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The NY Times Wonders if White Kids Should be Allowed to Wear Black Panther Costumes


Black panther

NY TimesBlack Panther costumes — whether the character’s full raiment or just his claws and mask — are on toy store shelves (and, of course, on Amazon) in anticipation of the film’s Feb. 16 release. At best, the character get-ups speak to the enthusiastic embrace of a black superhero. At worst, they could be perceived as an unwitting form of cultural appropriation, which has in recent years become a subject of freighted discourse.

What does that dual significance mean for children? And, perhaps more urgently, what does it mean for the parents who will buy the costumes for them? …

Consequently, some parents have felt pressure to hammer home Black Panther’s heroism through the lens of race.
“I’m conflicted,” said Evan Narcisse, a senior writer for the website io9. …

“You want that white kid to be able to think that he can dress up in a Black Panther costume, because, to that kid, there’s no difference between Captain America and Black Panther,” Mr. Narcisse, 45, said. But, he added, it also involves “trying to explain what is special about T’Challa and Wakanda without racism. And it’s like, ‘Can’t do it.’ I couldn’t do it.” …

[Brigitte Vittrup, an associate professor of early childhood development and education at Texas Woman’s University] was careful to add that dressing as Black Panther isn’t inherently appropriative or offensive. The character comes from an invented African country, and to wear his mask isn’t quite the same as wearing blackface.

OK, well this is good to know. As a guy who is stoked to see Black Panther but whose sons are also past the age of wearing superhero costumes (except one. ‘Rah.), I’m glad those parents who have Caucasian kids who might be so inspired by T’Challa that they want to dress up like him will NOT be teaching them cultural appropriation. That an 8-year-old playing in a suit that gives superpowers to the fictional king and protector of a non-existent country invented by Stan Lee in the 1970s will NOT be committing a hate crime. And best of all, putting on the mask is, in fact, NOT the same as blackface. You moms and dads out there buying up this merchandise dodged a bullet there. Once you’ve got the coveted New York Times’ seal of approval and the OK from an associate professor from Texas Women’s University, you are all set. Your little child is NOT being a bigot.

Of course I can’t end this without being the one billionth person to point out Black Panther is not only the first black superhero to be in a movie – see Storm, War Machine, Falcon, Cyborg – he’s not even the first to get his own movie. That would be Blade who was awesome. And don’t forget about Shaq starring as Steel. On second thought, you should forget Steel because it was garbage. But don’t forget about Luke Cage, who’s not only had his own eponymous Netflix series but starred in Jessica Jones and Marvel’s Defenders.

Funny, I don’t ever remember these kinds of mealy-mouthed hand-wringing questions being asked when kids were buying their toys. Or wearing the jerseys and shoes of black athletes. Or the clothes and headphones of R&B stars. I guess the difference is, that merchandise came out before 2017-18.  Now the culture has gotten so toxic that once-proud news outlets are nervously sucking wind through their teeth and nervously delicate questions about whether little kids treating a fictional superhero like a fucking hero is somehow demonstrating hatred if said hero happens to be a different color than they are. But hey, at least you’re off the hook for Black Panther costumes. Just be careful going forward.