Introducing Spence to super heroes was fairly intentional. After too many nights were interrupted with terrifying nightmares, I decided that it would a little super hero support might be needed. Yes, a bad guy might be lurking around the corner of your bed, but Iron Man is on the job with a new machine to thwart him.
Soon his room was littered with Batmans, Iron Mans, Spider Mans, Wolverines, Green Lanterns, Captain Americas....and of course, Flash. The list is endless. Plastic action figures are fairly easy to find at the neighborhood garage sale. It seemed to help with the nightmares. Slightly. Well, that and the sweet smelling air freshener that we said monsters were allergic to. Another lie.
I wish I could say that I had thought ahead. Perhaps it was my white privilege that let me turn a blind eye. (Perhaps? Even now I cannot escape the protective language. It was.) But, suddenly I looked up and saw my son surrounded by white action figures with a token white Wonder Woman thrown in for good measure. White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy. And then I stumbled upon this article by a dear friend who was an originating force for the White Noise group that I am apart of.
Commitment to anti-racist work does not prevent embarrassing backsliding.
Tucked in to another long road trip, I decided to broach the subject. "Spence, do you ever think about who is not made into a super hero?" The question was clumsy. His response led to a discussion on how he desperately wished to be a super hero.
I tried again. "I think it is strange that you only have super heroes that have white skin." This led to an extended response on how *actually* the Incredible Hulk has green skin. Silly me.
And again: "Where are all the super heroes with brown skin or black skin? I just don't think it makes sense that there would only be super heroes with white skin." Spence was thoughtful. Then pointed out Hawkman, who indeed does have brown skin. He has learned well from popular media. However, tokenism does not lead to societal transformation. I kept pushing.
Once more, with feeling: "That's true. I still wonder why there are so many people in the world with black and brown skin, but you can only name one super hero with brown skin. I am curious about that. It doesn't seem right or fair." Another thoughtful pause.
"Maybe it's because their white skin gives them their powers. Like their costumes."
This is where I wanted to jump in and police his emerging racial understandings. After all, these thoughts become a representation of me. Suddenly, there was so much more at stake. Part of me wished that I would never have followed him down the rabbit hole. Perhaps if I wouldn't have pushed we could have never arrived here. I could have lived comfortably under the veil of colorblindness. Was it my pushing that brought him to this thought or would it always existed but hidden from view?
I suppressed my overbearing policing voice and just said, "Can you say more about that?" I let him try this thinking out before Nora interrupted him with her shrieking for inclusion. I asked him if we could continue the discussion later on because I wasn't convinced that the powers were because of the white skin. I asked him to keep thinking about it. He readily agreed.
I wish this were the movies and I could report a Hollywood ending. But, we are talking about it. And I have been researching and finding new narratives that have been hidden from my view. Stepping up my game and not letting the Target shelves dictate his exposure to super heroes. Like the new Spiderman. And as he wields his Lasso of Truth, I keep posing the questions and sharing my own critical analysis.
Is there any other way?