Well. It happened.
Steve Rogers is back in fighting form and everyone wants Sam Wilson to step down as Captain America.
I’ve talked about the apt and timely social commentary going on in Sam Wilson: Captain America in a previous Padawans, but I want to revisit the book in light of some new developments both in the Marvel Comics Universe and in our own.
I should probably start off by explaining that Steve himself is fine sharing the gig because, after all, he is the archetypal do-gooder. Steve and Sam have been friends for a long time but beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, they’ve developed a mutual respect that allows the men to agree to disagree on a great many things without letting their differences get in the way of their relationship (usually). Not an easy thing, as we’ve all come to recognize in this, the political season from an even deeper pit of darkness than usual.
The problem, though, is that despite all he’s done, all he’s risked, including his life, this is Sam Wilson’s reality:
It’s reality for a lot of people.
Steve Rogers is virtually immortal, virtually indestructible. He’s come back from death. He’s been revived from old age. Nothing can take him down permanently.
But, seeing as how he’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy from Brooklyn, no one is afraid of him.
Sam is not a super soldier. He’s a guy trying to do the right thing.
People are afraid of Sam. A lot of people.
Just like people are afraid of Goth kids. Punks. Men who wear turbans and women who wear veils. Transgendered individuals who really, really just want to be able to pee when the need strikes. The mentally ill. Assertive women.
Anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into a box.
Sam Wilson is a hero. He’s a war vet. An Avenger. A mentor to a new generation of heroes (check out The All-New, All-Different Avengers) and yet, somehow, for some reason, he has to prove himself over and over again where Steve Rogers never does. Even when he saves Steve from a sniper at the later’s “Welcome Back, Cap,” rally, all he gets is a moment before everyone is all over him again. To so many, what Sam is, an adult man of color in a position of authority, is more important than who he is (see above). He’s welcome provided he stays inside the lines others have drawn for him.
Just as it’s fine for Hillary Clinton to run for president provided she doesn’t actually try to say or do anything (this is not a political endorsement, it’s a statement of fact. Watch some of the debate footage. Politics aside, Sanders actually waves his finger at her while she’s talking like he’s scolding an errant child or a dog). Or express an actual opinion of any kind.
Just as we all pay lip service for the need for better mental health treatment, provided its enacted behind closed doors so you (collective you) needn’t feel uncomfortable. So that the reality of something terrible and sometimes ugly doesn’t interrupt your daily goings on.
Just as you (again, collective) want transgendered people to change to fit into your neat, orderly boxes even if it tears them apart.
Shall I go on?
I could, but I think I’ve made my point.
The world is changing. Has been for a long time now. Humans don’t, as a general rule, like change and I’m sure there’s an evolutionary explanation somewhere back in the animal brain. Most of us, however, are no longer governed by our animal brains because we don’t need to be. Because we’ve changed and evolved and invented locks and alarm systems; we have no need to rely on instinct for survival (obviously not a universal truth but the point stands). Change doesn’t have to be dangerous any more. It can, and often is, in fact, a thing of beauty. We have the whole world open to us, even if we never leave our homes. We talk to and befriend people we may never meet from places across the globe.We have knowledge of cultures we didn’t know existed fifty years ago. We can see the ancient world as easily as the modern.
And while I sometimes lament the prevalence of technology in my children’s lives, for the most part, I think this broadening of perspective, this adaptation to change as norm is a good thing, to a wider view, to the beauty of difference is a good thing.
The tossing over of traditional categories and check-boxes is a good thing because most people are more like Venn diagrams than a single cell on a spread sheet. We are, each of us, a collective and when combined, something even more. The more access we have to one another, to the vast human experience, the more evident that becomes.
And so, as with the handoff of the star-spangled shield, change is coming whether the haters want it to or not. Captain American is African-American and he is in charge of an Avengers squad comprised of: Kamaal Khan; Miles Morales; Nova; Thor, Goddess of Thunder; Tony Stark sans his billions; and Vision. Pakastani-American and Latino teenagers, a woman who proved herself more worthy than her divine ex-boyfriend, a couple of regular dudes, and an android.
Definitely not your parent’s Avengers. Not even the Avengers from the first movie, which didn’t premiere all that long ago.
Sam’s detractors are the worst of us.
We need to be better.
Be better. Be the best of us.
That change you want to see in the world? Speak for it. Advocate for it. Get in trouble for it. Shout it from the rooftops. Be who you are. Say what you think. If you truly believe something needs to change, then dig in and say, in the words of the man himself, “No. You move.”
Do what’s right no matter what anyone says. No matter what anyone says about you. Teach your kids the same.
Be Misty Knight. Be Joaquin Torres. Be Sam Wilson.
Be a hero.
That is all.