Luke Cage: Flipping The Script On Racial Politics

Luke Cage: Flipping The Script On Racial Politics

Positive representations can be a powerful thing.
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Last night I finished the last episode of "Luke Cage" on Netflix, and I must say, it was a fantastic show. I loved the theme song, the intro, the characters, and particularly the role selection. The power dynamic between the characters was very interesting, but for this article I will be focusing on the representations of race, gender, and power.

Upon my first impression of the show, I was very intrigued with the representations of race. The entire first part is about Carl Lucas coming to be in the Seagate prison, where he is reborn into Luke Cage. In stark contrast to the daily realities of millions of incarcerated black persons in America, Luke Cage comes out as a new man who is basically like the Harlem Superman. In light of all of the recent police shootings, this show is quite an act of social commentary by Marvel. Every major character in Luke Cage is a person of color, and those who are in power in the police force are women of color. This is in stark contrast with the majority of television shows, which show predominantly white narratives.

Allusions to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter become apparent in "Luke Cage" through the use of constitutive rhetoric, which describes the capacity for symbols to create a collective identity for the audience, especially by means of symbols, literature, and narratives. In the case of "Luke Cage", the symbols are woven throughout the narrative structure. Like I said before, our hero starts in a prison where he is reborn into a superhero. This is a significant shift in the way in which people describe prisons. "Luke Cage" functionally flips the script on traditional narratives of the plight of black men in America, because prison gave him new life. Other symbols that are frequently used are things like hoodies and police violence. As Renaldo Matadeen points out, “The writers didn’t mince their words when it came to the issue of racism. Black Lives Matter was at the forefront throughout, especially with the less-than-subtle, yellow-tinged hoodie Cage wore, which became a symbol of resisting systematic oppression when the cops were unjustly hunting him; a clear tribute to Trayvon Martin.”

The hoodie has been recognized as a symbol in specific communities as a specific identity but, more importantly, it has become associated with resisting systematic oppression. This symbol is exemplified by the violence that Luke Cage endures throughout the show, most notably when he is shot by the police in multiple episodes. After each incident, Cage goes about his business without so much as a scratch on his body. All that is left of the violence that clings to Cage are the holes in his hoody. As the storyline progresses, you will start to notice (in one of the episodes) that the people on the street are wearing hoodies with “bullet holes” in them. This symbol is significant because Cage became a weapon against unfair distributions of power. The people on the street no longer had to fear being shot by the police, because the police had to answer to Luke Cage.

Finally, I appreciate the fact that Netflix represented a diverse group of people in a unique way. The show does not show the black community as a monolith, but rather as a very expansive culture with differing views. More specifically, "Luke Cage" represents women of color very positively. As D. Watkins puts it,

“The writers did an amazing job of highlighting all these realities, with black women taking on a diverse assortment of leading roles and being just as if not more important than Cage at times. The strength, power and brilliance of black women are too often ignored and I’m glad those layers are highlighted in this show. Simone Missick plays Detective Misty Knight as the best cop in Harlem, the only officer capable of finding truth; she’s confident, ethical and intelligent. Alfre Woodard plays Mariah Dillard with those same strong leadership qualities, but as a gangster politician on a path to domination.”

These sorts of power dynamics are not typically represented by mainstream television, but now that Marvel is opening up new avenues it will be interesting to see where this will lead. For now, I am going to go back and watch "Luke Cage" for a second time.

Cover Image Credit: Current Hollywood

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'As A Woman,' I Don't Need To Fit Your Preconceived Political Assumptions About Women

I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.

As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.

"As a woman…"

This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"

Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.

To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.

It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."

That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.

We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?

As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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My Small Town Upbringing Taught Me To Accept Everyone As They Are, Regardless Of Color Or Creed

We were all friends and it really didn't matter who identified as what or who was what color because we didn't see any of that, it just didn't matter.

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I know a lot of people say that once you go to college you'll never want to come back home. I thought I was going to be that person for sure, but I was wrong. It's common for people to get a little homesick while they're staying away at school, but the stigma that college makes you forget about where you come from still exists. I've always been one of those people that think, no matter what, you should NEVER forget about where you came from. Where you come from determines a lot about who you are as an individual and plays a part in where you may be now. Whether you're in school, in the workforce, or joined the military, it's crucial to remember your roots.

I come from a textbook definition smalltown, called Palmyra. When I say "textbook definition," I mean the everybody-knows-everybody kind of town where you are recognized as "So and so's son/daughter." Most of my family members went to my town's high school, so I was known in that school before I even went there. I graduated with less than 70 kids (yes, really) who I've pretty much gone to school with since I was in kindergarten. So, it's safe to say that my town is pretty small and my description of my town as being "textbook definition small town" is accurate.

When I came to Rutgers University, I knew it was big, but I did not let my "small-town mentality" get in the way of adapting to my new life here. In fact, I could not wait to come to Rutgers and start somewhere new. I could not wait to escape my town. I needed to get away. Everyone always told me that as soon as I went away to school, I would never want to come back. I surely thought the same way, but I can honestly say that those people and myself, were wrong. I have never appreciated being from Palmyra more than I do now.

Although I graduated with such a small amount of kids, a lot of us were like family. And because of that, none of us realized our differences. I'm not saying that we were all the same because that's far from the truth. However, because we were such a tight-knit class, we never really experienced any diversity issues. I'm sure a lot of people say the same about their town because everyone likes to look past the issues, but Palmyra really did not have any exclusivity. Even teachers from Palmyra would say all the time that the kids from Palmyra High School are just simply nice. We aimed to include everyone because each other was all that we had and it's pretty much all we knew.

We were all friends and it really didn't matter who identified as what or who was what color because we didn't see any of that, it just didn't matter.

We all realized that not many kids can say they know every single kid they graduated with, so we took our size, which many people would view as a downfall, and we ran with it… we made it something BIG.

You would think that coming from such a small town, you wouldn't experience any diversity. Comparably, you would think that going to such a big university, like Rutgers, you would experience diversity in all aspects of your education. Surprisingly enough, that's not true. It seems as though Rutgers tries almost too hard to push the diversity aspect that it just draws attention to the fact that many students at Rutgers come from many different races and ethnicities, which ultimately gives kids the incentive to break off into their familiar groups. We acknowledge the fact that physically we are diverse, but in actuality, the groups formed among the study body do not mingle.

A lot of kids that go to Rutgers are not used to being exposed to such diversity.

For example, many kids I have talked to at Rutgers came from schools where they graduated with hundreds and hundreds of kids and a lot of those kids experienced things that I could never relate to. I had one friend tell me that kids at his school used to have parties where only the white kids would go and other parties only the black kids would go because that's just how their school was. The black kids typically hung out with other black kids and the white kids typically hung out with other white kids. Or there are some kids here that I have talked to that said their school was predominately one thing or the other. In Palmyra, we're made up of everything. Not even race-wise, but with anything. We all just hung out together and no one seemed to think twice about it.

It's crazy to me that even with such small numbers, Palmyra kids were exposed to so much.

Most people, when I tell them my class size, react in almost a disgusted way, as if my town being small was a disadvantage. But, as I compare some of my experiences with others at Rutgers, it seems as though my small number has a lot more than other people's big numbers. This is not to say that Palmyra is better than anywhere else, but I feel as though being from a small town is looked down upon when it needs to be glorified for all that it is. With such small numbers, we managed to form a family that is not split apart by our obvious differences. Everyone found their niche and felt comfortable being in their own skin. Being at Rutgers, I recognize things about my personality and the way I view things that can be attributed back to my small town upbringing

Even though our numbers are small, our views aren't. So, to my palmyra fam, or any small town people who can relate, never forget your small town roots. You'll be thankful for them when you realize that big things can come in small packages. And, as cliche as it is to say, there really is no place like home.

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