Darkie Dystopia

By Taylor McClain

In the summer before my eighth birthday, I sat on my Grandmother’s screen porch, relaxed in the two-toned, metal gliding chair, and read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I had never heard of the author. The story was inserted into an anthology of science fiction stories titled The Treasury of Science Fiction Classics. I was a member of a science fiction book club and once a month I would receive in the mail one volume of my choice, sometimes a collection and other times a single work by one author. I believe this was the first work of fiction that viscerally bothered me. I could not stop thinking about the implications of the narrative. What was the author trying to tell us? Why did the woman allow herself to fall in love with a grown man and then care for him, as he became an infant? At what age did Benjamin’s caring for the woman as a lover morph into his love for her as his mother? What would society be like where this aging pattern in reverse was the norm?

Before subjecting myself to the torment of Button, I read comic books. My Mother, instead of discarding them in the trash when I had read the latest Captain Marvel, Archie, Aquaman, Superman, and others, would place each one into a brown kraft paper grocery bag that she kept on the top shelf of her bedroom closet. I still have those comic books, thanks to my Mother’s obsessive/compulsive behavior, and occasionally I’ll drag them out from my own closet and read one randomly selected. I am always intrigued that the plots and the characters drawn in the cartoons show more about our culture at the time than we might otherwise imagine. I don’t read comic books published today. Instead, I view them in their movie or TV adaptation. But the comics still reveal the truths of people, groups, and culture just as they did when I was young.

The other night I could not sleep, so I turned on the bedroom TV and began watching Netflix’s The Iron Fist. I won’t bore you with the plot, but for those of you old enough to remember the 1970s TV drama Kung Fu starring the weird-to-the-end David Carradine, The Iron Fist is a reimagining of that show. But Carradine’s character, Kwai Chang Caine, was more compelling because he remained faithful to his Shaolin monk teaching despite the many temptations of the American Wild West. He was always harkening back to his dialogues with his blind teacher Master Po during troubling moments:

Master Po—“Vengeance is a water vessel with a hole. It carries nothing but the promise of emptiness.”

Young Caine—“Shall I then repay injury always with kindness?”

Master Po—“Repay injury with justice and forgiveness, but kindness always with kindness.”

The Iron Fist (real name, Danny Rand), on the other hand, upon returning to civilization after being raised in a Himalayan monastery for fifteen years, quickly gives up his moral virginity to the lure of the 51% phallus of a massive technology company.

Danny meets an Asian woman, Colleen Wing, who owns a small Dojo that is financially struggling. But Danny likes her and admires her skills (at stick fighting). He shows up at the Dojo one evening to surprise her with an expensive catered dinner brought in by three white coated waiters who set up a table and folding chairs. However, Colleen has been teaching a private lesson to another woman who is African-American.

Now here comes the teachable moment about culture or rather the difference in “cultures” among people born and reared on the same soil. Anyone who has spent any appreciable time at all with AAs knows that they are “different” from White Americans. It does not matter if you live in Alabama, Illinois, Montana, or wherever—the observed differences are shared among Whites. Sometimes we speak of them by telling a humorous anecdote about an event from school or work. We might then laugh and go our ways knowing that our bias has been confirmed by the other White person who might say, “Yep, that is so true.”

Lest the reader conclude that racial prejudice is rearing its ugly head in my narrative, let me inform that AAs make the same observations about White people, to the extent they can observe, recall, and retell.

So, in episode 5 of the Iron Fist, the waiters leave the Dojo, and Danny, Colleen, and the AA student share an awkward moment. It is made awkward by the student inviting herself to a seat at the banquet table. This behavior is gauche, but perhaps she believes she is protecting Colleen from, hmm, a handsome, virtuous, well-dressed billionaire, who bows to Colleen at every opportunity because she is the Master of the Dojo and is to be accorded respect.

The student chows down while asking prying and personal questions of Danny about his life, which he answers as if he were channeling his spiritual Zen Master of the Himalayas. Finally, the student has had her fill and are we, the viewer glad so that Danny can now get to the point of his being there, which is to ask Colleen a favor.

This next scene, the one when the student exits stage right is the cultural tableau. After watching this scene, I called five of my friends, all White, three men and two women, the next day and asked them to watch the six to eight minutes of the catered dinner scene of episode 5. I told each of them that I wanted their reaction to any part that made a light go off in their head, rang a bell, or provided an “Aha” moment. That was it, even when they would ask, “What should I be looking for?” I gave no further instruction.

They all called me back within two-three days, and they all gave the same response in almost the identical wording!

So, what was it? What was in this scene that six White people from different backgrounds, from three different states, with different occupations, observed with no hesitation?

As the scene played out, the AA student slyly smiled, picked up her dinner plate and walked to the makeshift hunt board on which sat several other covered trays of food. Just as we think she is going to throw her plate in the trash can, she turns to Danny, gives him a roguish smile, and asks, “Do you mind?” I wondered what she was going to say or do next, but as the TV series writer scripted it, Danny instantly knew what she was referring to, and he replies, “Oh, no. Go ahead, help yourself.”

The AA student then folds her arms around four of the covered trays and scurries out the door. This is it. The cultural phenomenon that all AAs engage in at picnics, dinner parties, wedding rehearsal dinners, and any gathering where someone else has provided the food. AAs never leave the festivity empty handed. They always treat these occasions as if the host has not only served up a meal for the persons in attendance but also for the AA’s extended family and friends.

This behavior, which Whites view as rude, is engaged in by AAs with nary a second thought. Now if this behavior is typical at AA functions, we might understand that they would practice the same way with no intended perfidy at a gathering hosted by a White person. But as viewed through the lens of white culture, food cost money whether the host prepares the food or has the event catered. So when a person feeds their guests in their home, it can hardly be expected that the invitation carried a subliminal message that the invitee’s family were to be fed later. Thus, Whites have been conditioned to expect this pilfering by AAs, and thus prepare enough food to satisfy the craving of two to three times the number of AAs personally in attendance.

When my friends called me back to say that this was the standard behavior of AAs, each of them related to me stories of their discernment of this at their workplace or elsewhere. One told me that where he worked (a large doctors’ offices), the AA staff kept insulated food containers under their desks should the occasion arise when a vendor might bring the doctors pizza or sandwiches.

Another friend related to me that AAs don’t seem to understand that this is especially vexatious at catered wedding parties where the food and beverages are costly since the caterer counts each plate whether the food is eaten at the party or not. She said that one young girl in her office was getting married for the first time and that she and her fiancé were bearing the expense of the wedding party as the parents could not afford the high-end caterer. She let it be known that the AAs should leave their insulated containers at the office, as no food would be taken away from the party. All the AAs in the office were invited but only a few attended.

Why is it that this behavior of two groups of people, raised in the same country, the same cities, and neighborhoods, has diverged so completely? Is it that some biological imperative, some strange genome sitting on a chromosome, can account for this? Why is it that all Whites act one way and all AAs act in an entirely different way, when it comes to this conduct that if it happened occasionally would be seen as humorously innocuous? But it does not happen occasionally—it is the rule rather than the exception. I wish I knew the answer to this particular comportment that is proven through the shared knowledge—the conventional wisdom—of all White people.

There are many more expressions of this divergent cultural evolution between these two groups. We shall examine some of these shortly.

As I said at the beginning of this discussion, comic books can teach us a lot about our culture and belief systems.

Taylor McClain is a practicing attorney and a University of Alabama alumnus