episode 8 yet, stop reading.
The scene where Alfre Woodard’s character, the council woman, kills her cousin brutally, suddenly, and viscously bugged me from the start, and I finally realized why (apart from the fact that plot-wise it was just stupid).
Ever since Blacks were first enslaved here in the US, Black women were treated as animals. In fact, this Clutch Magazine article from late 2015 about how Serena Williams has been treated shows that Black women STILL are treated like animals. This slightly older article talks about the propensity in white culture to refer to Black women as wild, exotic, or exciting.
To me, this scene of an out of control Black woman killing her own cousin simply fed into this racist idea that Black people, and maybe especially Black women, just can’t control those gosh darned feelings. They are animalistic, sub-human, primal.
This message is repeated to a lesser extent when Misty, a Black cop, gets physical with a witness and notes that she lost control. I can’t help but see this as the dominant culture saying, “Don’t worry, we know these folks are out of control. We’re validating your concerns.”
Police Violence is Confusing
I have been pondering this post for quite some time, but this last episode I watched, number 10, pushed me over the edge. I was going to go on and on about this, but this article from Vulture.com pretty much covers everything I was going to say.
I have felt uncomfortable watching this show almost from the start, because to me it feels like subtle race programming. One could even argue that having a bulletproof Black man lets whites fantasize about shooting a Black man over and over. After all, he doesn’t get hurt.
I think it’s sad that the show was written the way it was, with hammer you on the head dialogue about Black heritage just making everything more awkward. It COULD have been a great opportunity. Instead it just feels like more white privilege leaking through a predominantly Black cast.