A White and Dark Knight

Bruce Wayne is a racist, there is no easy way to say that. Now before you run to the comment section below, let us start by saying that we are not indicating that Batman participates in active racism. He does not go around and beat down African Americans in between solving the Riddler’s puzzles. No, we are talking about how Bruce Wayne has enjoyed a certain level of privilege all his life. As a member of the Wayne family he was born wealthy. Even as Batman he enjoys the fruits of his family’s position. Yet, more to the point he is a white male, and there are more than a few perks to falling under that classification.

A Two-Faced Perspective
A lot of people will want to immediately protest that last statement. After all, when a real conversation about race starts the majority of Americans tend to shut down or shut out the facts. Thus, a white kid living in poverty is not going to instinctively see the inherent bias in our system, because of his own personal struggles and perspective. We experience the world through our own lens, whether you are Gotham’s billionaire son, a British manservant, or the black guy who makes all of Batman’s technology. Statistics rarely convince detractors, but we are going to hit you with some of them right now anyway. According to a recent 2014 poll, 40% of white Americans still believe that race relations in America are ‘good,’ as opposed to 35% black Americans. This statistic is down over the previous year, because of obvious recent events, but it still shows that a portion of America is unaware of the divide that exists even today in our nation.

The problem is that most Americans think of racism as something that happened in black and white photos in their history books, and fail to recognize that it is still reflected in the inherent inequalities within the system we live in. Thus, even if the caped crusader is not be an active racist, he still enjoys a level of comfort and position built upon the backs of institutional racism and prejudice that stretch back before the Civil War. Racism exists, not always in the actions of one race toward another, but as a historical ghosts that echoes through the halls of our schools, jobs, Arkham Asylums, and even government. It even clouds our perceptions and subconsciously directs our actions and feelings, like some long remembered childhood trauma that happened one night in a dark alleyway outside a theater.

For instance, Marvel has been taking a lot of flak about its lack of diversity in casting. Among the major discussions happening is the absence of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Instead, Marvel is once again going with the white male role of Peter Parker. It is great that people are clamoring to see the racial diverse Morales take the place of Peter Parker, but what is not so great is that there is no talk about doing the same for Batman. Spider-Man and Batman are being rebooted into larger universes, and both on the heels of previously solo franchises. So why don’t the arguments being made for the racially diverse version of Spider-Man apply for an African American Batman? Is it because DC has no idea what they are doing? Yes, but it might also be because Spider-Man is a poor kid from Queens while Batman is a rich socialite from Gotham City. Of those two, which do we naturally assume to be a minority?

The Riddle of Racism?
Racism, is a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement. More to the point, it is a belief that has informed the way our society has been constructed. An often used complaint among white culture is that Black Americans receive the entire month of February for their history, but white people do not receive a similar month. That is true, but it is also a very limited perspective born from a lack of historical context and the fact that our fleshy bodies only last about eighty years. As humans we have a very small window to view the world, so for some it can become harder to take a more universal approach. People who see things such as Black History Month or affirmative action, are only seeing a small part of the story, devoid of context. It is like watching Batman punch the Joker without having any prior knowledge of the two characters, and getting angry that, “a crazy man in the bat outfit is punching a defenseless clown.” The truth is that we need to recognize that most of our history has been written from the white male perspective, and that perspective has become part of our instinctive understanding of our culture and ourselves operate, and that is the underpinning of the problem.

The practice of colonialism meant that white Europeans spread their dominance over most parts of the world and actively usurped local history and accomplishments with those of their own race. It helped remind locals who was in charge and made them feel inferior so as to not challenge the rule of the colonizers. In America, white culture and history was made superior to that of blacks, first to justify the economical system of slavery than to further the prejudicial system and non-integration. In modern times, those systems, set in place so long ago, still exist today. Our lives, our actions, and our nation does not exist in a bubble that is separated from history. Those past systems still inform the way our culture and society works.

There are plenty of statistics that confirm this. According to the APA, Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black college graduates are twice as likely as white college graduates to struggle to find a job. The sentencing project found that on the New Jersey Turnpike black drivers make up 15 percent of drivers and more than 40 percent of traffic stops and 73 percent of arrests, but that they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites.

Success is built on success. Bruce Wayne inherited his wealth from Thomas and Martha Wayne. White people have had the power since colonial times, and they have passed that power down to their sons and their grandsons. Laws and systems were put into place to strengthen the ability of white people to subtly profit over minorities. Neighborhoods arose as did ghettos, segregated by race, by wealth, and by choice. With those neighborhoods arose adequate and inadequate school systems, gang violence, and extracurricular activities. People grew up different, with different attitudes and different ideas about the world. Some felt repressed and came to believe that they deserved to be, because society confirmed it. Others rose to acquire wealth and prosperity, which they passed on to their children, even after they were gunned down in an alleyway. Bruce Wayne is not prejudiced, but he did benefit from a system of racism. After all, how many parents are gunned down in minority neighborhoods, and of those, how many of those children grow up with the means to become Batman?

A Bane to Real Discussion
This is an incredibly hard topic to talk about, especially lately. It polarizes people on both sides. White people do not want to be seen as racist, and so instinctively they will flat out deny the problem and often shift blame to others. In New York, Hispanics and blacks are three times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police. Many white people will look at that statistic and say, “those people should not be doing what they are doing or walking where they are walking or acting how they act and they won’t get stopped.” Or they say that those particular police officers were racist, but that is not the whole story, because passive racism can be just as pervasive and even more damaging. It is old ideas informing not our thoughts but our subconscious understandings, until they become so pervasive we accept them as normal.

The human mind makes associations, it was how we evolved to survive in the wild, but we are no longer a tribal society hunting elk for food. So those prejudices have come to inform our government, our businesses, and the way we treat one another. Yet, because we want to see ourselves as evolved and enlightened we tend to reject those actions or mark them as isolated incidents. In a sense we become Two-Face and our brain literally goes to war with itself over the concept of racism. When that happens we don’t flip a coin to solve it. Instead, many of us just shut down on the subject all together. We say, “it’s not our problem,” “or that we aren’t racists,” or that “we didn’t cause it.”

A Signal in the Sky
Bruce Wayne is a racist, but he is also Batman. The Dark Knight knows something that a lot of other people do not. Just because you are not directly responsible for something, does not mean that you are not responsible for cleaning it up. Bruce did not create the crime and the poverty and corruption of Gotham, but he understands that he is responsible to be part of the solution to it. He could just as easily go on living a privileged playboy lifestyle,  but instead he becomes Batman because he has a responsibility to use his wealth and power to help those around him make the world a better place.

For white people, you have never owned a slave, at least we assume you never did. You probably never participated in active discrimination, you may never even have made a racial joke, but you are still a racist, not because you did something but because you refuse to do anything. You did not create this problem, but you have the power, the position, and therefore the responsibility to help fix it, because it needs fixing.

Racism still exists. We have come a long way, but the journey is not done. Everyone born now, was born closer to that proverbial mountain top, and it is human nature for us to look back at the long and rocky road and say, “look how far we have come. We have succeeded,” but the truth is that we have not yet reached that fabled peak. There is still more to climb. There is still a lot of difficult road ahead, and we are all responsible for getting there. Racism is not an issue for just minorities, it is an issue for all us. No one who lives today started this problem, but, like Bruce Wayne, we are all responsible for cleaning up the streets of our own personal Gotham City. It is up to us, because we are all Bruce Wayne, and that means we are also all Batman.

14 comments

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