I’m not gonna lie: I was excited and a little bit warmed-in-the-heart-place when I saw that Barry Allen, aka The Flash, was in love with Iris West, his best friend, on The CW’s new hit superhero series, The Flash.
Because hey, how many times — in life, art, or entertainment — do we see a young White dude who’s honestly, deeply into a fly, well-rounded, educated Black girl? And not just as a sexual conquest or to “explore,” but as an actual love interest? Not often, that’s for sure.
Notwithstanding the incestuous undertones that kinda weird me out (Barry was raised by Joe West, Iris’ father, after his own father was wrongfully incarcerated for the murder of his mother), Barry’s stuck-onness for Iris, and her lack of knowledge of this dynamic and apparent devotion to maintaining him as a friend only, create another level of engagement — for this viewer anyway — that keeps me interested in the fledgling series.
Will Barry ever get up the guts to own up to his feelings, and share them with Iris? Iris is clearly infatuated with The Flash, but what will she do when/if she realizes that he is Barry, and that Barry/The Flash loves her? How will she confront her own complicated feelings about both characters? And does Barry listen empathetically when Iris tells him stories about how her White male boss tells her she needs to be more “civil” at work, and not be so “aggressive,” or does Barry become defensive, insisting that, “Not all White people are bad.”
I’ve gone and broken the unspoken rule for successfully creating interracial relationships on television and in pop culture: You can’t actually be Black, or have a Black consciousness in said union. Nope. You can be cute, in that hip Black way, but please don’t show your blackness, or God forbid, the often casual, everyday ways that race and racism affect your life and relationships. In this way, The Flash writers and producers have made a choice to embrace a color blindness narrative, for not only the Barry/Flash-Iris relationship, but also, for the Iris-Eddie, and Barry/Flash-Joe relationships. Although this is not surprising, given the dominant story told about race on TV and the American mainstream, as well as the fact that I’m sure that 95-100 percent of the show’s writers and producers are white, I would like to suggest that it is a missed opportunity.
One of the strongest things The Flash has going for it is its patient, layered character development, and complex storytelling. How might this be deepened even further if Barry/Flash and Iris had to truly reckon with how they move through the world very differently in their respective White male and Black female bodies? What would happen if Iris had a Black girlfriend, for example, who happened to notice her penchant for White men, for example? How would Iris react? What would Joe say? And how has Joe reacted to raising a White boy in a culture that does not see Black men as fit to be fathers to their own children, much less to White male ones?
What happens when Iris takes Barry to a “Black” party? Is he even dorkier than usual? How does he see Iris differently? Does he feel closer or farther from her? What does this do to their relationship?
I am not naive enough to think that the show will actually delve down this path… but I am hopeful that some of you out there can see the imaginative potential of doing so. After all, what is the purpose of superhero stories and the speculative if we cannot envision other, richer — and yes, riskier — ways of telling stories? Ways that shed more light on who we truly are, as viewers and the characters we are drawn to.
A girl can dream.