In 1941, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Steve Rogers to motivate their fellow patriots to move against antisemitism and Jewish genocide in Europe.
When Captain America was relaunched in the ‘60s, Steve Rogers was given a partner- not a sidekick, not a mascot, but a respected and valued partner named Samuel Thomas Wilson, alias The Falcon, who represented the cause of advancing Black Civil Rights, putting that cause on par with the cause of righteous American justice.
In 2014, two years after the death of Trayvon Martin, and one year after the founding of #BlackLivesMatter, we were sold a bill of goods: Sam Wilson became Captain America, at a time when anti Black racism was surging and hope was desperately needed. In the age of the Internet, the reality that Black people in America are being routinely executed by the state can no longer be safely ignored. To have Rogers pass the shield to Wilson was momentous in its symbolism.
Now, we have learned, it was all a lie, and it has been a lie from the beginning. Nick Spencer and Tom Brevoort conspired to empty this apparent gesture between Rogers and Wilson of any and all meaning from the beginning: even if we conceded the tenuous argument that Hydra is and always has been an antisemitic and racist institution, which I categorically do not, the betrayal of trust represented here is not only spitting on the graves of Kirby and Simon, it is a slap in the face of both Jewish and Black fans alike.
Do not let your anger about what this says with regards to Steve blind you to what this says about Sam: that the shield was never really his, that their decades long relationship and trust was fundamentally based on lies, and that Sam has been played for a fool by a man he trusted implicitly.
This entire storyline is unfair. It is antisemitic. It is anti-Black. It is horrifying. If you are not offended, hurt, or angry, please immediately ask yourself why, and why you feel the need to condescend and hush those who are.
It is 2016. One of the presumptive nominees for the presidency is openly racist, the other has condoned and excused racist policies. We do not need this story now.
Right now, we need Sam Wilson to do what Isaiah Bradley was not allowed to do: to carry the shield. To shine light on injustice. To motivate Americans to care about our Black citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and protection under the law. And we need Steve Rogers to be the ally figure he has been intended to be since his origin, supporting Sam’s cause, supporting the cause of liberty, freedom, and justice, setting the country right and motivating the readers to do the same.
This is not “just comics.” This is propaganda and social commentary as literature. Captain America always was. That’s why it was important.