I find that the topic of racism is often one that automatically puts people on the defensive. I also find that there are many people out there who don’t see racism, even when it’s on a billboard in front of them.
Some of those people will be wondering why I’ve chosen Tarzan as an image for this post. Some people might even be offended when I say that the opinion piece I’m writing here could just as easily be about Danny Rand, The Iron Fist.
When I was a kid, I never really thought about it. Even in my late tenties, when Disney’s Tarzan came out, it still didn’t strike me as strange, but now, when I think cynically about the story, I feel a little uncomfortable.
Tarzan, and Iron Fist, at their core, are about a lost white child raised in a foreign environment, and rises to be the best in that environment. Tarzan, raised by apes, becomes King of the Jungle, above and beyond all the actual black people who live in the damned jungle. Danny Rand, raised by monks and taught martial arts, even as a later starter than his fellow students, rises to the top and becomes the Iron Fist.
The cynical old man in me sees these as stories where rich white kids (Lord Greystoke’s heir and the heir to the Rand fortune), because of nothing other than their genetics, are better than those who have lived for generations in their environment. It’s as if the authors, knowingly or not, felt that the essential whiteness and wealth of their heroes meant that they would excel above and beyond any other race.
Then, of course there’s the non racist counterparts. For Tarzan, there’s Jungle Book, and for Iron Fist, there’s Black Panther, both of which involve people of colour rising to the top, but they only do so in the lands of their birth, so while they are race positive, they don’t actually balance out.
What I want to see in the future is better balance. I want to see stories about people of colour who rise to the top of white societies, and no, I don’t mean rising to the top of the ghetto, or cleaning up the ghetto. Barack Obama is an example in reality for writers to draw from, and about the only example I can think of from fiction is Trading Places. We need balance added to the historical non-malicious, likely unintentional racism of white authors creating white characters that conquer the homes of people of colour.
Maybe some of the people who read this will write stories like the ones I want.