Driving While Black

Captain America is the ideal American. That is the primary mantra that the creators seem to say about him. That he is an embodiment and living example of what every red blooded American should aspire to be. In essence, the best person he or she possibly can be. Before Cap was Cap, he was a small, underwhelming boy who was nothing less than desperate to serve his country. It was really just that simple. And complicated.

Enter S. H. I. E. L. D.

They convince poor Cap to do more and more. And to do it covertly. Cap often said to the baddies, “…these colors do not run. Why are you?!” But S. H. I. E. L. D. did it’s level best to get him to push the envelope of what is good and upright and discernibly honorable to the ideals of this great experiment we call The United States of America. What’s a boy to do? Well, C.A. did what he felt was best. He followed his own heart. It hasn’t led him wrong yet, right?

Now, I saw the movie ‘Winter Soldier’ and I truly enjoyed it. It was a fantastic example of great storytelling, even with loose plot lines and shaky camera shots meant to make the film more accessible. Those same camera shots actually just made me slightly nauseous. But I digress.

As I said, I truly enjoyed the movie. But while the cinematography was amazing. The explosions plentiful. The costumes extremely well designed. And acting very expertly on display. What caught my eye was the omnipresent character Samuel L. Jackson portrayed named Nick Fury. Not all of his scenes, mind you. But one in particular.

Fury was driving to meet an agent and she had three hours to join him. As he came to a halt at a red light on the streets of our nations Capitol, the cities finest rolled up next to him. They did not go unnoticed by Nick. He hazarded a glance to his right and saw them with shades on, eyeing him suspiciously. Nick gave them a double take. When they didn’t avert their obvious glare, Nick glared right back with his one good eye and said, “.. You want me to show you my lease agreement?”

Funny. But oh so very serious.

I won’t spoil the scene for you, but let me say this. The scene was most likely intended to simply break the tense mood while setting up an even more intense one. To break the high level of stress most movie goers likely are in at this point with a bit of levity. I too chuckled. Until I realized the gravity of what just transpired.

America had just been intimately introduced to a very well known, seldom seen and all too common incident of D.W.B. Driving While Black.

You see Fury was driving in a VERY well apportioned SUV. All black, big strong wheels, fully loaded in ways most folks cars never will be. Clearly the vehicle of a wealthy American with power and influence. A vehicle that said to all who looked upon it, I am what you wish you were. I have what you dream of. I am greater than who you think I am. And it is that image that didn’t sit well with those policemen when they saw the person making such a nonverbal argument was a black man. Not even a light skinned black man that they might have shook their heads at and rolled on. Thinking that “…the system just let one of them slip in..” No, this brother is dark. Strong. Self assured. Obviously affirmed by others. Carries gravitas and a rather large stick to go with whatever carrot he may or may not have.

The look on their faces registered disgust, disdain and extreme disappointment. All in one 3 second scene as they pulled off activating their roof lamps.

I think of all the black and brown men and women of America who have had similar encounters that didn’t go quite so smoothly because Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus didn’t write their screenplay. I choked back my laughter and found that long before the upcoming plot twist unfolded, I was suddenly very disturbed by what I had just witnessed. My heart was a slurry mixed with painful emotions, forced laughter and a sudden awareness that I was glad no other black folk saw (or worse) white folks noticed in that darkened theatre that a black man had just laughed at himself on screen. Had given utterance of laughter to a moment that actually truly hurt.

As a very prominent black man said fairly recently, “.. That could’ve been me.” I certainly did not expect to feel so moved watching a comic book movie. I didn’t expect to see myself on the screen. No. I knew I’d see black men on the screen. What I didn’t expect was to literally see myself up there. To feel immediate brotherhood with a man who wouldn’t know me if I shook his hand and offered him a gin and tonic. I suddenly realized that brother Malcolm X was as correct then as he is now.

“What do you call a black man with a PhD? A nigger.”

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