One of the toys that I bought my nephew for this fifth birthday (in addition to the toys that I already mentioned) was another Green Lantern whose real name is Simon Baz. I had hoped to use this toy to teach him a little about Islam and Islamophobia. Unable to contain my excitement about this whole “Black toys matter” project, I told my wife the plans in far more detail than she cared for. I told her about how Simon Baz was born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan by Lebanese, Muslim parents; and that the Christians there reacted to 9/11 by treating young Baz with fear and hatred. As an outsider marginalized for being Muslim and having immigrant parents, Baz found purpose and acceptance in a community of street racers. He not only loved the adrenaline, but he also loved the fact that he could prove his value to these people based on his talents rather than being prejudicially discounted for his heritage and religion.
I thought this background would be a great way to teach about the harms of prejudice and how it marginalizes people. I also hoped that this would be a chance for my nephew to ask follow up questions about Islam and Christianity that could lead to a nice talk about the diversity of religions in the world. But that wasn’t all of Baz’s background that I wanted to use.
My partner listened as I explained that Baz eventually got a job at a car factory because of all the knowledge that he had about cars and how they work. But he got laid off when the company improved their technology so that robots could do the same. After being fired, Baz found the best way for him to make money was in stealing cars and selling the parts. Boom! Another great chance for conversation. I told her that I could teach him about the capitalist drive to increase productivity and discard workers, about the ways that machines have already done that in a ton of industries, the connection between a loss of job opportunities and an increase in criminal enterprises, and how all of this has played a role in the prison industrial complex.
For the sake of wrapping things up, I would share that Baz got his powers when he stole a car but discovered a bomb inside. Instead of leaving the car in the residential area where he found it, he rushed back to the factory where he used to work because he knew it was completely automated–rather than human fatalities, only robots would be destroyed by the bomb. But after the bomb exploded, the police caught him and accused him of being a terrorist. (Again, a great chance for conversation about a big issue: our practices and policies driven by a “war on terrorism” that fails to address the underlying causes of harm.) While they are interrogating Baz, the Green Lantern ring finds him and gives him super-powers. So, he escapes and is now a fugitive who sometimes might do illegal things but also wants to help people overall and believes that people should be treated with dignity regardless of their religion or ethnicity or even criminal activity.
My partner listened and gave one of those “I’m sure this is interesting to you” nods. A few days later, I was not around, but she was on the phone with our nephew when the toy arrived in the mail. Our nephew was feeling hurt at the moment because someone playing an online videogame promised to make a trade with him, but that person ended up just taking what my nephew gave without returning anything in exchange. After my nephew shared how he was feeling, my partner did the intelligent thing.
Instead of jumping off into a long discussion about prejudice and religious diversity and capitalism and manufacturing and mass incarceration and terrorism, she related the toy to what he was feeling. She told our nephew that Simon Baz used to be a little kid like him, but a lot of people were mean to him and didn’t treat him the way he wanted to be treated even though he didn’t do anything wrong. Baz ended up finding a different group of friends that treated him right and cared about him. In other words, Baz learned that when certain people mistreat you, it can be helpful to walk away from that situation and find friends who will treat you right.
I think my nephew learned a valuable lesson. (And I learned that I might need to dial things back a little.)
If you are interested in buying a Simon Baz Green Lantern action figure, they are not very common. I know of only one version that has been made, and you can buy it on eBay. The price varies widely, but it has typically been way overpriced. Fortunately, I bought two of them for less than $20 each. Neither came with accessories, but I didn’t care. My nephew broke the leg on one before I bought the second one. It is a toy that is best suited for kids who aren’t too rough with their action figures. There is also a Lego version of Simon Baz that you can find online.
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