“What if a white guy played Black Panther?”: The Fake Concern of Fake Geek Guys

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Whenever I talk about racebending as a concept when it comes to comics and comics-related properties, smartasses always show up to say something snarky like “what if Black Panther or some other Black hero were a white guy”.

They crowd into my mentions or any comment field they can get a hold of, trying to shout down my commentary by insisting that they’ve finally found the one way to get one over on supporters of racebending.

It’s supposed to be the kind of comment that leaves Black comic fans stumbling around in a haze formed by our hypocrisy (because if we don’t want characters of color whitewashed, we shouldn’t keep pushing for white characters to be racebent).

The “What if a white actor was cast as Black Panther/Luke Cage/Storm” question is the fakest of Fake Geek Guy questions for multiple reasons, and a racist comment at that, but here’s another thing the comment shows: that the person making it doesn’t know anything about history in our world.

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We know what Black Panther would be like if he were a white ruler of an African country or tribe because that kind of “hero” has already existed.

He would be like Tarzan.

He would be like Sheena: Queen of the Jungle.

A white Black Panther would be reminiscent of countless other colonialist and imperialist fantasies (where white colonizers rule supposedly savage African countries and villages) that have been a part of fiction for ages. However, we’ve also seen them in history.

Multiple times over multiple centuries.

Or did you all somehow not know that King Leopold II and Léon Rom were real people rather than just villains in The Legend of Tarzan?

And it wouldn’t make a single lick of sense.

When fans of color hypothesize what a white legacy character would be like as a character of color, they put work into it. Sometimes, they put more work into the logistics of racebending characters in fandom/fanon than the actual casting directors do when they racebend characters or make a white hero’s successor a character of color.

For instance, fans of color have long since figured out that racebending Tony Stark isn’t as simple as “now he’s a Black billionaire” because Tony Stark basically does profit from his whiteness and his wealth in conjunction with one another. There’s reworking to be done to take his history of well… kind of being a war profiteer into consideration too.

And I’ve seen people do it!

I’ve seen folks headcanon Steve Rogers America to be Black or Native American (I’ve seen amazing Navajo and Ojibwe fancasts/fanart for Steve before) and they took the US’ history of attempted genocide, enslavement, and beyond unethical medical experimentation into consideration. These fan casts ask “What would Captain American be like if he was set to fight for a country that dehumanized and tried to destroy his people?”.

They dig deep.

In contrast, when we’re talking about racebending and some rando shows up to try and derail with the “what if Black Panther was white comment”, you can see that they haven’t thought about things beyond their attempts to silence someone they see as a Social Justice Warrior.

They haven’t thought about what whitewashing the ruler of an independent African nation would mean or how decades of stories about his people and his Blackness would literally stop making sense by casting Tom Cruise or whoever in the role.

A white Black Panther would be more of the same colonialist and imperialist violence, a colonialist and imperialist ruler lording it over a previously unsubjugated African nation.

In a similar vein, a white Luke Cage would never be in the position the character has been put in by systemic racism. Making him white would literally erase his motivations and would probably make him a gentrifier in Harlem.

A white Blade would be a regular character on Buffy or Supernatural.

More of the freaking same…

Characters of color are almost always linked to their ethnicity and heritage in a way that they can’t (and shouldn’t) be divorced from.  Black Panther has to be Black. Kamala Khan has to be Pakistani-American. Jaime Reyes has to be Mexican American.

You can’t separate them from their heritage because it makes up so much of who they are and the significance of their very existence.

On the other hand, the only white characters that absolutely have to be white are white supremacists. No joke. Because Whiteness isn’t automatically inherent  in superheroes — not even billionaires like Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne.

Unless you think billionaires of color are more unrealistic than overpowered superheroes… and then you’ve got a big problem to take care of.

Let’s talk about how fans of color and creators working on diversity by racebending existing white characters have to make our ideas make sense in order for these Fake Geek Boys (and the heads of Hollywood studios) to take us seriously. We can’t racebend on the fly without getting shit.

We research.

We plan.

We rewrite.

Because if something doesn’t match, if it’s not “historically accurate”, we’re torn to shreds over details.

White people asking those insipid “what ifs” about existing characters if color being turned white don’t actually care about them. So they don’t realize that what they think is a real big win for their side (by fans rejecting a whitewashed T’challa) just shows how little they know of how the world or fiction work.

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But hey, if you’re a Fake Geek Guy still “just wondering” what would happen if we got a white Black Panther, let me help you out with that:

Not only would this guy just be a bad joke and an obvious usurper to the throne of Wakanda, but he’d quickly be deposed and assassinated.

Because that’s what’d happen to any white guy that tried to take the throne of Wakanda.


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