The Problem with Danny Rand is more that just the White Savior Trope

Before I even started watching Marvel’s The Iron Fist, I’d heard murmurs of its controversy and read a few reviews, most of which talked about Danny Rand’s peak white saviorness. They made some valid points, but I’m less interested in the white savior trope itself, and more concerned with the show’s real problem: Danny Rand embodies the worst of white folks. Danny Rand is the know nothing, do nothing, say nothing pertinent or nuanced white boy who sits on his laurels while everyone else is busting their ass and then hops in with some weak ass “wisdom” for the masses with his sole qualification being that he is Danny Rand–which of course he aims to prove after fifteen years of absence simply by repeating over and over again that he is Danny Rand and telling people a wild ass story he can’t even prove.

I gotta talk about the scene where he’s in Colleen Wing’s dojo (after breaking and entering, mind you, it’s not his first time, because he stalked Joy and broke into her house too) and he walks in on the students practicing. First off, there are two black students and they’re both shitty stereotypes. One is what Jerrod Carmichael might call “saveable,” or what Chris Rock might call a “Black person” as opposed to a “nigga”: you know, well behaved but from a broken home, has promise, but does some shady stuff (cage fighting) in order to help out his impoverished family. The other black kid is the class clown jokester monkey type and oh my fucking god, Danny actual calls the class monkeys when he walks in on them–the black kid goofing around up front. Then he proceeds to show them how kung fu is really done, and when the kids laugh at him, he brutally knocks the negro jester to the ground with a practice sword. Nerver mind that this is as fierce as he gets in the whole damn show, since he, the Iron Fist, gets taken down by two fuckin orderlies in a psych hospital (a completely wasted and empty sequence of events to begin with). Colleen Wing comes in and rightfully asks him what the fuck he is doing and tells him to leave and he’s like “what? Come on.”

For real?

Danny is just strolling around New York with no shoes and no purpose, telling everyone how he’s the shit and getting manhandled by orderlies while taking his anger out on black teenagers with a side of mansplaining to Colleen Wing, an Asian woman who dedicates her fucking life to teaching kung fu–who also has the best fight scenes in the show by the way, in those cage matches–about Kung Fu. Get the fuck outta here son. The fact that he’s completely humorless and doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything other than his father’s legacy makes it even more disgusting. Colleen Wing calls him out on his pretentiousness, saying that “being a millionaire gets you a lot huh,” and what does he say? “Billionaire,” without a hint of self-awareness, irony or humor, and drops the mic.

All of these things are not necessarily problems with the fact that Danny is white, but that he’s the quentissential shitty, hyper entitled white boy with no charisma who not only demands a seat at the table, but wants to be the head of that motherfucker. He is the case study for white male hegemony. He is the white person that POC complain about when we broadly say “white people.” And what we are too fucking tired of, is the success of this bland ass, stale ass Wonderbread model of storytelling. I think focusing on just the fact that Danny is white can be problematic. Personally, I don’t give a fuck. My closest friend is a white boy (see what I did there?). David Remnick is a white boy who wrote two awesome books about some of the most famous Black people ever. Aesop Rock is a white boy who is fucking murdering the rap game, and so is El P as part of RTJ. Kurt Vonnegut and George Saunders are both white boys whose work I have read every single inch of thrice over. But you know what the difference is between them and Danny? All of these people are putting in the fucking work. Doing the reading, the learning, the obsessing over details, the thinking, the introspection, while Danny Rand is sitting with his palms open waiting for the world to drop in them shits and mad as hell when it doesn’t.

Danny Rand’s character, in this here 2017, wants us to not only to accept, but to praise his peak entitled, dumb white boy ass based solely on his lack of melanin, his daddy’s money and because he said so. That’s it. Danny can take several fucking seats, in Ku’n-Lun, in New York, on Netflix and wherever the fuck else.

What Does it Take to be Lonesome?

When the Backstreet Boys sang, “show me the meaning of being lonely,” circa 1999, I was eleven years old, reaching out to the television screen where they all unite at the end of the video in the street, neck muscles straining, singing, “there’s something missing in my heart.”

I know, I thought. I know. The Backstreet Boys were talking to me in code, and I couldn’t talk back. There was a virulent strain of heartlessness infecting the males in my community that, to my dismay, had missed me; I only understood it externally, under its code name: toughness. Or more precisely, everything I wasn’t, everything that embodies monolithic Black male masculinity. I had only then realized that part of my loneliness was due to this lack. I began consciously shedding what was left of my thin skin. I tried my best to quit or conceal things I’d ever been called a faggot or a girl for: reading, writing, drawing, thinking, listening to any music artist who wasn’t Black, being nice to anyone, not getting any pussy, crying, playing any games except sports, etc. In some ways it worked; I got into a few fights/suspensions, cursed easy targets like my mother and grandmother, I responded to sadness with anger instead of tears, rubbed some lady parts (consensually, I’m not the president), and kept secret my otaku tendencies.

By the time I met people who I felt like I could be a human with, namely Ryan and Terrell, then, maybe a handful of people in high school, it was an entirely new adjustment, one I had to weigh the worth of. Still, there always felt like there was a layer I wasn’t getting at, or couldn’t get to with anyone. I tried to find it in women, though that manifested physically, and often with disastrous results…

I never expected though, to feel less lonely in the military. People say it all the time sure, that “unbreakable bonds are forged in combat,” but that always sounded silly, and oversimplified to me. Moreover, I wouldn’t even consider my own Iraq tour, or my military experience in general to be combat; I’ve felt more at risk, physically and mentally, growing up. Sure, a few people died or got blown up, but only the method of violence was new. I had already had a gun drawn on me plenty of times, been beaten bloody, and niggas were getting shot in Philly at record numbers. One summer while I was in Baghdad I joked with friends about how much safer I felt there than at home. Violence, or potential for such aside, the military does force us in some way–regardless of how averse we may be to it–to share some form of group identity.

That identity might not be that of the hyper-patriotic idiot who believes that killing “sand niggers” is the only way to ensure his country’s freedom, but it will be one that subjugates the rigor of placing personal identity first, for the comfort, defense, support, or otherwise existence of the group. You could be the group who spends all their time bullshiting at the smoke pit, the soldiers who spend every second of downtime at the gym, the gang playing Call of Duty and Halo like it’s life, or the niggas who smoke Philly blunts in front of their CHUs while saying nigga more than anyone you’ve ever known and for some reason wear du-rags in country, sup Burris.

Whatever group one ends up in, it’s rare not to be in arm’s reach of another person, or to essentially be wed to some larger identity for survival that thrives on even the most minute cooperation. In such intensely molded, selected, then re-molded groups, there is a unique opening for vulnerability. Such safety and dependency on daily living feels like the most natural state of existence. It wasn’t until reading Sebastian Junger’s piece “The Bonds of Battle,” that I could relate that truth to everything outside of the military, and to my own generalized loneliness. Junger speaks specifically about managing PTSD, but instead of approaching the problem on an individual level, he considers the lacking connectivity of our society as a whole to be the problem. It is well documented that when soldiers say they miss war or the military, they are talking about the bonds they’ve made with other soldiers. The problem here (and with Junger’s re-printed title in Best American Essays 2016) is the assumption that these bonds rely on intensely violent circumstances.

By using anthropological, psychological and historical lenses, Junger positions certain aspects of military life–and other tightly communal practices–as simply superior, in a social sense, to the competitive, individualistic, market-driven, and plainly selfish existence that we now live in. It isn’t just the soldiers who need to adjust and be treated for anxiety and depression, it’s our society itself, running rampant with mental health issues not unlike those seen in PTSD that needs to be better.

There are complications of course; I think that on examining myself–as one does when writing a memoir–two things become a clearer source of fury: shallow connections, whereby say, an individual professes infinite love and closeness and demands reciprocity, yet I still feel like we are strangers; and–this one could in some ways be a millennial thing–but overt acknowledgement for passive actions. The former, exacerbated by knowing what it’s really like to feel close to someone, occurs most often with dating, where my partner’s version of closeness likely mirrors society’s view on partnerships, which is to say, comparatively empty to what I desire, satisfied mostly by being in the same room with the other person; this only serves to intensify loneliness. The latter, overt acknowledgement for passive actions, might be less obvious. This is the minor favor or polite courtesy scenario: anything from door holding to errands. While I tend to subconsciously hold doors for people or do a favor and not consider it a big deal, I forget too often that other people do. One time a man was holding the door for several people leaving the laundromat, including me, and as I walked through I was talking to Jojo and he said “what the fuck, you not even gonna say thank you?”

I didn’t notice what he said until later, because any time I hold a door–a task which requires nothing real from me, for which I expect nothing in return–I’m thinking about something else entirely and who knows what the people say who walk through, or if they say anything. This gets exacerbated though, consider the stereotype that military people do anything for each other. That shit is mostly true, not that you would do anything for anyone that you’ve met in the military, fuck that. It stems from this intense unification, where at times, you literally treat those other people (at least who you consider part of your group) as if they were you. Whether that gets into watching each other’s kids and pets; driving thousands of miles on a whim; loaning money, cars, or homes; whatever, depends on the group and doesn’t in any way, at least to me, feel like an inconvenience, or even something I consciously think about. Still, I need to work on balancing out how/when such things might feel extenuating to other people.

Just this one Jung essay drudged up a ton of shit for me to think about, like all good writing should. So, back to reading his most recent book, hoping it’ll contribute to the memoir as well as the working novel: God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer.

Pokemon, Go

The summer before high school, I fell in love. First of all, with Benny’s; it was a card shop on Torresdale Ave, half a block from where Jonathan had by then moved. It was the first public place where I wasn’t nervous. He and I spent much of our days talking to the shop’s owner–a benevolent old white man with a strong mustache–who’d probably been in the card game before we were born. He’d trafficked in athletic cards at first, mostly baseball, and they were plastered over the walls in the tiny space, with more valuable ones in the glass cases that circled the room. Jonathan and I weren’t collecting sports cards though; Pokemon was the game. Well, at least collecting was because no one actually battled with them correctly. There was just this vague dominance one could achieve by having the Pokemon with the most hit points, or ones that were more rare.

I, personally, was obsessed with dragon Pokemon, of which there were too few in the first 150; I’ve held on bitterly to that critique of the franchise for quite some time. One day after Jonathan and I had gathered some money, either from twenty dollar weekly allowances or from mowing the grass at Lustrik Corp., enough to buy a few packs, I opened my first one to find a holographic Dragonite. I had never been that happy, and as that fat little dragon sparkled in the sunlight from the windows I considered I might not ever be that happy again. The crowd of nerds whispering to each other perked up and rejoiced. It was the equivalent of scoring a touchdown in the real world, or hitting the game winning shot. And then a Black boy who’d been skulking by the door snatched the card and bolted.

I was angry at myself first. Why hadn’t I guessed it? I’d had bikes and shit stolen before, money snatched, trick-or-treat bags grabbed, wrapped presents transported to the pawn shop. If I’d have been able to read that kid–the only other Black kid in the shop–I might have held onto that card. Instead, I froze. Jonathan swung the door open after them, until he looked at me. Standing there stiff and about to cry. I was sure the other kids in the store found me pathetic. I was the inverse of all the assumptions about being big and Black, especially when plastered against a White background. This moment of weakness would hold me back later, when learning how to play basketball. Even though I might have been intimidating a second ago, I began weeping as if I would die. It wasn’t even about the card itself anymore, I just wanted something that no one else could take. Benny himself tried to comfort me, but I shrugged him off. I fled the shop and ran home. Sprinted. I was furious and I couldn’t figure out what else to do.

The first working definition I had of insanity was doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result and there I was. Even though I had been in this situation a thousand times before, it never really hit me though until that day. Groundhog Day. Crying at some sleight from the outside world and I’d come home for comfort. Why? I knew every possible outcome, none of them favorable: sissy, faggot, punk, stop crying amidst a flurry of other epithets–none of which I found very original–so what was the point? If I’d learned to read into these situations sooner, and better, I wouldn’t even be dealing with it then. I decided not to say anything; my problems were my business from then on.

I wiped my tears and went to play Zelda: Ocarina of Time; last I remembered, I was stuck at the bottom of that god damn Water Temple, and Navi was telling me a bunch of useless shit, so I ignored her. On my first try, without really thinking about it, I pulled the temple’s levers in the right order to manipulate the water level and make it to the boss. Sure, the fight was an adrenaline rush, but it wasn’t much of a challenge. The only reason my heart raced was because I didn’t want to do the Water Temple platforming again. When it was over, and the goofy amoeba thing shriveled up and drained the pool, I was awarded a water medallion. That’s it. Link looked excited but I was kind of like, meh. What was I supposed to do with it?