Early this month I purchased some books at Barnes & Noble, and found myself musing on the seeming contradiction of purchasing The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero and The Autobiography of Malcolm X during the same visit. I don’t normally purchase pop-philosophy books, but am a bit of a sucker for Captain America. I was looking for a book about Malcolm X and an autobiography seems as close to the perfect book to buy as possible. But maybe buying those two books on the same day isn’t quite so contradictory as I thought.
Marvel is shaking up their roster of characters at the comics level and one of the most notable changes to the lineup is Sam Wilson, the superhero formerly known as The Falcon, taking on the mantle of Captain America. This is a good thing, of course, but it remains within the realm of fiction. The realm of fact didn’t seem quite up to providing an example (other than purely personal notions) of why it might’ve made sense to buy those two books together.
Several days after making the purchase, a young black man named Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
And it’s the most peculiar thing to ponder how Captain America might act were he a real human being instead of a fictional character, dropped into the middle of Ferguson on a night hot with friction between residents justifiably angry over the killing of one of their own, and a militarized police force far too willing to regard the citizens they’re supposed to “serve and protect” as enemy combatants.
I think that Twitter user must’ve missed this:
Leslie Savan at The Nation asks, “Is Ferguson’s Ron Johnson the New Captain America?” (I think not.)
John Jennings wonders, “If Captain America were in Ferguson…” (He’s already there.)
The current real world manifestation of Captain America is a resident of Ferguson whose name I don’t know but whose Twitter ID is @eyeFLOODpanties. [UPDATE, 24 Aug. 2014: His name is Edward Crawford. He’s featured in an Aug. 24th article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.] Judging by a pair of artistic renderings of this fellow, he might be on his way to becoming a comic book character.*
It’s easy enough to make the link between this young man and Captain America based on what he wears in the photo, but there’s more to this than mere appearance.
When I think about Captain America and Ferguson, Missouri, (or Palestine, or Iraq, or Syria, or Myanmar, or anywhere oppression rules) I ask myself, “Who would Captain America raise his shield to defend?” I also think about the unfulfilled promise of our nation, and how racism was written into its founding documents. I think about how Captain America isn’t an expression of America as it is, or even of the American myth of exceptionalism, but of an America that has only ever existed in the minds and hearts of those who have laid themselves bare in pursuit of liberty and justice for all, including some who, like Malcolm X, have paid the final price in doing so.
For the moment, Captain America lives in Ferguson, Missouri. He has no shield to raise, (unless you consider a bag of Red Hot Riplets a sufficient substitute) but he is doing what I think Captain America would do; defending the citizens of Ferguson, demanding justice of the oppressors.
Addendum, 5 May 2017: Protester featured in iconic Ferguson photo found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wound
* – I don’t know who to credit the two artistic renderings of Robert Cohen’s photo to. I simply ran across them on the ‘net and was unable to discover more about them. If you know where those images come from, please feel free to note any attributions in the comments and I will amend the post. Thanks!