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Friday
Mar042016

Firestorm: A Microcosm of Oppression in DC's "Legends of Tomorrow"

I began watching DCs Legends of Tomorrow over the weekend. I was a little behind so I marathoned the first four episodes and in general I enjoyed it. However, the relationship dynamics between Jefferson Jackson (So, you decided to name your only black character after two American presidents. Did they have to be slave owning presidents? What’re you trying to say, DC?) and Dr. Stein; the two halves of Firestorm have left my panties bunched.  

In the first episode, Dr. Stein attempts to convince Jefferson to accompany him on this adventure of time travel and glory. Jefferson is adamant about not going; he doesn't want to leave his mother nor his job as car mechanic. Dr. Stein, seemingly crestfallen, acquiesces to Jefferson's wishes and pours a drink as a parting gift. Jefferson downs the liquor without hesitation and immediately loses consciousness. Funny faces and light music play this moment for comedic effect. I was disturbed but thought perhaps this could be forgiven considering this is a comic book reality filled with super powers and outsized personalities. Perhaps this was a hurdle and not a red flag, but when our unconventional group enters the time ship, we see Jefferson's limp body strapped in and unconscious. It’s sickening.

After regaining consciousness, Jefferson seems to be in a rather good mood for someone who was just forcibly kidnapped and forced to travel to the past as a black man (Time travel is a white privilege). Jefferson is always willing to help Dr. Stein and the team out to stop Vandal Savage from destroying the Earth. You begin to wonder if how he ended up there bothers him at all.

That is until episode four when Jefferson finally confronts Dr. Stein about the using him as a life support system, kidnapping him from his life and family, and treating him like a child.  As Jefferson talks about how his mother must be feeling, her child mysteriously vanishing, and how he enjoyed his career as a car mechanic, Dr. Stein condescends to him, scoffing at his idea of life, calling Jefferson selfish for worrying about his mother when the lives of everyone on earth are in peril. He tells Jefferson he’s being “immature.” He speaks to Jefferson as if he is a child, his child, which Jefferson quickly picks up on and asks him not to do.

When Jefferson finally exits, sick of Dr. Stein’s behavior, Dr. Stein then turns towards The Atom/Ray Palmer and tries to explain his motivations behind his horrible and hurtful behavior. In this moment of vulnerability, he tells Ray that he had to hurt Jefferson's feelings; it was necessary that he belittle Jefferson’s life. He needed to paternalize Jefferson and tell him to put aside his selfish love for his mother in order to make him understand the importance of this mission. Tearing up, he confesses to a silent Ray that he would not be able to live with himself if he had to deliver the news of Jefferson’s death to his mother.

Never once apologizing for what he did, admitting that he was wrong, not realizing that the quandary he faces, bringing such devastating news to Jefferson’s mother all could have been avoided if he’d respected Jefferson wishes in the first episode.

It is well established that Dr. Stein is an arrogant know-it-all, and that's a perfectly decent character flaw. However, what Dr. Stein does to Jefferson is more than than a matter of unpleasant behavior, what Dr. Stein did to Jefferson is violence and abuse. It is a microcosm of white supremacist belief, privilege, and oppression.

And entitlement: Dr. Stein feels that he is entitled to Jefferson's body, consent be damned. Jefferson's life, his worries, loves, or cares, does not matter to Dr. Stein.  What matters to Dr. Stein is what Jefferson brings to Firestorm. Dr. Stein believes he has the right of access to Jefferson any time, any place, no matter what. Jefferson exists for the benefit of Dr. Stein and any work that Jefferson does that does not benefit Dr. Stein is not valued and is deemed worthless by Dr. Stein. And how dare Jefferson be upset about any of this. He should be in utter bliss being Firestorm and time traveling and potentially saving lives.

Dr. Stein’s treatment of Jefferson is another step in the tradition of how Whiteness, white supremacy and white privilege oppress black people, mentally and emotionally, and black bodies, physically. Jefferson is not asked nor thanked for his work in the same way that fashion trends or music created by black women are deemed worthless until those same trends are spotted on Kardashians or sung over rhythmless, languid notes. Your work, unless it services whiteness, is devoid of all value and is used against proof of your deserved oppression. If you dare to make anything for yourself or demand equal treatment, it is you who are oppressing. The work that black bodies produce only find wealth and legitimacy once they’ve been passed through white hands. Expressing your own personal autonomous right to exist without exploitation or molestation is anathema to whiteness as Jefferson’s displeasure is to Dr. Stein.

Throughout the series we see Jefferson merge with Dr. Stein multiple times to create Firestorm to assist in the defeat of Vandal Savage.  There is no mistake Jefferson understands there is a bigger picture.  However, when Dr. Stein stated that he had tried everything he could to get this message through to Jefferson, that wasn’t quite true. Dr. Stein tried everything except treating Jefferson like an equal whose thoughts and feelings are on par with his own. No, instead he treated Jefferson like a tool who should be happy in its usage. It is almost comical that Dr. Stein's name isn't Jefferson the way he treats his partner.

Lastly, I’m glad Carver is dead. I cannot take not another further person calling his Swedish tennis player white Jesus look-a-like ass being called ancient Egyptian prince “Kufu.” I WILL NOT TOLERATE IT!

 

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