Forgetting Black Lightning

After the wild success of Marvel’s Netflix season of Luke cage, Greg Berlanti of the CW immediately started looking around in DC Comics for a Black superhero to bring to the small and mobile screen. After all, both Marvel and DC have Black characters that they can draw upon in order to show a greater diversity in their shows, and to have one of them be the titular character be Black would do a lot to address the overall whiteness of what fans call either the Arrowverse or the Berlantiverse.

And for that, we got Black Lightning, easily one of the best superhero shows on TV currently.

Starring Cress Williams as Black Lightning along with a cast of wonderful actors, I knew that this series was going to be much more direct in addressing racial issues in the first episode when father, principal, former Olympic Athlete and superhero Jefferson Pierce is pulled over in the pouring rain by an officer in a case of mistaken identity rooted in racism. It was all the more striking to me because when Jefferson asks who reported the crime, the officer points to a person in his car, an Asian woman, which points to the real-world conflict of Black and Asian people in America, grounded in systemic racism and the model minority myth.

Since then, Black Lightning has portrayed the struggles of not only Jefferson Pierce but his ex-wife Lynn and their two children Jennifer and Anissa as the latter two develop their own set of powers, Lynn develops a drug addiction, and all four work to figure out what the right thing to do is. It is a strong story of family that asks the questions of what would you do for family, and how important is family, all set against a backdrop of racism in its myriad forms; internal, systemic, and blatant.

There’s an interracial lesbian relationship between Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams) and Grace Choi (Chantal Thuy), which is refreshing when a lot of other such relationships on TV are often depicted with one white character to a POC character. The show also grapples with large questions such as ‘Is America worth saving in spite of all its racial roots and rot?’, the use of Black people’s bodies for drug testing and exploitation, and police violence.

So why did The Mary Sue forget about Black Lightning?

To give a bit more context, this morning I woke up, got on Twitter, and saw some of the people I follow on Twitter, such as Clarkisha Kent and Stitch* talking about an article by the Mary Sue titled “The CW’s Superman & Lois is a huge departure for the Arrowverse, in a Good Way” with the subtitle “Meet a real super-dad.”

They rightfully, quickly pointed out about how this is an erasure of Black Lightning, and that the article never once mentions Black Lightning, which is currently airing its 4th and, sadly, final season. What was heartfelt to see were the numerous people calling out this blatant erasure in both the replies to The Mary Sue’s Tweet and in the article itself. It doesn’t excuse writer Jessica Mason’s ‘oversight’ but it was heartfelt to see.

What makes this oversight especially troubling is another oversight regarding the fired Nadria Tucker, a Black woman in the writer’s room of Superman & Lois brought in for her work on Syfy’s Krypton series. Back in November, Nadria herself revealed she’d been let go from the writer’s room for raising issues with the writing of the show.

How a review of a show can be so blatantly ignorant in the midst of Black History month shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has studied up on systemic racism and how it is sewn into our society in a myriad of ways. In talking with Stitch of Stitch Media Mix, I was given a reminder of this, that despite the Mary Sue hiring writers like Briana Lawrence (plus sized cosplayer, writer of Black magical series Magnifique Noir, please check out her work), it is still a site with white feminist editors and writers who often hog the air, such as Lyra Hale’s article “The Falcon & Winter Soldier’s ‘Little Girl’ Comment is Sexist.”

You can even see this in the posting of the article, that kind of oversight that seems uncaring, even more so in this day and age when there are a number of Black people and other people of colour whose criticism of pop culture comes from their lived experiences.

An example of diversity + Ignorance

After all, if The Mary Sue has two articles celebrating blackness in Geekdom, which is still notorious for its racist and sexist gatekeeping, how can it have such an accidental article?

Again, as the black fans and writers I follow would point out: systemic racism.

As it’s been something I’ve learned, that you may be marginalized in one way but still able to partake and take advantage of white privilege. Examples of this, when an intersectional feminist approach butts heads against a White, Middle Class Feminist world view can be seen in many books such as Mikki Kendal’s Hood Feminism, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Dr Beverly Daniel Tatum, and Women of Colour and the Reproductive Rights Movement by Jennifer Nelson, to name a few, which are amazing, insightful, and highly recommended reading.

A lot could have been done to acknowledge the work done by Black Lightning, and to simply ignore it is, well… racist. And the problem with admitting that is that it’s not an outright example of racism. No N-words or other hot red flags were waved, and to many as long as that’s not done, then there’s no racism. This absence of overt racism makes it much more difficult to explain to people that systemic racism exists.

It’s a hair-pulling frustration because many people will then demand a University 100 level course on it when Google exists, and promptly write you off as divisive, combative, and aggressive.

Not me, of course, because hey, I’m white, and thus I’ll be labelled instead as insightful, brave, an ally, and passionate, while the worse I’d be labelled as a ‘white saviour’ who ‘speaks out over POC.’

Ultimately, what’s frustrating is how this article is a prime example of Media Publication outright ignoring Black-led shows that have treaded ground before White-Led shows. Even Black writers, such as the Mary Sue’s own Princess Weekes articles on Black Lightning, often get overshadowed or ignored by White writers.

*Writer’s Note: For full disclosure, I hired Stitch as a consultant to look over and provide feedback for this article.

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