Social Issues

A Letter To The People of Wakanda

To my remembrance, I’ve never opened a comic book in my life. I’ve never been into action films. I don’t like fiction and normally, I hate talking in detail about fictional characters and stories. I mainly watch documentaries and comedies. When talk of “Black Panther” surfaced, I didn’t pay attention. When I finally paid attention, I didn’t have any interest at all. I had a friend tagging his location on social media platforms as “Kingdom of Wakanda” for at least the last two years. I simply laughed it off, not knowing what he was talking about. Honestly, I thought he made it up. Then, I heard about the all-Black cast and the Black director. I was happy to hear that. But I wasn’t overly moved by it. I still didn’t have any interest.

Due to the overwhelming response to the movie’s premiere, I asked my wife to go with me to see it. It was the opening weekend of the movie. We were on an annual President’s Day weekend trip with extended family in Williamsburg/Jamestown. Go figure that I’d see such a movie just miles away from the place where the first slaves touched the shores of America. Only about 20-22 people were in the theater and there no sign of cosplay or Black power display at all.

We watched the film. I’m not into fighting scenes or trying to figure out background info on fictional characters. So, normally this wouldn’t be a movie for a guy like me. Although I rarely watch movies twice and I don’t get much satisfaction out of watching many movies at all, this movie didn’t lose my attention. Overall, it was a very good production.

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After the film and post-credits scenes were done (we were the only ones who stayed), we left the theater. I didn’t feel overjoyed. I didn’t feel motivated. I didn’t feel inspired. I felt convicted. I wondered if I saw the same movie that everyone else saw. I didn’t want to be a “killjoy”, but I want to share my takeaways. I feel maybe they can help others who don’t understand the hype. Maybe they can help those who are hyped figure out why a subset of Blacks are on the outside looking in at the “celebration.”

Black life is not monolithic. In fact, it’s never been. Monolithic Black life has been an idea that some among us have pushed for selfish benefits. All of us don’t live the same. All of us don’t feel the same. In generations past, the path of Blackness was a one-lane road with a 35 mph speed limit. Those who didn’t fit the predetermined mold were subjected to the back of the traffic. Today, it is a four to five-lane autobahn. The “Black card” no longer exists. There is no revocation of Blackness due to a lack of uniformity toward the style of Blackness that is currently en vogue.

Contrary to what some social media memes suggested, I didn’t think this movie premiere was an event that warranted a wicker chair for photo ops. I didn’t think this would be an event where Black people snuck in food and the concession stands would take a dip in revenue. The jokes about typical Black behavior persisted for weeks leading up to the premiere. Frankly, I didn’t think the type of Blacks who’d normally do those things would be interested in this kind of movie. I felt that those who would be interested were once on the fringe or totally outside of the popular perception of typical 20th century Blackness of times past. That may be hard for some to digest. This is because some among the new wave of Blackness may have had their style suppressed in the past by previous leaders of previous styles of Blackness promoted on that road that was previously one lane. The tables are turning. Those having their chance to control a new version of Blackness being celebrated could open up opportunities to ice out those who previously iced out anything outside of that former version of Blackness that dominated our culture. But is that productive? Was it productive when the roles were reversed? Because of this autobahn of opportunities for displays of multiple versions of Blackness at the same time, the folks gaining more control of how we define it might not get the privilege to rub it in the faces of those who ostracized them in times past. Do they want that opportunity? Who knows…

I could be wrong. With the surging promotion of the movie throughout the last week, I found myself being wrong a lot. I passed judgment quite often. When I saw myself judging, I actually had talks with friends who are into the movie. I realized that this was a great moment of joy for many people. When it came to Blackness, I never had to defend mine. My life experiences conveniently insulated me from hatred and overt racism for the most part. I lived in a Black neighborhood growing up. I went to schools where they may have been two to three White students and a hand full of Latin students. I now work for myself. When I was working within established organizations, most of my former supervisors at work were either Black or women… or both. I had two White men who served as managers in my former work life. One is openly gay and the other has a Black wife. It’s safe to say my work experiences provided me with a very tolerant atmosphere. I grew up as a Black boy with light complexion and relatively curly hair in the 80’s. I wasn’t teased about the texture of my hair or the darkness of my complexion. So, seeing images that reflect Blacks didn’t have as strong of a pull on me as it would others who suffered through such teasing. For me it started as “just a movie.” I laughed at the cosplay. I didn’t equate it to the banter we see with Star Wars. I felt as Blacks, we didn’t do things like that. I felt that it was uncool. But as I mentioned, this experience of being Black isn’t shaped by one set of rules or standards. Who am I to put strict regulations around what’s cool in the first place? Who would I be to pass judgment on those who needed this film much more than me? So for that, I apologize.

While I’m not “into” Black Panther like others, I saw that many were inspired, motivated, and overjoyed by it. My friend and fellow CiTLR contributor, Bill Walker, is a partial amputee as a result of a tumor in his foot. Following his surgery, his weight increased. He ended up reaching 305 lbs and found himself in a bad state of health. It was a dark time for him. He was looking for inspiration. He found that inspiration in Black Panther. Based on his physical condition, Bill felt that his options for inspiration were limited. He said he looked at biblical characters. But, in the stories he read, God made all of those people whole again. With losing a part of his foot, he could never be physically whole as he once was.  For Bill, sports figures such as Michael Jordan or LeBron James just weren’t enough. He recognized their greatness. They were super, but he needed an inspiration that was superhuman. Bill told me that comics such as Black Panther got him through those tough times. He used a cane to walk back and forth from the gym located down the street from his home. Through working out, he ended up losing 100 lbs and is now a personal trainer with almost no body fat. We talked for two hours on the phone about this after I saw the movie. He opened my eyes to the reasons why many are inspired by the movie. He said to me that only a character like Black Panther would be strong enough for him to lean on as an inspiration to get to where he is now.

I was raised in the 20th century inner-city version of Blackness- a Blackness that was centered around and restricted to literal examples of heroes. If it wasn’t real, I didn’t respect it or accept it. I saw no good thing in having an imagination that ran wild. The version of Blackness I’ve drawn strength from could’ve served as a hindrance for Bill. What if he was left without an imagination to cope with a scenario that would’ve crumbled most people to pieces? He was the person I mentioned earlier that would tag Wakanda as a location on social media platforms. After talking to him, I thought again about all of those inspired by this film. Who am I to stand in their way? Black Panther didn’t move me in a great fashion. But in today’s world, I have opportunities to find other forms of “Black art” to serve as my inspiration and motivation.

My message to all of us is to find imagery and art that inspires you. It may be different than my version. But we all need our source of a realistic version of “vibranium.” I felt corny typing that… but y’all get the picture LOL!! As a side note, it’s going to take all of us a minute to get beyond the one-track definitions of cool and Blackness, but we’ll get there. I still have my ways. I haven’t totally changed over the weekend. Hopefully, that’s all good for those reading, but please don’t do the Wakanda dap when you see me at a homecoming or some “Black” event LOL!! I still might laugh. I’m still growing.

Lastly, pay attention to the roles in the movie. Pay attention to the idea of Wakanda. The biggest struggle for me was that unlike most of my friends, I didn’t share the sentiment of a desire to move to Wakanda. I believe that in real life, many of us operate in miniature versions of Wakanda. Our HBCUs, churches, camaraderie with Black co-workers, fraternities, sororities, and post-graduate social setups serve as those mini-Wakandas. Are we serving the best interest of all of our Black brothers and sisters as we operate? Are we more in love with the pre-existing order in our respective Wakandas than progression and real change for the better? Are we standing on the sidelines comfortable in our “good” jobs and gathering together to tailgate while others suffer peril? These Wakandas are a privilege for those of us who have access to them. They provide us with elite experiences.

 

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What happens when a Killmonger arrives? Do we wait for one to show up to show and put fire under our feet to support those outside of the comforts of our Wakandas? Many said that they felt Killmonger, but didn’t like his approach. So, what did you think of T’Challa’s lack of action for those suffering before Killmonger arrived? When the Killmongers arrive in our lives, do we change the rules to suppress them? Do we take them to near death and simply show them the allures of Wakanda right before they pull out the swords from their own chests?

I say “we” because I recognize the privilege I have in being exposed to the luxuries of these mini-Wakandas. My conviction comes from my life’s work with Killmongers on a daily basis. As a civic activist, I hear Killmongers tell me of their disdain of our mini-Wakandas. Although many of them take pride in being self-made, they long for acceptance in a space that will serve as a mechanism for healing and replenishment. They long for a day where they won’t feel alone when they make decisions to take the right path. Being alone feels better than when they join groups of diverse people with mindsets that counter the ones of their own. That is seen as a compromise. Their alignment with others who aren’t exactly like them seems as if it’s bondage. They’d rather die. All that they have acquired is often acquired alone. Those sole efforts of acquisition have taken them this far. But, their path is not without the pain that they’ve inherited. Pain is about the only thing they’ve inherited. They don’t have dads and granddads who went to the same colleges and pledged the same fraternities that they would one day like to apply for and be accepted to. There is not a kingdom waiting for them. They’re not born into legacy worthwhile. The closest thing they may have to legacy within an institution is the legacy of the penitentiary. Their lineage has been broken by murder, drugs, and the prison system. Without good guidance from fathers/elders, resources, and vision, the ability to successfully travel that road alone is a feat within itself. Although their past is filled with baggage and damage, so much of what Killmongers bring to the table is needed. Of all of their attributes, being fearless warriors for the right causes is among their best. We need them. We must learn who they are, their language, and how to inspire them to be a part of what we have. We are all better together. But, there is a divide among us. We must close that gap. We must close all of the gaps. We have issues with our gender interactions, a lack of total accountability from and among our elders, and the love of doing things the way they’ve always been done for the sake of order and comfort. All of these issues surfaced in the movie.

We have approximately 80 years left in this century. We have suffered and shown great resilience. I believe that Black excellence is upon us. I’ve seen such great work produced by Blacks in recent years that serve as inspirations to all of us. We have a great future ahead of us. By the end of this century, there can be a transformation in the Black experience globally. We may not live to see it. Our children may be the ones to bring us there. So the movie may not be as important for imagery or for those Black children to jump off of couches screaming “T’Challa!!” versus screaming “I’m Batman!!” But, the storyline of the divide and how we overcome it will be what we can focus on for their future. Just as the characters in the movie varied, so do we in real life. But, we can coexist with those differences without being divided. Maybe we can have a series of Jabari tribes that share the land, operate separately, but are there for each other as a collective when there is a need for such a thing. Above all, we have to have hope. But, honesty and reality have to be in the forefront if we really want to see the best version of Wakanda last forever.

 

 

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