In its second episode, the new Marvel series showed how Walker is becoming a symbol, but not the one he thinks about.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2, “The Star Spangled Man.”]
At the end of the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the US government, instead of keeping Captain America’s shield at the Smithsonian, decided to simply launch a new Captain America, John Walker (Russell wyatt). The revelation directly contradicts Sam’s (Anthony Mackie) speech earlier in the episode when he says that symbols are nothing without the people who give them meaning. For the government, Captain America is simply a question of branding, so why not give the shield to another white, blond, blue-eyed boy and then say that the symbol is what they want it to be?
But as we saw in the second episode of the series, “The Star-Spangled Man,” we see that Walker is already turning into a different kind of symbol, one that neither he nor the government intended. The prologue to the episode emphasizes that Walker is, to all appearances, not a “bad boy.” He is humble, he is nervous about assuming the mantle of Captain America, but he believes that it is his duty to accept this new mission because the government said so. And when he does appear later in the episode, he seems quite sympathetic to the whole Captain America thing in trying to work with Sam and Bucky (Sebastian Stan). Also, how could John Walker be racist? He is working alongside his best black friend Lemar Hoskins (Bennett key).
The intelligence of this episode is that you have to look beyond what Walker is saying and what he is doing. Through his actions, we can see that Walker represents the banality of white supremacy. Too often, white supremacy is equated with hooded Klanmen or neo-Nazis or anyone who presents their bigotry and hatred in a clear and obvious way. Create a standard that allows anything but to slip away and be accepted as a normal form of behavior, and anyone who questions it will be punished as a “social justice warrior” or “too awake” or “reverse racism” if you want to get there. at 90. with that.
In Walker, we can see the banality of white supremacy in how it approaches the world. He didn’t ask for the shield, but they gave it to him because he “put the job in.” It doesn’t even occur to him why the government chose him as a symbol or what makes him “suitable” for Captain America beyond his own personal experience. The world is limited to your individual history, your hopes and your fears. It is supposed to be a symbol without understanding the larger context in which those symbols function. You could say that Steve Rogers became Captain America by accident, and was put on the similar path of promoting the US military, but the context of America during WWII and America is now different. especially since Steve gave Sam the shield specifically and then the government turned around and betrayed Sam to give it to a target instead of keeping it in a museum.
Where Walker’s white supremacy goes from passive (accepting the shield and his new title without hesitation) to active is in how he views his mission. When Walker offers Sam the opportunity to be his new partner, from Walker’s perspective, it probably seems like a nice gesture and a way to keep Sam on his side. But from Sam’s perspective, it is degrading and looked down upon. The government gave Walker the Captain America shield for branding purposes, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that Walker thinks surface imitation is all that is required. Steve Rogers had Sam as a wingman, so why shouldn’t Sam also serve as John Walker’s wingman? But there is no respect for what Steve and Sam went through or the friendship they developed. It is simply optics, and optics is a poor substitute for mutual respect, requiring trust and sacrifice.
Walker’s white supremacy hardens at the end of the episode when he once again offers to work with Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but they politely turn him down, noting that they have more flexibility to work independently. Walker agrees, but then threateningly tells them to stay out of his way. And this is a basic principle of white supremacy: my way or the highway. There is no room for compromise and there is certainly no room for humiliating yourself and finding ways to show respect to people who are not like you. Walker’s white supremacy is based on the belief that he earned what he has and that what he has cannot be questioned (Russell interprets this perfectly by walking the line between affable and flattering).
I’m not sure where The Falcon and the Winter Soldier take John Walker from here. Obviously we haven’t seen the last of him, but I’d be super upset if it turns out he’s secretly working for HYRDA or some nonsense because right now what makes him an interesting character is what he symbolizes. It symbolizes every white man who says: “I can’t be racist because I have a black friend” or “Nobody handed me anything on a plate.“When you don’t question these systems and seek to tear them down, you end up perpetuating them. That’s not to say that no white person ever deserves any success or anything like that, but through the law and condescension of John Walker, we see how white supremacy operates without the need for a hood or swastika.
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