Protests

Saturday was an historic day in the United States. 2.9 million people across the country got out and made their voices heard in protests from New York City to Los Angeles to Washington DC. The NYRD was present for it all. We took a trip down to the nation’s capital to make our voices heard in the largest single protest ever in American history. However, it has also left us wondering, what was accomplished? After all, Donal Trump is still President. His cabinet nominees are well on their way to being confirmed, things like Climate Change and Immigration Reform are still missing from the White House website. So why do we march? Why do we even bother?

“Get Over It…”
There has become this prevailing myth in America that protests, such as the Women’s March that took place over the weekend are simply about rejecting Donald Trump as President or lamenting the failure of Hillary Clinton. The conservative right enjoys likening protests to temper tantrums by children who refuse to eat their vegetables, but making that kind of a generalization is a disservice to the people and the process of our democracy. We cannot disagree that there are plenty of people out there who are still frustrated over the outcome of the election -As Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote by 2.9 million more people- but that is not the whole story. These protests are not so much about rejecting the election results as they are about rejecting the policies and questionable actions of Donald Trump himself.

Time and time again, you have an educated electorate watching a man denigrate women, spew hatred toward immigrants and Muslims, disregard constitutional law because he finds it inconvenient, and set forth a wholly pessimistic and isolationist viewpoint toward what America is and what it should become. No, the protests are not about the past. They are very much about the future, and there are a lot of people anxious about that future. Humans fear what they can’t control, and protesting feels like a way to take that power back. For the critics out there, yes, sometimes that has meant isolated violent incidents, but on the whole those seem to be the exception and not the example.

“You’re Not Going to Change Anything…”
Protesting alone will not change anything. Trump and his team will ignore, deflect, and lie as they have throughout the election process. The Donald seems impervious to truth, reason, and logic, like some sort of delusional Superman. However, the protests are not really about getting Trump to change. They are about showing unity and putting anyone who is paying attention on notice. Senators, congressmen, local legislators, and more now know that people are willing to fight and they are willing to fight in large numbers. Democracy is not just about voting, but about showing up and making your voice heard. That is why the the right of peaceable assemble is enshrined in the First Amendment.

Protests such as the Women’s March have another purpose too. The world’s eyes are on America. Such giant displays of spectacle and protest go a long way to assuring the international community that the American people will not go quietly. It tells our friends, our allies, and even our enemies that the people of this country still have a voice and we are still fighting. That message is more important than any we can send. We are a country of the people, for the people, and by the people.

There are many nations out there who have become saddened and afraid by the election of Donald Trump. Make no mistake, the international community is now a less stable place than it was on January 19. Trump’s call for isolationism, and “America First” is a return to a diplomatic policy we haven’t espoused since the end of World War I. Yet, the world needs America, and -despite what our new Dear Leader believes- America needs the world too. Shutting our doors and shutting our eyes is only going to make everyone less safe and less prosperous. However, letting the American people’s voice be one of unified dissension gives hope, and proves the real reason why are still one of the greatest countries out there.

“There is More Work to Do…”
The NYRD has felt very privileged and honored to be a part of these historic protests, even in our small way. Yet, we have to recognize that our job is not done. We can take hope from our small victory, but we cannot let it be the end. Protests are only the first step toward standing up against what is alarmingly wrong. Now that we have put people on notice we need to follow through. Write letters to your Congress-people. Support the causes you believe in: Women’s Rights, Climate Change, Fair Immigration, Refugees, Minority Rights, and more. There are plenty to choose form. Research organizations that are doing the most good, and if you cannot support them financially then get out there and volunteer. Make sure you support the free press. Make sure you are well-informed. Make sure you build bridges to people with different views. AND make sure you can identify the real information from the propaganda -or the “alternative-facts” as they are now being called.

The bottom line is that we can no longer sit on the sideline. We can no longer trust the government to do what needs to be done. It is now up to us to change the world and not simply rely on the people we voted for. Yes, in a way that is sad, but it is also an opportunity. We are entering into a time of great change and we now get to define what that change is, not Washington, not Congress, and certainly not Donald Trump. So great job to all 2.9 million protestors, but now the real work begins.

Race

You may have heard people say that “Race is a social construct,” similiar to language, national boundaries, or Hogwarts’ Houses, and much like Hufflepuff, the concept is one mired in identity, economics, and power. Understanding the history of the labels that we wear and assign is about understanding the history of shifting social classes, politics, oppression, and even slavery. Make no mistake -in the end- race is and always has been a social construct, but it is one of the biggest and most heavily reinforced collective ideas in the history of humanity.

A Slave to History
Slavery was not a new concept in the world by the time Europeans settled on the American continents. Ancient Romans, Greeks, Sumerians, Egyptians, and others had kept slaves for centuries and passed their tradition onto the cultures that followed. However, slaves in these times were not delineated based upon the color of one’s skin. Instead, being a slave often meant that you were a prisoner of war, captured by pirates, or just in any circumstance where you were not recognized as a “citizen of the nation.” In fact, wealthy Romans often kept Greek slaves as highly sought-after tutors and house servants, because in antiquity slaves were also valued for their intellectual abilities as well as their physical attributes.

At the time, slavery also existed in similiar forms for the native populations on some Pacific Islands, Africa, the Americas, but especially white Northern Europeans. Warring tribes would often take prisoners from their defeated neighbors and force them into varying degrees of servitude. The word “Slave,” even comes from the word “Slav,” because during the Middle Ages -when the English language was taking its modern form- some of the most common slaves were prisoners from the Slavonic tribes captured by the Germans. They were often sold to Arabs, meaning that it would not have been uncommon for Middle Easterners to have white slaves. The French Crown even enslaved its own people, filling their war-galleys with French Protestant rebels who were forced to row the mighty ships into battle. However, all that changed with the introduction of colonialism.

By the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Portugal had begun to open up trade with the nations of Sub-Sahara Africa. Initially, Europeans were more interested in African ivory, diamonds, and other riches, but also purchased the African prisoners that were captured during wars between African nations. Thus, when the Portuguese began building the colonies of São Tomé and Principe and setting up Caribbean sugar plantations it was the African slaves they relied on to do the bulk of the work. The Native Americans populations often died of illness or were able to escape and disappear, knowing the land and the local tribes. African slaves were ideal as they were immune to European disease and were strangers in the New World. This led to an influx of African workers in the Americas not just for Portugal, but for England, Spain, and other growing colonial powers.

However, this also led to a growing moral dilemma for the Christian nations of Europe. Originally, slavery was justified because Africans and others were non-Christians. In Spain it started with the Inquisition, where non-Christians were determined to be less than human. Others rationalized the practice of black slavery by using a passage in the Bible about Ham who committed a sin against Noah. His black descendants were condemned to be “servants unto servants.” However, as more and more missionaries and pastors converted free and enslaved Africans alike the religious rationale found itself on shakier grounds. After all, how could one be expected to enslave another human who worshiped Jesus? In 1667, Virginia created a law that stated that Christian Africans could be kept in bondage, not because they were heathens, but because they had heathen ancestry. It was believed that God had marked them as “mongrels.” From that point forward slavery started to be about race, not religion. Blacks became something less than human in the eyes of powerful whites. Where once indentured white servants worked side-by-side with black slaves -often intermingling and marrying- after the 1600’s laws were created that prevented white and blacks from intermarrying or creating mixed “race” offspring.

White Makes Right
We are not claiming slavery was ever okay, but before the age of colonialism slavery was a more of a local matter. Yet, with the discovery of the New World, it became big business. Suddenly, the dehumanizing of Africans was a matter of profit and that meant governments, businesses, and the powerful white men of the world had a vested interest in making sure the myth of race became solid fact in the minds of all Europeans and Americans. It was a matter of profit that white people thought of African slaves as entirely different biological entities, beings who were unlike them or their wife or their child. After that it became only a matter of time before classifications were applied to anyone else who was not “white,” such as Asians, Natives, Indians, Muslims, Jews, Italians… wait what?

The term “white” is a purposely nebulous term. It does not actually define any type of ethnic or national group. “White” was created basically to mean “Normal.” Anyone who was non-white was the “other.” They were not normal by the standards of the established white power structure. Jews, for instance, -despite being light-skinned- were often considered as something less than white. As far back as medieval times, Jews were demonized as witches and forced to flee countries in the face of Christian prejudice. Before the 1800’s most immigrants to United States were from Northwestern Europe: England, Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, etc. By the end of the Civil War and well into the 20th century, American started seeing more immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe: Greeks, Italians, Russians, Polish, etc. These people despite their complexion were still seen as non-white. They had odd customs and spoke different languages. Italian Americans were even lynched in 1891 in New Orleans. Despite initial antagonism, Italian Americans and most European immigrants have since been accepted into the “white” power structure. This is partly due to their assimilation but also partially due to the mass of Latin American, Indian, and Asian immigrants that arrived during the mid to late 1900s. In comparison, Italians and Polish no longer seemed so strange, so they became “White,” which at least was a more generalized and benign classification than the word some Americans used for white people before… oh… 1940 or so.

We don’t use the “Aryan” anymore due to obvious reasons, but we did. In fact, to a lot of European Americans it was a source of pride and a bestselling 1907 book. Make no mistake the word was very much tied with racial superiority even before the Third Reich. Funny enough, we do still use the word “Caucasian,” which is less “goose-steppy” but no less self-aggrandizing, inaccurate, or meaningless. Caucasian comes from the Caucasus area that borders Europe and Asia. That is not where all white people live nor where all white people originated. In 1795, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach picked it as a term to represent white Europeans because he wanted to underscore the beauty of the white-skinned. It also has a lot of mythological intonations, featured in aspects of Jason and the Argonauts. So, really it is just another way to say that “white” people are better than the rest, but that idea of biological superiority is as scientifically false as the myth of Caucasus.

The Science of Prejudice
Science is not bigoted, but scientists and thinkers can be, and that has played its part in the myth of race. The idea of polygenism, started with philosophers in the 1700’s, like Blumenbach or Immanuel Kant. Pseudo-science like phrenology developed around the same time as a way to prove that other races were intellectually inferior to white people. It was also used to justify the subservience and “timidity of black slaves.” Pieter Camper in 1770 measured faces and declared that Greco/Roman statues -the “ideal” human- had a 90-degree facial angle, Europeans an 80-degree angle, Blacks a 70-degree angle, and orangutans a 58-degree facial angle. Thus, he believed that he had established the hierarchy of mankind.

After phrenology was debunked, the 20th century turned toward eugenics. Once again, pseudo-science became popular as the rich and elite white population justified their own status through biology. It also use to explain why white people could never be allowed to “pollute” their gene pool with black DNA, lest the children inherit undesirable genetic traits like “criminality” and “pauperism.” Apparently being poor or crooked were a genetic trait in the 20’s and 30’s. It also led to sterilization of undesirable populations. Those who were believed to be mentally impaired, black, Mexican, and Asian were coerced or forced to be sterilized in the United States, so that their genes could not corrupt the “American race.” Thankfully, eugenics and sterilization fell out of favor after a man named Hitler became the poster child for the movement. Yet, even up to the 1970’s as many as 25% to 50% of Native American women had been sterilized.

For the record, most individual humans vary from each other genetically by .1%. 85% to 90% of that variation has to do with your family and genetic heritage. Only 10% to 15% of that variation has to do with what continent your ancestors originated from. That means an Irish American could be more closer -genetically- to a Kenyan American than they could be to someone in Ireland. “Race” does not exist, biologically speaking, and even if it did how do you differentiate between “Black” and “White?” After all, most African Americans have at least -on average- 16.7% of European DNA. At what percentage does someone stop being “Black,” and start being “White?” 40%? 50%? 80%? Or does it really have to do more with our social perception than any actual biological makeup?

Fade to Black
The ideas of “Black” and “White” are so impossibly vague. The only difference between the two is that out society values one over the other. For instance, it is common for people to point out that Barrack Obama is half-white, but would that get pointed out so frequently if he was a convicted drug dealer? No, because we have been conditioned by centuries of social reinforcement to believe that “race” exists, and since we cannot define it in precise biological terms we instead define it socially. Black is associated with “criminality,” “pauperism,” and “low intelligence.” Yet, the idea that one complete subset of the population is preconditioned to be, act, or do certain things is, scientifically and ludicrously untrue. If you don’t think so, than talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson and see what his take on the stereotype of black intelligence might be.

Race is such a deceptive and insulting word. It implies something biological that is not true. Elves, Dwarves, Faeries… these are races. They have night vision or +2 Strength, but humans of varying skin color have no different advantages or disadvantages over one another, besides the normal delineations between one human individual and the next. “Race,” plain and simple, is a social construct. It was created by wealthy white men to justify an economic system of slavery and reinforced by bad science and a prejudicial power structure afraid of losing social and economic status. It only has the power and truth that we chose to award it, which means much like Faeries, if we stop believing in it, maybe it will finally lose its power.

This past week, the nerd community saw the release of one of the most anticipated trailers of the year, Star Wars Episode VII. Unfortunately, almost immediately afterwards we also saw some Twitter trolls start the offensive hashtag: BoycottStarWarsVII. The campaign was supposedly created to stop Star Wars from pushing a evil multicultural agenda of tolerance and acceptance, because there are some people out there who just aren’t fans of Lando Calrissian, or nuanced and informed discussion. Those people are morons, but in a world where important conversations about identity, gender, and racial divides are conducted with hashtags, at least they have given us this opportunity to have a dialogue about multiculturalism in geekdom. A big part of the problem is the way that people of diverse -and especially African American backgrounds- are not always perceived as being stereotypically nerdy, but nothing could further from the truth.

Missing the Target with Stormtroopers
Let’s face it. The outrage over a black stormtrooper or the outrage over a multicultural Star Wars cast is completely ridiculous. It is the same kind of outrage we saw over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, the creation of Miles Morales, or any one of a thousands or so similar incidents. It is possible that sometimes nerds don’t mean to be racist, and they get so caught up in canonical in-fighting that they fail to realize what they are doing. It is also possible some people are just terribly ignorant.

However, the nerd community does not share the fault alone, as the media does not do a good job of embracing the idea of a black-nerd, or “blerd.” When Hollywood thinks of geeks, they think male, white, Asian, or even Indian. -Basically the cast of the Big Bang.- Welcome to the struggle of the blerd, but why is that the case? There have been plenty of famous black nerds, Raj in What’s Happening, Carlton in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and of course Steve “I am the goddamn nerd king” Urkel in Family Matters. Yet, Hollywood and geekdom in general still struggle with casting African American leads in science fiction, fantasy, and comic entertainment, partially because they fear the choice will put off those big juicy, money-spending, white male, geek crowds. Worse yet, when they finally do buckle and add a little variety, it is the members of that very same nerd community who are the first to rage or completely disregard such casting choices as nothing more than “political correctness,” and that has a lot do with our collective cultural stereotypes of the black community in general.

For this article, we are not looking to get into the complexities of black culture or how the media and white culture perceives black culture, or how black culture may perceive itself through the mirrored lens of the media. Mostly, because we don’t have the time, historical perspective, or proper doctoral degrees to really do the subject any justice. For now, let’s just say that living up to the media’s standards of being black in America means you often find yourself stuck along very rigid stereotype lines, and very few of the prescribed roles that the media assigns to African Americans involves being nerdy.

The Trials of Mace Windu
When a black character gets portrayed it is often along certain stock-lines such as a sports star, a rapper, or the bad ass. We love Mace Windu as one of the only good things about the prequels but he has an undeniable Samuel L. Jackson quality about him. Now that is not a bad thing, but not every black Jedi needs to be Shaft with a lightsaber. Why couldn’t Qui Gon Jinn or any other Jedi have been black too? Why do we only seem to get one representation at a time? By portraying African Americans so heavily along the roles of gang members, criminals, and even “the cool one” the media helps create the perception that these are really the only acceptable things young black men or women can be. So for years, the very idea of the black comic book nerd or the black science fiction nerd was forgotten. We’re not saying that they didn’t exist, just that they were not made visible by Hollywood for the viewing audience at large. In fact, when blerds were portrayed at all, many perceived those characters as “acting white,” because smart and uncool have not been the standard labels for young African Americans. So whenever we got the black nerd character, he was only ever portrayed as the person who was rejected by the show’s wider community. Both Carlton and Urkel started as comparison characters to the show’s “cooler” characters. In other words, they were not the characters that were “normal” or worth emulating. Even if they did eventually become some of the most popular characters on their respected shows.

Thankfully that perception is changing, slowly but surely. When you really open your eyes and take notice you see blerds everywhere, and it is amazing. People like Aisha Tyler, Damon Waynes Jr., Donald Glover and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson have come to epitomize what it means to be black and nerdy. Characters such as Turk from Scrubs, Toofer from 30 Rock, Gus from Psych, and Troy from Community, helped to put forth new roles for African American nerds in Hollywood, even if their shows are now all canceled. No longer are these characters the punching bag or the annoying friend. They are funny, smart, and fun to be around. In the past decade it has started to become cool to like cartoons, comics, sci-fi,.and be a little weird. That has helped the blerd gain some prominence, but unfortunately even with these positive role models, studios, social media, and geekdom at large, still hesitate and debate over the merits of casting African Americans in starring roles.

Will Smith may have starred in Men in Black, Laurence Fishburne may have played Morpheus, Samuel L. Jackson may be Nick Fury, but the minute you cast an African American actor as a stormtrooper the Internet breaks. People will point to characters like Falcon, Zoe Washburne, Static Shock, Black Panther, Uhura, or Captain Benjamin Sisko as example of diversity in geekdom, and they would be right. However, those characters are just a good start, and not a justification for why we need an all white cast for Episode VII. Being a nerd should be about including all people and most importantly giving everyone a hero they can look up to and say, “He/she is like me. I can be a hero, a Jedi, a stormtrooper, a Galactic senator, or whatever I want to be,” because that has always been the magic and importance of our shared nerd heritage.

Gambling on Lando Calrissian
Many people will inevitably wonder why we need a separate label for a black nerd. Those will be the same people who will wonder aloud why February is Black History Month, or why “only” Black Lives Matter? What those people need to understand is that saying that Black Lives Matter is not the same as saying only black lives matter. It is a reminder that black lives matter too. Similarly, giving one the label of blerd does not mean they are separate from other nerds. As a race and as a minority African Americans have been poorly under-represented, or worst yet represented poorly through the lens of media stereotypes. The blerd label -much like the Black Lives Matters campaign- is way to remind us that African Americans are not just two-dimensional stereotypes. They are humans who are entitled to life, hopes, dreams, and the freedoms to swing a stick around their head and make lightsaber noises. We all need to remember that nerds and people come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they all deserve respect.

Hollywood forgets that sometimes. It is easier to typecast people in certain roles, because it is accepted by the culture at large. Thus the fanboy backlash from casting an African American in a previously white role may sometimes force studios to temper otherwise multicultural and innovative choices. However, as easy as it would be to blame the media for the lack of ethnic diversity in the movies we love so much, it is not entirely their fault. They are far from perfect in fostering equal casting opportunities, but it starts with us, the fan community. As a famous leader once said. “The change you wish to see in the world, you must be, hmm.” Acceptance and equality start with each of us.

Blerd Lives Matter because all nerd lives and loves matter, regardless of color or creed. We need to encourage more diversity in our movies, television shows, comics, literature, and lives. As a community, we geeks and nerds need to start demanding a fair balance of positive racial representation, and more importantly we need to stop raging every time Hollywood makes a stormtrooper black. -It is a perfectly conical choice.- There will always be people out there with poorly conceived hashtags because they are filled with bigotry. Yet we cannot let them be the voice for our larger community. Geekdom is full of great and accepting people, and we have to make sure that the only minority we disregard is the minority of people who want to do nothing more than spread their message of fear, because that leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to a darker-side for us all.

Geekdom knows the face of evil. We see it everyday, whenever we pick up a comic book or turn on a video game. There is always some megalomaniac trying to conquer the world, blow up the city, or even just steal the princess and take her back to his castle for purposes we feel it best not to question. However, unlike the villains in our books, movies, and games, most people in prison have never donned a mask to lead a band of ninjas, dabbled in the dark magical arts, or have built even one weather controlling doomsday device. No, the criminals in our prisons are not Saturday morning cartoon characters. They are nothing but ordinary, run of the mill people, no matter how much we sometimes try to pretend they aren’t.

B-Man and the Masters of the Congressverse
Last week, President Barrack Obama commuted the sentence of nearly 90 non violent offenders, most of them jailed due to drug charges. The people who received the commutations were well behaved inmates who served at least 10 years of their prison sentence, and who would have received less severe punishments for their offenses under today’s laws.

The United States has about 5% of the world’s population, but almost a quarter of its incarcerated population, but then again maybe we just produce more Cobra Commanders than Uruguay? Somehow we at The NYRD doubt that is the case. According to a 2011 Boston University study the USA jails 716 people per 100,000. That is the highest rate of inmates per capita in the world, beating out St. Kitts & Nevis, Seychelles, Rwanda and Cuba. The only statistics we should be beating Rwanda and Cuba in, are: “hot dogs sold” and “Star Trek conventions held,” not prison population. In fact, the closest developed country to the US is Russia at 487 inmates per 100,000 citizens, and no offense to our Russian friends, but we cannot believe that America is producing more villains than the former Soviet Union, especially considering their current leadership.

That sad part is that the argument can be made that our current corrections system does work, as long as you ignore its rapidly growing population. So it is not usually a pressing issue on the lips of many leaders, both animated or otherwise. The amount of inmates in the US began a sharp increase in 1979. The year before Empire Strikes Back was released saw only about 314,000 people behind bars. As of last year, the year before The Force Awakens is to be released, the numbers stood at about 3.2 million people behind bars, with African Americans making up the slight majority of the incarcerated population. A little less than half of that total inmates are people charged with non violent offenses, majorly drug charges, but also burglary, larceny, fraud, and public disorder.

Coincidentally, with the exception of a few fluctuations in the 80’s crime has been on the decrease ever since. This could be attributed to a number of factors, economic, social, even technological. Video games and the Internet do a lot more to distract potential criminal behavior than most people give them credit for, but that is for another article. According to the US Disaster Center, there were only about 9.8 million crimes committed in 2013 for a US population of over 316 million. The US is safer than it has ever been, but is that due to mass incarceration? Realistically, it probably has to do with a lot of factors, but if incarceration is our answer than we have to be prepared to build more prison, and that is going to get expensive.

Estimates tend to vary, but even conservative numbers say that it costs anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 dollars per year to house an inmate, depending on the level of security needed. According to a bill proposed by Congressmen Scott and Sensenbrenner, since 1980 Congress has added an estimated 2,000 new crimes to the books and imprisonment rates has grown 518 percent. Federal spending on the prison system has increased from $970 million to more than $6.7 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation. Their SAFE Bill is trying to curtail over criminalization and reduces recidivism. A similar bill, called the Smarter Sentencing Act is also going through the Senate. They are worth checking out, because even if you believe that all criminals deserve to be behind bars, imagine what the US could do with even a fraction of that money returned. Some estimates even say it currently costs every American household roughly $500 a year. Those dollar amounts only stand to increase in coming years, because for all its benefits, it is starting to look like our system is very good at taking low level offenders and making them hardened criminals.

Teenage Addicted Repeat Offenders
President Obama’s act is a great first step, but more needs to be done to reform a failing prison system. First and foremost, Obama has been pushing that drug crimes should be treated more like a public health risk than a crime, and according to a Pew Research Study, 67% of Americans, on both sides of the isle, agree with him. In fact, more than 25 states, in both the north and south, have eased their laws on drug crimes over the past five years, but the Federal government is still trying to catch up.

Much like the war with Cobra, the “War on Drugs” has became a self perpetuating machine. Harsh penalties and long prison sentences often affect lower income families dramatically more than those in upper income brackets, even if drug use itself is fairly proportional across economic lines. Unfair incarceration has the potential to exacerbate problems in the home, often taking away bread winning husbands or wives needed to support the family, and leaving children without one or both parental influences to keep them clear of gangs and the very drugs that the government was trying to fight in the first place. Thankfully, this has lessened with the amending of some of the “three strikes” laws for many states, most notably California where more than 3,000 previously life-sentenced, non violent inmates became eligible to apply for parole. Unfortunately, prison itself has a way of institutionalizing even the nicest of non violent offenders.

In many ways our prison system is a lot like a Saturday morning cartoon. It is fairly predictable, poorly animated, and for certain people it repeats like clockwork. In fact the US prison system has become like Arkham Asylum, a revolving door where criminals are often released only to be delivered back into captivity by a man who may or may not be dressed as a bat. Recidivism has declined in recent years, because of improvements in state laws, but current studies still show that about 40% of people released from prison will be arrested again within three years of release. Though many federal and some state facilities currently offer job training and societal reintegration preparation, the push is not universal, as many of these expanded programs cost money and poorer state systems, or privately funded corporate prisons are less inclined to invest.

G.I. Jobless
Prisons have another aspect in common with our beloved cartoons, many of them were created to make money. There are now 130 private prisons who rake in a combined 3.3 billion dollars a years. For them, a decrease in the prison population means a decrease in their profit margins. That means they have a lot less incentive to not properly prepare criminals for retuning to society, and they have a slew of lobbyist in Washington to make sure their voices are heard. In 2010, the private prison firm, GEO, and its affiliates donated more than $33,500 to political action committees. the whole thing is like some plot cooked up by Skeletor in his spare time, a convoluted system of harsh punishment that more often than not fails to achieve its end goal. More to the point, much like the plots of cartoon villains, we just seem to accept it as fact. We buy into the system and just take it for what it is and never really think to look deeper.

No one is saying that these offenders should not be punished for their crime. Everyone needs a time out once in a while, but the problem with the current system is that for non violent and other first time inmates incarceration often leans too far to the side of punishment and not enough to the side of rehabilitation. The only thing the Department of Corrections is actually correcting is how to make those low level offenders into better criminals. Currently, going into prison is a lot like joining Cobra. Even if you don’t know anything about how to hold a gun that shoots blue lasers, they will teach you that and a multitude of other criminal skills. Many first time offenders pick up new criminal traits, new violent tendencies, and gang affiliations as a simple way of surviving while inside the system, and in some cases those are the only job skills they can turn to after their release.

The fault does not lie entirely with the prison system alone, but also our own perceptions of criminals in society. Many federal and private companies ask job applicants for their criminal history, even if the job is low-level and for non sensitive work. Checking off a box that says you have been in jail is often a death sentence to any ex-convict’s job prospects. So with no where to go, even if they have the job skills, many former inmates are forced to return to crime to survive. Even worse, inmates who are exonerated are often just kicked out of prison with no money and no access to the same transitional programs that guilty criminals receive upon their release. There comes a point where if you tell Bebop and Rocksteady that they cannot work in the mail room, you should not be surprised if they go back to henching for Shredder. The pay may not be great, but at least they don’t feel as if they are being judged all the time by the other members of the Foot Clan.

More than Meets the Eye
Maybe part of our problem is our fascination with villains. After all, without a great villain the heroes we know and love seem somehow diminished. Our interest in the evil and the twisted happens for many reasons. Fictional villains represent power and freedom. They act as a vessel for us to contain and face our fears. In a way they help us to confront the unknown and even give us a mechanism of release for our own anger and devilish impulses. We rarely cheer for Megatron, but in a way we encourage his evil. We want to see a real villain do evil things, if only because it challenges our heroes to be that much better.

Thus, maybe in a way we have transferred some of that psychological need to the real-life criminals in our society. We want to believe in the existence of good, so therefore we must also have to believe in the existence of evil. You do not get He-Man without Skeletor. There is no Lion-O without Mumm-ra, no Ninja Turtles without Shredder and we would argue also Krang, but that is a debate for another day. Unfortunately, real humans are never so black and white. In a way we are all a little good and a little bad.

If we treat all offenders as if they criminals, than we cannot be surprised if they one day try to kidnap a world leader and demand a ridiculous ransom, because after all, we were the ones that expected them to be villains all along.

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.