That Black Manta episode was a mess. I’m sorry, but that’s my true feeling. I don’t mean that from a production standpoint (thought that can always be better), or a preparation standpoint (ditto), but there was so much irritability on my part. It couldn’t be helped. For a character that I didn’t grow up with, in a comic series I barely acknowledge, the guy really sparked something in my psyche. I didn’t expect that, and my candor came through more than anticipated. This post is stream of conscience continuation. Let’s see where it leads:
-Is it me, or was the original idea of an Arch-Nemesis without a backstory the best way to handle Black Manta? The ocean is vast, mysterious, with a singular empire that has managed to tame it with the exception of some unknown scoundrel who has an ax to grind with its ruler. Simple, no? But it was the zeitgeist of civil rights, black power, and Bob Haney had the idea to incorporate some of that tension into the writing. Let me make it clear, I’m NOT against timely cultural and political references. Just do it in a manner that does the conflict justice. The heavier the topic, the greater the need for finesse. It’s a paradox.
-I made an ending joke in the episode about changing my name, which evoked the expected awkward response from Anthony. In the moment, I did it for a lark. Hindsight proves to be a wise teacher, and a source of something that I keep close to the vest. I am a black doctor. I don’t think people realize what that means. I feel like I’m a rare species sometimes. There’s plenty to unpack. I am proud of my family for molding me into the man I’ve become. They’re not doctors. My hospital experiences were my own; I barely stepped foot in one only to visit family on rare occasions before that. And yet, while in medical school, I got the sense that the students around me felt like they were supposed to be there. I grinned ear-to-ear during the introductory ceremony (white coat ceremony…hmm…), but after that, I had the sense that I needed to prove I belonged. To whom? Myself, mostly, but…some standard? I was scared people would consider me sub-par. As if Affirmative Action was a major factor in my success. But wait, even if it were, why would that matter? As long as I passed, I was an MD. But if I barely passed, was I a bad doctor? There were other black doctors in my class, should I make it my focus to affiliate with them? I have all sorts of friends from different backgrounds, and at times felt excluded from black social circles. Was it my awkward nature? Did it have to do with my white best friends? Why did any of that have to matter?
-What does this have to do with Black Manta? It’s because he’s proven to be powerful, cunning, ambitious, and intelligent. My own self deprecation disavows most of those comparisons for me, except intelligence. That’s the thing that I figured would help me survive in life. Not succeed…survive. I developed a sense in my life that certain parts of my biological makeup increased my risk of dying younger than those around me. I apologize for codifying what I mean, but the audience reading this should get it. Alright, I’ll say it. In this world, I figured you can be smart, black, and opinionated. Pick 2 of the 3 to maximize your survival (oops, can’t unpick one!). As I read more Aquaman content, I wondered if a character like Manta struggles with any of this. Atlanteans have a certain style to them. Would a different approach have worked? They hate outsiders. I mean…HATE. At no point did I truly think it was based on race, but…you have an inflammatory outsider spouting dreams of taking over your world, and a violent streak to match. You don’t get much experience with others like him, and he clearly has no plan to negotiate. How well would that work out? At its worst in our society, we get riots. At its best, we honor a man who in his own time was an extremist and is now the poster child of peaceful protest decades after he is murdered.
-This is going to be posted during Black History Month. I did not plan that.
-I used to say that I have never been a direct victim of racism, and it gave me comfort in an uncomfortable society. Sure, I’ve been exposed to racial slurs against me, or people asking for a different doctor, even the nice-but-racist scenario of an elderly woman calling me “such a nice negro.” But my experience changed when a patient randomly assaulted me. To be fair, they were delusional and clearly unstable, which is why I hold no ill will. The fact remains that their delusion involved the need to retaliate against a black gang. I never threw back. A small part of me wishes I did, but a larger part is thankful I didn’t. I wonder what Black Manta would have done. Wait, no I don’t, because we know what he would have done. But if he had examples like me (I definitely see the look of wonder and awe in some African-American patients’ eyes) would he have turned out that way? What if I didn’t have the example of Dr. Daniel Williams as a child…would I have been like Black Manta?
-Oh no. I just came full circle. I chastised the decision to create a race based backstory, then incorporated the premise into why his character speaks to me. It’s complicated.
-For those wondering when this post veers towards the nuanced discussion of Autism Spectrum Disorder…not at the moment. In an effort to provide some greater benefit, I’ll shill for my wife’s favorite charity Autism Speaks. We participate in the local annual walk and she’s a fantastic fundraiser.
Go to the Autism Speaks Website to learn to your heart’s content, and do what you can.
I’m not sure how much of this made sense. I feel better now that I’ve written it. No wonder I consider journaling to be a worthwhile therapeutic exercise.