Luke Cage

My partner and I started watching Luke Cage this week and, like all Netflix/Marvel collaboration, I am really enjoying it. It is well written, the effects are well done, and the acting is phenomenal. But, there is something about it that is lurking in the back of my  mind. I am a white person and the show is clearly focused on black culture, specifically in Harlem, and that makes me a little uncomfortable.

I’m not uncomfortable with exploring other cultures, but there is a history in the US of white people getting rich off of black culture or reducing it to stereotypes. I wonder if that is happening here. I don’t think it is, but that feeling in the back of my head exists because I will never know what it is really like to be black. I can continue to read W.E.B. duBois, Malcolm X, bell hooks, Octavia Butler, and Booker T. Washington to try and understand, but I will always be outside the window peering in.

Actually, no, not even that. I’m sitting in a house three blocks away with a telescope looking in and trying to understand. I will get a clearer picture with time and better equipment, but I’ll never truly understand that culture that I’m observing. I think that is okay, though, I’ll never understand what it is like to be a white male from Appalachia, a women (despite reading Hillbilly Elegy and The Feminine Mystique).  I’ll never fully understand, but I can take the time to learn about other cultures in order to become a better, more loving and accepting person, which naturally makes me view popular renditions of other cultures more skeptically. Is what I’m watching accurate or is it exploitative?

With Luke Cage, I don’t know. The banter in the barber shop, the books being discussed, the language exchanged between strangers and friends, and decorations around the venues are all quite foreign to me, but I don’t know if that is a sign of accuracy or just stereotyping. Is that Harlem, or just what I expect Harlem to be?

The optimist in me sees the nearly all black cast (I don’t think a white person has shown up yet, even in the background, but there have been some Hispanic cast members) and relatively high number of black writers and producers and hopes for the best.

I’m no expert, these are just my random thoughts and concerns while watching it.


We’ve traveled through 19 states and countless cities now, and in some of those areas being white made us stand out. As I’m typing this I am at a home in a historically black neighborhood and we are the only white people I’ve seen in the surrounding blocks. I’m going to be honest during this post, even if I feel a little shame for my feelings.

There are times I felt uncomfortable biking or walking around certain neighborhoods. I have no logical reason to believe I was in any danger or that anyone wanted to harm me, quite to opposite really. But, when you are walking through a neighborhood and you stand out because of your race it can be somewhat unnerving. Particularly when the cultural norms are so different than what you are used to. I never grew up in a neighborhood where dozens of people hung out on the street throughout the day and night playing music. I’m not used to seeing my neighbors.

I don’t want to be nervous in places where I’m different. I’m feel shame when I recognize this feeling because I know it is irrational, but in a lot of ways society has reinforced these feelings. We’ve met several people on our bike ride who have warned us about going into non-white areas because “you better have a gun” or “some people will attack white people just for being white”. This goes directly against facts, but the fear can still plant seeds in your mind.

In fact, the only time we have ever been directly threatened or had people treat us poorly was a group of white people in North Dakota. Every other person we’ve encountered has been incredibly friendly, even when they are baffled by what we are doing. I recognize that two vegans travelling by bicycle with their dog and a solar system stereotypically falls firmly in the category “shit white people do”.

I want to get over the nervousness and the internalized knee-jerk reaction when I’m in an unfamiliar place. I realize I shouldn’t be naive, but in the United States there are very few places that are truly dangerous to us. Violent crime is super rare. I guess the best option is to keep going places that are new, expose myself to the true people and cultures of this country, and not beat myself up too badly. My first thought might be “uh oh, this place might be dangerous because I’m white”, but my second thought that occurs when my logic kicks in is “fuck that noise, this place is fine. Stop stereotyping. Everyone here is probably kind and friendly. Rarely does anyone want to hurt a stranger”. And, hopefully, it is the second thought that is more important.