“If we try to protect only ourselves, without looking out for those people closest to us, then we lose.”
– Luke Cage, Luke Cage
Season 1, Episode 5, “Just to Get a Rep”
When Luke says this, he is at a funeral for a dear friend. This dear friend, Pop, was a very humble, selfless person. He ran a barber shop, and one wouldn’t think that would be a position to have any sort of influence, to do any good for the world. But he did good anyway. People would come in for a hair cut or a shave, and he’d do that. He would talk to them, listen to their problems, and with his quiet humor, he would make them feel better about the world and themselves. He also let the young folk of the neighborhood hang out, watch a game on TV in a safe place. It wasn’t much, but he was looking out for people, everyone he could, as best he could.
When Luke says this, it is also right after an antagonist has mentioned, at the same funeral, to the same audience, a message that seems similar: protection and strength and greatness and so forth. But there was an element of fear in what he said. Fear of the outside, fear of other peoples, fear of people with strange abilities. In response to fear, or, rather, to perceived dangers, it’s only natural to close up. Huddle together, raise the drawbridge, man the walls, protect yourselves. Nothing wrong with protecting oneself, but it is no happy thing to live in fear. That breeds selfishness, as in looking out for you and yours and not caring what happens to anyone else.
That sentiment is part of what Luke was answering with these words. Pop didn’t protect only himself. He protected everyone within his reach. He was not fearful, and he was not selfish. He was brave and selfless, and if more people were like him, then the neighborhood, the city, the whole world would be a better place.
The first people we see Luke protect in this show aren’t black people. They’re Oriental, which means they weren’t the sort that those selfish self-protectors cared about. But Luke did, and he looked after them simply because they were there. Time and again throughout the show, Luke goes out of his way to help people, to stop trouble happening wherever he sees it. That is a remarkable contrast with the antagonists of the show, who are only interested in themselves. They trample everyone in their way even while they spout their hypocritical rhetoric about helping the neighborhood. In time, the villains tear each other apart, while the neighborhood shows whose side they’re on, looking after Luke in return for his help. Reaping what you sow isn’t always a bad thing, ya know? 😉
When I look out in the world today, I see a lot of people drawing lines in the sand. These lines can be based on race, religion, creed, politics, gender, sexual preference, or any number of other things. But all these lines are doing is dividing us, turning us against each other, and everyone does it in he name of looking after themselves, the people like them, the people who agree with them, and the people who never get in their way. They’re looking after themselves, and only themselves. They’re cutting themselves off from everyone else. That way lies ruin.
Then there are the people who are reaching out. They look after themselves, yes, but they also look out for their neighbor, no matter how similar or different that neighbor is. They reach out, hazarding the risk of refusal, taking a chance on the idea that rifts can be healed.
Like trees intertwining their roots to weather the storm, people are stronger when they stand together, not apart.
As always, it all comes down to an individual’s decision: look after oneself, or look after everyone within reach.