Film Politics

Nick Fury and the black-robed dinguses

There’s a scene in episode 2 of “Secret Invasion” where Nick Fury and Talos are on a train somewhere in eastern Europe, and Nick tells Talos about taking the train from Alabama to Detroit when he was a kid. He does this primarily to get Talos to play a game of “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” (exposition!), but along the way he mentions having to ride in the “Colored Car,” and how they had to bring their own food because they weren’t allowed into the dining car.

I had one of those record skipping moments in my head. Wait, how old is Nick Fury supposed to be? Looks like the MCU version was born in 1950 (for comparison, Samuel L. Jackson was born in 1948). Okay, so next check a Civil Rights timeline. The Brown v. Board of Education decision was 1954, followed by lots of protests and attempts to maintain segregation in schools. Rosa Parks is 1955. Sit-ins are late 50s into the 60s. Riots in 1961 at UGA over the first two Black students to be admitted (and they get suspended). Alabama Gov. George Wallace calls for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in 1963, same year as MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Civil Rights Act came in 1964.

Nick Fury would have been a teenager at this point. So…yeah, he could absolutely have had to ride a segregated train.

I’m sure none of this would have been a surprise to a Black person watching the show, but I guess I needed a reminder that the days of hard-core segregation aren’t that far in the past.

So imagine my surprise (not really, the writing was on the wall) when the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action in college admissions.

Sidebar: Justice Sotomayor’s dissent had this bit, which generated a genuine, “Oh shit” reaction from yours truly:

JUSTICE THOMAS, for his part, offers a multitude of arguments for why race-conscious college admissions policies supposedly “burden” racial minorities. Ante, at 39. None of them has any merit.

He first renews his argument that the use of race in holistic admissions leads to the “inevitable” “underperformance” by Black and Latino students at elite universities “because they are less academically prepared than the white and Asian students with whom they must compete.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 332 (concurring opinion). JUSTICE THOMAS speaks only for himself.

I don’t know how to properly cite Supreme Court rulings, but you can find that on page 195 of the PDF linked above. It’s page 56 of her dissent.

Anyway, Thomas aside I can kind of get where the majority justices in that opinion are coming from. They’re white people with at least the baseline of privilege that implies. No one in their family history ever had to worry about being prohibited from attending school because of their race. I haven’t dug into their personal histories, but I expect they have more than just that baseline, thus their oblivious attitude. However, the notion that this country has gone from centuries of institutionalized, and often violent racism, to a state where we can say, “Welp, no more racism here, we good?” within the span of one man’s lifetime, and any long-term harm has been wiped clean is absurd. They should be smart enough to recognize that.

Here’s what I know. I’ve attended and/or been employed at five different universities across as many states. All of them have had affirmative action programs, and none have had, let’s say, a shortage of white people. I’ve had applications rejected from four other institutions I can remember (Caltech, Carlton College, UC Berkeley, and The University of Michigan), all due to my own mediocrity, thankyouverymuch. My parents and at least one grandparent went to college, so there’s a chance1 I could have gotten a leg up thanks to legacy admissions, though I didn’t apply to any of them. At any rate, I did just fine at the institutions I did attend. I hope there were Black people admitted to all the schools that rejected me, and God speed to them. I had experiences as an undergraduate I absolutely would not have had without living and studying with people of other races and cultures, however they came to be there.

Anyway, I mostly wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that history runs long, and it’s easy to forget how any given person may have been affected by conditions that you may not have personally experienced or remember. The MCU’s Nick Fury went from high school into the US Army, and then to the CIA, but I don’t think we know why. It’s certainly possible the army was his only option, for financial reasons or because…Alabama. As he put it in a different context, “Men who look like us don’t get promoted because of who our daddies know. Every ounce of power we wrestle from the vice grip of the mediocre Alexander Pierces who run this world was earned in blood.”

  1. A small one. Of the three institutions I checked, one very explicitly does NOT factor in legacy, one seems to, and the last I can’t find any information on.