Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for the ‘Academic’


James “Rhodey” Rhodes, War Machine, as the “best” (aka worst) example of a Black superhero

I’m not just a Black White Man. I’m also a father, a web designer, and a big comic book nerd. Of course, that gives me a keen interest in family blogs, geek parenting, online comics, and every other combination of my interests — including the portrayal of people of color in comic books. I came across this interesting article about Iron Man’s sidekick, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, aka War Machine. At first I had the wrong impression of the article, since it calls Rhodey the “ideal” Black superhero. I thought it meant that he was the best possible Black superhero. But, it was actually correctly using the term to mean the best example of a Black Superhero — in other words, Rhodes has all the qualities that we consider to be typical of the Black superhero. In fact, I think the article is fairly scathing of Rhodes, and I would agree, that’s he basically a side-kick, and an “angry Black” outsider type. The comments further the analysis by arguing persuasively that Storm is the best written Black character in comics, and therefore the worst example of the type. Good article all around, both for comics literary analysis, and for an analysis of Blacks in the media.

Multi-racial or other as a category

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but I used to work in market research.  My job was to craft online surveys for such luminaries as Ford Motors, Hillary Clinton and Christina Aguilara.   Needless to say, the question of race was often an important one, as corporations and politicos both tried to cater to (quite often) Hispanic and (occasionally) African American audiences.

When I was in High School and starting to define my complicated relationship to race, I was somewhat in favor of “Multi-racial” as a separate category.   But after working in market research for some time, I’ve come to really detest it.   Throwing a Black-White person like me into the same group as a Hispanic-Asian person, and thinking that your going to get any relevant data from the group is ridiculous.

I understand that the other alternatives aren’t particularly attractive either.

  • You can allow people to check more than one race, but then you end up double- or triple- counting people with complicated ethnicities — making their opinions more important in some way.
  • You can force people to choose only one race, which causes multi-ethnic people to complain loudly (myself included).
  • Or you can allow people to check multiple boxes and then quietly recode them into a single race on the back end.   This is subversive and makes your own racial biases institutionalized (for example, that a Hispanic Black person is “really” one or the other).

But, really, I think that having a “multi-racial” category as separate from the other races is a cop out.   It’s worse than a bad solution — it’s an avoidance of the entire problem.   All it really does is cause the data supplied by multi-racial people to be thrown out (at least, any data as regards to race).

Let me give you an example.    I’ve been looking for schools for my son, who’s in preschool at the moment.   The Chicago Public Schools do a good job of giving you a break-down of each school by racial demographics.    This has been crucial to me, because I want my son to grow up in a multi-cultural environment that reflects his home life.   Unfortunately, the CPS data includes “multiracial” as a category.   Usually, you can guess at what it means.   If a school is 80% Black, 10% White and 10% Multiracial, chances are that the multiracial kids are Black and White.   But, it can get a little dodgy.   Some of the private schools, in particular, have higher “multiracial” percentages than any minority.   What am I to make of a hypothetical demographic like 60% White, 20% multiracial, 10% Black, 10% Asian.   Are there any Hispanic kids at a school like that?   Could be tons.   Could be none.   The multiracial statistic by itself obfuscates as much as, if not more than it clarifies.

An interesting take on ‘objectification’

David Schraub over at Carleton college has written a very interesting paper exploring the concepts of ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ as it related to race in America, and in particular the Black relationship to the White majority.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1032263

He basically argues that while the history of America is one of exploitation of Black people, which he categorizes as ‘objectification’, the current problem presented to us is that mainstream America doesn’t objectify the Black community enough — that is to say that mainstream America doesn’t appreciate the usefulness of the Black community, the amount to which we can contribute.

My years working in market research certainly find this to be true.  Outside of movie-related or military research, I saw very little interest in what Black people had to think.   This was mainly because of income; so I might argue that America is equally un-interested in what poor white people have to say.    But I think that the point is a good one.   Like Henry Ford did for the industrial era, I think we need people at the helm who understand how everyone can benefit by allowing poor and disadvantaged people to participate more fully in the economy.    Charity and big-heartedness are good things as far as they go; but ultimately a truly colorblind and fair society will create equality in the workforce, not just in the extension of non-profit and government work.   And the workforce has to be built on mutual objectification — the employee is good for the company, and the company takes care of the employee.