WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions

My First Lesson in Being Black

Superman's Lois Lane: I Am Curious (Black)! 2 (1970)

Superman's Lois Lane: I am Curious (Black)! (1970)

In this group of panels from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane: I Am Curious (Black)Lois Lane’s transformation to a black woman and her experiences emphasize the idea of the Otherness of blackness. Here, the reader sees Lois as black after she uses one of Superman’s machines to turn herself into a black woman for one day only. She transforms her identity as a last resort to get black people to talk with her in order for her to get an inside scoop for her story on the experience of being black in Metropolis.  

One example of how this scene emphasizes the Otherness of blackness is the way in which the text is formatted. The dialogue bubbles in the panels contain Lois’s conversation with Superman as well as her thoughts as she tries to hail a cab. In each one, the bolded words change the emphasis of the sentence and the way that the statements are read. Notably bolded are the words “black,” “white,” “Afro,” and “accepted.” These words literally stand out from the rest of the tex, suggesting that these words and ideas, like “black” and being “accepted” by black people, are different from the normal words and ideas that Lois experiences.  

An additional moment of Othering occurs in Lois’s declaration of needing to change her clothes, then donning what she calls “beautiful Afro attire.” This outfit as well as her temporary transformation into a blackbody, representing the use of blackface, demonstrates her problematic attempt to be black. In Eric Lott’s Love and Theft, he notes that blackface “[opened] to view the culture of the dispossessed while simultaneously refusing the social legitimacy of its members” (Lott 49). Yet while Lois does change physically, there is no moment in which she appears to mock or exaggerate the behaviors of black people. The action is nonetheless troubling, specifically in her appropriation of the “Afro attire.” In all the other depictions of black people in the comic, no characters wear Afrocentric clothing; everyone is wearing contemporary 1970s Western clothing. The heavy-handedness of the “beautiful Afro” outfit speaks to the earnest yet problematic attempt by white people to talk about racism. In order for Lois to be black, she must dress differently than normal, or like the “other.” Her need to dress in Afrocentric clothing demonstrates how she believes this type of dress is essential to the black identity.  

These panels also bring up the idea of white women considering black women as the Other and separate from their experience of womanhood. In her first big experience of blackness, which in a later panel she refers to as her “first lesson in the meaning black,” Lois attempts to hail a taxi, conveniently driven by her usual driver and friend, Benny the Beret. Benny ignores her; he does not want to stop for a black woman. Lois is shocked, and her reaction is consistent with the cloying innocence that she showed when she made her first foray into Little Africa. Somehow, although Lois knows that an exposé on blackness in Metropolis is necessary, she has no idea that an actual moment of racial discrimination is possible beyond being too white to make conversation in the black part of town. The instance with the cab is the first time that she experiences actual racial discrimination, and she is stunned by its existence. 

In her book, Ain’t I a Womanbell hooks speaks to this idea when she states, “Yet as [white women] attempted to take feminism beyond the realm of American life, they revealed that they had not changed, had not undone the sexist and racist brainwashing that had taught them to regard women unlike themselves as Others” (121). Just like her real-life 1970’s white women counterparts, Lois essentially pats herself on the back for her basic insight into the oppression of black women. This narrow scope of what racism and womanhood mean lend themselves to the simpering innocence of Lois throughout the comic, even as she is exposed to more “realities” of black life. 


hooks, bell. Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Boston, MA: South End, 1981. PDF.

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. PDF.