It’s time for the latest edition of “Say What?” Wednesday where I usually look at controversial comments made by celebrities, politicians, and anyone else in the public eye. This time around, I’d like to look at a cultural work so offensive that Marvel Comics addressed it in a comic book decades later. Comic books can be a great mirror of cultural values, but sadly, this mirror doesn’t always present a pretty picture. Case in point, the Golden Age comic book Young Allies which features arguably the most racist depiction of an African-American character in comic book history (although there are some other offensive candidates).
Young Allies was one of what seemed like 3,000,000 different comic books published during World War Two. Not every comic book could be a hit like Superman or Batman, but publishers were determined to try. Comic books provided a cheap form of entertainment for millions of readers, featuring often-fantastic characters and stories.
One set of popular characters was Timely Comics’ heroes Captain America, The Human Torch, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Like most heroes, Captain America and the Torch had teenage sidekicks (much as Batman’s Robin) with Bucky Barnes joining Captain America and Toro fighting alongside the Human Torch. With a policy of giving just about any title a try, Timely decided to publish a comic book featuring Bucky Barnes, Toro, and some allies of their own.
Unfortunately, one of them happened to be Whitewash Jones, a young African-American who even by early 1940s standards, was racist with a capital “R.” Don’t believe me? Let’s look at Mr. Jones’s introduction:
No, contrary to what you might believe, Mr. Jones’s super power wasn’t the ability to incorporate every racist stereotype of African-Americans (although the writers seem to have covered just about every single one in the popular imagination). No, Whitewash was just one of Bucky and Toro’s non-powered friends-he just happened to be as offensive as possible.
Thankfully, Marvel Comics would address the character decades later, revealing Whitewash Jones was an unauthorized depiction of a much-more heroic character, Washington Carver Jones. Back in the early 40s however, things were much different.
Naturally, such a depiction would never make it into today’s mainstream comic books, but that it once did is a reminder of past attitudes. The fact that something this offensive (even for the attitudes of the times) made it into comic books is a reminder of how much things have changed, but racist stereotypes persist and they should not go unanswered.