[There are small spoilers.]
One of the things I've done since Leeds is catch up a little with friends I haven't seen for a month or more. So the other day, a few of us went to see Captain America. As a superhero film, I have to say, it was one of the better ones I've seen -- at least for a Marvel-based film. It was exciting, the script and acting were really good, the casting was great... and it was surprisingly not jingoistic. I think it escaped it by being mostly set during the Second World War, and by having a villain who was a breakaway from Hitler's special arcane & tech forces unit. I loved the odd sort of nostalgia, and the way that Captain America was clearly part of the war effort, but in a 'real guy embodying an emblem' sort of way.
There were really weird moments, though. Weird because, while the evocations of the period often felt real (inasmuch as comics can evoke historical feelings), there was just stuff that was wrong. Once Cap is in Europe, united with the 107th, he's got a multicultural band of brothers. I realize that there are lots of things in the film that aren't real, duh -- secret powers of the Aesir? References to Raiders of the Lost Ark? But when I saw the African-American GI, my initial thought was, "but aren't you supposed to be in a segregated unit? or a cook?" And when the Asian (presumably Japanese) guy says,"Hey, I'm from Fresno!" How could I not think, "Dude, then you'd be in Manzanar or the 442nd!" Better writers on race in America have already commented on this, and how it helps to erase the Civil Rights Movement, so I'm not going there. Yet?
Then last night, I was watching Luther, a BBC crime drama with the amazing Idris Elba. It's good, gritty, and dark. And one of the episodes I watched concerned a white guy who may or may not have been racially motivated. There was a scene where the killer, a skinny white man who was clearly into RPG stuff, went into a shop run by a South Asian man. He blatantly stuffed his bag from the shelves, watching the shopkeeper watch him and do nothing. And it made me think of all the astoundingly offensive and insane commentary surrounding Breivik, the mass murderer in Norway (short roundup here, because I will not link to assholes at Fox), whose ideas of jihad-by-migration have also been defended (although not linked to Breivik there at all) on an academic listserv I read and in fact more directly on that scholar's own blog. No, I'm not linking there, either. This came at a time where yet again, a bunch of misogynist comments were made, and then dismissed by senior male scholars when women complained about them.
The one thing that comes to mind over and over again is how scared and threatened a very large segment of the population must be. Where does this phenomenon of the scared white guy come from? Because that's what it is, isn't it? Beck, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and all the people who buy into their fear and hatred, and want to channel it back into attacking women and people of other races (and I don't really believe Islamophobia is as much about religion as it is about race -- Sharia law supports a lot of the sorts of positions Michelle Bachman does, after all...) -- how does that work? How is it that, when we look at who truly has power in Western society, we can see that it's mostly plutocratic power, and those who hold it are primarily white and primarily male. Actually, that should be reversed. Male and white. Male is still the biggest conveyer of privilege. In the West, white and straight and Christian are also up there. And yes, there are going to be trade-offs, and within certain communities, the balance will be different. A senior colleague and friend pointed out to me that one of the people who irritates me most on the list serv because he seems so entirely unable to recognize his male privilege, or even his academic privilege, probably can't see it that way because his self-perception is based on being a Jew and being held back by those with white privilege.
But back to the fear: why is it that we live in a world where there is a perception that power is a zero-sum game, and if it is shared, i.e., if we actually live in a world where people of color, people of other religions, people with other sexualities -- and, by the way, women -- share in the running of that world, it means something bad for white guys who think of themselves as Christian? And why is it that the people who fear (because I think we need to include the partners and families of these scared white men -- there are lots of women in the Tea Party, after all) cannot see that they have far more in common with the rest of us folks who live from paycheck to paycheck in multicultural land than they do with the people running things and asking us to pay the bills?
I expect in some ways it all comes down to entitlement, and not the good sort provided by the NHS, or Social Security. If you're used to privilege, and that privilege seems threatened, then all you have to fall back on is a feeling of entitlement. And if power is not a zero-sum game, then privilege kind of is. At least, once privilege -- something that is grounded only by means of historically having power without thinking about where it comes from -- is challenged, then people have to compete for the same jobs, places at university, etc. In fact, a level playing field doesn't feel all that level when it means you don't have the up-hill advantage. When you've never had to share, even giving away a small portion can feel like a huge loss. Being accustomed to privilege, especially the unrecognized kind, leads to feelings of entitlement that don't hold water for me. And I guess entitlement means not having to be scared, or think about one's own responsibilities to others. So a world in which a token African-American or Nisei soldier helps to show that, hey, we've always got along together just fine is a world that says, "see? you don't have to think about reality or question your privilege." It's a world where you don't have to be scared white men.
Of course, lots of us already live in a world where you don't have to be scared white men. It's full of interesting people with different ideas about life and nature and how the world works, and conversations that include bits of different languages, and really, a lot better food. And you know? the doors aren't always wide open, because sometimes assholes with guns show up. But if you are willing to live here with the rest of us, it's a pretty nice place.