Color Blindness and the Black Girlfriend: The White Male Superhero’s Ability to Erase Race

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.

42 thoughts on “Color Blindness and the Black Girlfriend: The White Male Superhero’s Ability to Erase Race

  1. We need more black love on tv.I love black women and sci-fi and can’t find a black woman that wants a black guy.I’m happy that you love this show but your expectations of white writers and producers are too high and not based on reality.Even for a tv show.A white male will never be the aggresor on any tv show.The black female must always prove herself to be worthy.It will always be that way.

    1. Hmm. Sci-Fi in general and DC in particular has always had a problem with Black people as People. Still, they are much more comfortable with the notion of a Black woman sexually involved with a White man than the reverse. They are at days end a White male dominated company after all. There was and is a clear opportunity for the father of Isis to be involved with a White woman, but the thought is repugnant to them.

      They prefer more familiar ground. They harken back to the 60’s and shows like The Jefferson’s and Heat of the Night, which were “groundbreaking” in the tired old sense of “interracial” meaning a White man being irresistible to a Black woman. Prospects are bright for Black female actresses dependent White producers are upon Black women to supply the “interracial” component of their offerings. Look for many more such job openings in the Flash.

      They find black men problematical. Even as a superhero he presents a dilemma. He can’t be too “super” or he would tend to eclipse the “true” superhero of the show. He must be hobbled or crippled in some way to present an inferior “super” hero. Perhaps it is time we consider a broader nomenclature. Something along the lines of “superhero” and “uberhero”. Then there would be a place for the true champions and the also-rans.

      This would free them from resorting to the half measure of swapping out 2nd string established characters for plug-and-play minorities for forms sake as they do now.

    1. In the comics Iris is murdered by Reverse Flash but comes back to life. Similar to how Barry Allen is murdered and Wally West takes his place, then he comes back also.

      No worries Iris West is safe. 🙂

      Iris is an amazing character and a breath of fresh air. I was beyond excited when Candice Patton was cast not only because of her stunning beauty but because I was intrigued to see the show with diversity.

      I’m a white woman in her early twenties who is obsessed with TV and female characters, and I love the realness of the diversity it is needed and I hope it continues in other superhero TV shows.

      Barry’s love and devotion to Iris is one of the most perfect aspects of the show. I would really like to have more of Iris’ backstory and point of view.

      This article is excellent!

      1. I agree Sam. Having an interracial couple on a popular TV show speaks volumes! I am a middle-aged black woman and I really appreciate the casting for Iris. I love the chemistry Candice and Grant has on camera and look forward to seeing them each week. They look so doggone cute together and they both do an amazing job playing their roles. There is a time and purpose for everything and I do not feel that, although scratching the surface is sufficient, getting into the weeds of racial relationships should be a part of the show. That is not what the show is about. The producers/casting crew took a giant leap, as far as I’m concerned, in casting a black woman to play a major comic book white woman character. It has been so welcomed, that they have apparently recruited another black girl to play Iris on the big screen in the movies. I think this is a huge step forward and am loving it! I “heart” WestAllen!

        However, I do think there is an opportunity to articulate against racism on social media. Candice often times gets unwanted heat there because she is black. Fans wanting Barry and Caitlin to be together (that’s not even in the comics at all). They want to invent a relationship between the two because they are both white. They call themselves SnowBarry fans. They even admit that Danielle is not a good actress and but still want to see her with Barry. Sometimes the comments I read blows me away. Again, the opportunity to do more would be better served off camera. They speak volumes already on camera. Every time Barry and Iris kiss, every time they hold hands, every time they are smiling and flirting, every time they are sharing deep feelings and emotions, every time they show him thinking about her and vice verse, the gleam in their eyes, the smiles on their faces, every pillow talk conversation; is a slap in the face of racism and I applaude the efforts of the writers, casting crew and producers.

  2. You bring up an interesting point even if you don’t come out and say it. Even though Joe and Iris are played by black actors, they are really just playing white characters.

    1. “Uncle Tom” was a fictional character. “Amos and Andy” were fictional characters. Do you really not understand that media depictions have real impact on culture?

  3. Confused about this “We need more black love on tv. I love black women and sci-fi and can’t find a black woman that wants a black guy.” Get the feeling that black characters are nearly always coupled with other black character, like an Island of POC. There may be only one or two other black people in the show, but somehow they’re a couple. Pretty sure you’ll find that most black women in movies/tv are with black men.

    1. People care because media (all types of media) reflect the outlooks of their creators. Moreover, people want to see themselves (and their ways of thinking) in the media they choose to watch. Now that may not a big deal for people who are always shown as the hero (or the whole cast of a show for that matter) ybut when you see a character that reflects your background, then the characterization rises in importance. That’s why . Lol

    2. Hardly. The overall impression an extraterrestrial observer would receive from American Sci-fi television is that every intelligent, strong, sensitive, attractive Black woman is pining away for a White man to whisk her away.

      Though it would be the natural assumption that most Black people would couple with another Black person just as White people normally do. However the essence of Sci-fi is strange stuff and White producers clearly define “strange stuff” as black women.

    3. You confusion may stem from the fact that what is being discussed is interracial TV rather than TV in general. A simple Google search of “interracial TV shows” will present in full color the phenomenon of white male racial-sexism. The white man/black woman proliferation is as pronounced as during the slavery era.

  4. What a great article. You bring up some valid points, and the commenter before that said that they are essentially playing white characters rings true. Race is something in this country that people are so afraid to confront, and I know a lot of it deals with its ugly history, but we need to just be real and stop “pretending” that race does not have meaning and tonality in our lives. It does, and guess what? It’s not always a bad thing. I’m grateful for the show Blackish that confronts this in comical way, yet tackles serious issues about our differences and racial stereotypes.

    I would like to see a conversation about Joe West and Barry and the fact that he’s raised by a Black father. I would love to see a conversation between Iris and her girlfriends (white or Black) about her interests in interracial dating and if she does have a penchant for dating white men, to discuss it. Why the hell not? I have yet to see a movie, TV show, etc talk about how some people PREFER dating outside of the color lines for their own personal reasons. Let’s keep this honest here.

    Bottom line the more honest we are about ourselves, the more honest we can be about who we are as human beings. The greatest season of my life was when I turned 30 and finally accepted who I was a Black woman into nerdy things and that I my weirdness who God created me to be and I should never apologize for that. When I became honest with myself I felt completely liberated, like a huge weight had finally been lifted.

    Can we be honest with ourselves? Can we stop trying to be so colorblind and so oblivious to people’s cultural differences? What’s so wrong about the fact that because my skin is different from yours I like the same things as you do OR that I like things are different. Acknowledge me as I acknowledge you as a human being. The more we understand this philosophy works, the more we will realize that this is the only way we can evolve.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  5. I love the show but yeah, Joe being able to raise Barry was one of the first things that made me go, “Hmmm.” Barry’s dad doesn’t have any kinfolk? His mom didn’t have anyone in her family willing to raise her son after she was killed? Social services wouldn’t let a black cop raise a white kid he met at a crime scene, even if he was the best cop on the force.

  6. This has totally blowed my mind off!
    Something I’ve wondered as the show kept going onwards was why Barry’s foster father, all-around tough yet smart guy and sharp detective seemed sometimes bland to me.

    Right. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight here, it was!

    I know the show is newly minted, but please, Ye Gods, give the guys who are in writing some freaking clue about the goldmine. I don’t mean -and I’m going to be blunt- to “act more black” or “act more latino” (yes, Lab Gadget Guy, I’m looking at you). I’m talking to let little by little things to sprinkle down to the storytelling, so we can all enjoy the epic with more breadth. Haven’t you noticed we don’t know ANYTHING about Barry’s taste or distate on music or food?

    Sometimes The Flash feels a little plastic, mallish-like even. And I get it, then want it to be friendly, and sunny et al. But that doesn’t mean they can’t start using their imagination to CREATE that without ELIMINATING DIVERSITY. Yeah, I went there. With caps.
    And I hope the writers go there too regarding racial issues: the talent pool on the series is off the freaking chart, it would be incredible, and The Flash (& Green Arrow, btw) are aaall about the Little Guy DaytoDay Life! 🙂

    Also, Iris? Love her to bits. ^^ Girl must make it to the end. :3

  7. As a fan of The Flash, I believe the writing to be a step above usual superhero fare, such as Smallville. However, I cannot agree with you more the writers have thus far missed the opportunity to recognize the deeper interpersonal dynamic of interracial relationships. In fact in particular, the “color-blind” approach to the way Iris is written and acted has been a source of irritation for me.

    However, the recent midseason finale episode that aired on December 9th provided actress Candice Patton (Iris West) to prove her ability to portray more complex nuances in her character. Especially in the scene where Barry reveals his love for Iris, Ms. Patton took the opportunity to demonstrate the talent to display a sense of restraint and subtlety in acting one rarely finds in younger actors these days.

    Surely, Ms. Patton and her television father, Jesse Martin (a proven actor) can be entrusted with storylines that from time to time recognize how they navigate racial indignities in their lives. I wonder if the producers and writers of The Flash believe their audience is ready for the more mature themes such an exploration would evoke. Why not take the plunge and allow the series to truly separate itself from those satisfied with the promotion of the myth of the so-called post-racial society?

    Thank you, Shannon, for your thoughtful post.

  8. Don’t know if you know it yet, but you’ve gone and written something so powerful and in need of not just being read here in the blogosphere, but in classrooms and boardrooms and lots of other places in this society where your words may never have been debated or even spoken of…

    Midway through this post, you created a ‘what if’, a group of race-related scenarios that had me leaning closer and closer to my screen, hoping you’d just keep writing them!

    I won’t make this too long, but might I suggest instead of ‘a girl can dream’ (your belief that these what ifs could never come to pass…?), you submitted those very words to the producers/writers of the show?

    Instead of dreaming your words taking form somewhere down the line in the future development of the ‘Flash’ series, let the creators of the series here YOU, a Black, Intelligent, Creative, Well-Written supporter of THEIR work?

    Hell, send them the episodes (written and or suggested by you) you would like to see played out!

    Who knows, the changes you dream of today may become an unbelievable reality tomorrow…

    …just sayin’

    PHENOMENAL blog by the way…


  9. I’m a black woman watching this show. I love the way the characters are portrays as human beings !

  10. I would love to hear from the producers of the show, as to what inspired them to cast a Black actress (Candice Patton) to play Iris West. It’s not that Candice doesn’t do a good job (far from it), just asking the question as the character is traditionally White in the Flash comics that she was adapted from.

  11. I think the series is not deepen to show that you comment, but that would be quite interesting seeing something on TV for me would be.

  12. You have great ideas, but this is not the right show for them to be expressed. At it’s heart, The Flash is a light-hearted action-adventure series. What you’re talking about should be on a drama.

  13. Thank you so much for writing this article. It vocalized so many things I’ve been thinking while watching The Flash, and I wish I had read it when it came out. I really hope the showrunners make the choice the be a little more daring and sensitive when it comes to racial issues in season. I know it’s meant to be a “lighter” show, but you can still shed light on real world situations while remaining lighthearted. And Iris West as a WOC is so important, so I hope the show does right by her and never listens to the thinly veiled hateful comments about her.

  14. This is an amazing show and I love it. I understand why you feel that the interpersonal racial relationships should be further explored, but this is not the right show for that kind of drama. This is a superhero show and personally, I don’t feel that Iris and Joe are playing white characters. I think a lot of people get so worried about race that they expect people to explore or lean on it one hundred percent of the time. There are some shows that will address these issues, but I July doubt that will happen on Flash. It doesn’t bother me anyway. I’m just glad that they made the show a little more diverse with interesting characters. It’s about time television reflected the real world.

  15. I find this quite interesting. I’ve been an Iris west supporter and a flash tv and comic book fan for the longest time and as a black women who loves Iris I’m indifferent but yet I understand your opinions. I’m indifferent because these are valid questions and thoughts but when I think about the show and real life, situations like what you’re asking are…out of place. Where and when would it come up and how relevant would it be for the story line? These are definitely scenes I would see but what purpose is it bringing to the characters and their development, the episode and the overall show? I don’t have much to be upset about the show itself when it comes to race (just the fans) because there’s definitely blackness that’s being brought out by numerous interactions between joe Iris and Wally, the kind of things they say and how they react and I like it. I think the show could do more like you said but for me it has to be purposeful in the show and not just for the sake of the audience because that’s when it takes away the flow and potential realness of the story.

  16. I just want to see a black man be involved in a relationship that has love and caring without some kind of bad end result, him being some weakling, him bowing down to some white man, or being approached because of some sexual stereotype. Where the hell is that? Hollywood doesn’t like to play fair

  17. No, they never have. Each exec one of a current mindset gets to hire the next generation to be in charge, who in turn hires someone who thinks like him. Presently a Black woman that would choose a Black man when she could have a White man is unnatural to them, and a sort of bigotry. Whereas a White woman that would choose a Black man is, as they have always seen it, an obscenity.

    Either way, Black power “couples” are not in the script.

  18. Nobody commented on Daredevil with Claire Temple even though, she is technically Latina. One thing I don’t like about the tone of the article is that it seems to be saying that a Black woman as the White man’s love interest somehow legitimizes her existence. If they pick each other as love interests, so be it but the whole undertone of validation kinda irks me–that if a White guy is with a Black woman onscreen that somehow that validates her as a human being, as a woman, and further validates her beauty and femininity. Os is the writer’s angle just about visibility on screen?
    Frankly, I’d rather see more PoCs in relationships with each other because we just don’t see that very often.

    1. Validate, smalidate. It is all about re-enforcing the white man’s position and image of superiority. It’s the “Being a white man, naturally he can have any woman he wants. No black woman would choose a black man when she can have a white man.” It is gender racism just as it was during slavery days, simply updated to be palatable for the superficial and somewhat simple mind. You will notice that “inter-racial” means white man/black woman. Always. If a black man finds himself with a white woman as a lover, he should immediately update his resume. He has just become one too many.

Comments are closed.