Black people aren't too fond of bondage. We think that it's redundant.-- Anthony from DESIGNING WOMEN episode "Of Human Bondage."
After writing this essay and making a couple of posts on HU like this one, I quickly gave up debating the foam-mouthed Mr. Berlatsky on the subject of Marston's racism, so I have no idea what if any reply he made after my final post there. I think I can predict that it will fail utterly to address any of the points I brought up: as I've mentioned before, Bertlatsky and his fellow travelers can weave sprawling tapestries of victimization but they pay little or no attention to the details.Thus most if not all of them are thoroughly incapable of answering arguments on a point-by-point basis.
In the course of writing the aforesaid essay, I came across a year-old post from the still active Tumblr site HONORING THE ECCENTRIC DR, WILLIAM MOULTON MARSTON, posted by one "FyeahWilliamMoultonMarston." Fyeah, as I'll call him for short, was more liberal than Berlatsky in providing context for the Wonder Woman story that the latter excoriated in his usual hyperbolic style, without making any sort of apologies for the racist content of Marston's story. Only once did I disagree with Fyeah's argument, at this point:
All that being said, there are some things to appreciate in this issue. Marston’s chain and slavery kinks are still around in spite of the horrendously inappropriate setting, and they give us this bondage gem:
The obvious question comes to mind: Why is it "horrendously inappropriate" for Marston to bring his "chain and slavery kinks" into this setting? Fyeah does not enlarge upon this train of thought, but I have to assume the train departs from the station known as "the Great White Guilt." The poster obviously is not knocking the idea of Marston's "chain and slavery kinks" in themselves, if the other posts on the blog are any indication. The kinks are only objectionable in any context involving Black Africans and, presumably, their descendants in other lands as well. Hence, I surmise that while it would be OK with Fyeah if Wonder Woman asked for her dog collar in any setting that didn't involve Black Africans, even this largely non-serious reference to slave-tropes immediately activates the appropriate taboo of the Great White Guilt. Like the "Designing Women" character quoted above, one cannot imagine said tropes without calling to mind the real-life torments of Black African slaves and their descendants.
Though I don't believe in a form of guilt that has a color, I have encountered any number of online pundits, including Noah Berlatsky, who advocate White Guilt as a response to just about any depiction of Blacks by Whites. Possibly they believe that promoting such a race-specific taboo can be used to curb the excesses of Evil White Culture. Further, some such pundits try to promote the notion that no one but White People bore any responsibility for the organized slave trade, like this online essay, which argues that the only times in which blacks sold blacks to whites came about because of some base deception. If so then it was a really long-term deception. This Wiki-essay asserts that "Historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood have provided an estimate that Africans captured and then sold to Europeans around 90% of those who were shipped in the Atlantic slave trade."
So, if it's true that Black Africans were somewhat less than starry-eyed innocents with regard to profiting from the Trans-Saharan slave trade, it's not clear what is "inappropriate" about mentioning chains and slavery in connection with a group of (completely fictional) Black Africans-- unless one believes in guilt that only comes in one color.
None of this exculpates the genuinely racist aspects of Marston's story. But the story has nothing to do with slavery-tropes relating to real-world injustice, and everything to do with tropes rooted in psychological mythology.
In my 2010 essay SLASHIN' MARX, I cited this quote from Martin Buber:
Every Thou in the world is by its nature fated to become a thing, or continually re-enter into the condition of things. In objective speech it would be said that every thing in the world, either before or after becoming a thing, is able to appear to an I as its Thou. But objective speech snatches only at a fringe of real life.
It would seem obvious to me that the real-world injustice of slavery is all about what Buber calls the "I-it" relationship, of an "I" (the slaver or slaveholder) reducing a sentient being (the slave) to the status of an object.
Now, does Marston make his fictional Africans into objects? Yes, he does-- but only in terms of resorting to stereotypical depictions, like having the tribesmen being subject to "voodoo" superstitions. If Wonder Woman really did engage in bondage-play with the African tribesmen, it would be to both restrain them and to liberate them, as I wrote here:
Bondage itself is a sexual practice which has nothing to do with actual sex as such. Without eliding the "bodily" aspects of bondage, it should be evident that Marston, through his frequent emphases on the subject of "will," was aware that bondage also pertained to the "nonbody" aspect of the human entity, as bondage is paradoxically a restraint and a liberation of the will.In other words, in Marston's cosmology, to bind and otherwise overcome someone is to bring them into the circle of Amazon "loving-kindness,"which, as I read Buber, is the same as making the someone as a "thou." To be sure, Marston doesn't extend this privilege to the tribesmen; from the sections I've read, it would seem that he depicted them as simple savages who needed to be brought back into the protective aegis of European/American authority. But to follow the implications of the "chains and slavery kink" as Fyeah experessed them, she would have been honoring the tribesmen as "thous" had she bound them, or even transported them to Transformation Island, because in Marston's world this would have been tantamount to bringing them into the sphere of loving-kindness.
In closing I'll point out that unlike Berlatsky, I'm not excoriating Marston because he didn't follow my ideal imaginary scenario. In a practical sense, I can't imagine DC Comics publishing scenes of their foremost female franchise wrestling in quasi-erotic fashion with one or more black guys. So in that practical sense, I know-- as NB did not-- that it would have been unfair to critique Marston for not being as revolutionary as NB thought he ought to be. Marston should be critiqued for what he actually wrote, not for what he failed to write.