(For those who have not seen the movie, there may be spoilers involved in this article)
The phenomenon surrounding the movie, Black Panther is simultaneously awe-inspiring, fascinating, and alarming. The outpouring of emotional and cultural pride manifesting from Black Panther has reached an extraordinary level. Besides the election of President Barack Obama, I cannot recall one single event that has united and inspired so many different individuals, particularly African-Americans, in this country. Black Panther has served as a rallying call for many African-Americans, causing a new wave of black pride uniting people across different regions, cultures, and ages. Many people are finally beginning to express and feel a sense of connection to an African heritage and culture that for many has never been felt or spoken before.
People are purchasing dashikis to wear into theaters. Across social media and in public places like churches, individuals are proclaiming their allegiance to Wakanda. Even corporations are celebrating this rise, posting imaginary flights to Wakanda. Most awe-inspiring are the black children, walking around envisioning themselves as superheroes, and referring to, nay, claiming a cultural heritage that many of them never knew they had. According to Forbes, by this morning, 16 days after its release, the film is projected to exceed $800 million in sales, with openings still slated for Japan and China. In many ways, it truly is “Wakanda Forever” and we should all celebrate this well-deserved and well-earned praise.
One of the marvels of Black Panther is the presentation of a fantastical African country in which the inhabitants dwell in a civilization that is more technologically advanced than any other on the planet. In a revolutionary and jaw-dropping way, Black Panther accomplishes a feat that has eluded many previous films: the ability to present a movie which celebrates black identity and culture while offering a contradiction to many post-colonial depictions of Africa and Africana. In a rare moment, both black women and black men simultaneously are depicted in flattering roles of strength and brilliance. We are and should celebrate this expression of black excellence. Across this country, black people are celebrating the achievements of Wakanda and black intellectual and cultural pride.
And here is where the alarm bells ring. While I emphatically reiterate that Black Panther deserves and should receive all of the positive accolades and adulation being thrown in its direction, as a society and a black community, we are ultimately and soundly failing in our response and actions to Black Panther. To put it another way, in our haste to celebrate Black Panther, many of us are acting like colonizers.
Allow me to explain. One of the major sins perpetrated by the colonial powers on the African continent was the destruction and eradication of African culture, history, and heritage. The systemic eradication and dismissal of black achievement was a hallmark of colonialism and the interactions of the outside world with the African continent. The legacy of these interactions still exist across the African diaspora, including the removal of the nose on the Sphinx, to the stripping of African language and culture by American slave owners.
The African continent is littered with scars from colonialization and attempts to diminish or debase African culture. The actions of colonizers did not limit themselves to simply debasing African culture; it also included attempts to marginalize and minimize African history and achievement. For thousands of years [literally thousands] of years, African kingdoms such as Kemet, Kush, and in Egypt were historical marvels in terms of history and culture. These civilizations were using not only technologically superior to any civilization on the planet, they were using technology that challenges contemporary reasoning and methods.
Africans in the Nile Valley built intricate systems of roads and canals long before the Romans. Africans were reading the stars and using math long before any Greek philosopher or mathematician. And centuries before Christopher Columbus set sail across the ocean blue, Africans navigated the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans building new civilizations and spreading culture across the globe. While centuries of colonialization and invasions by other powers minimizes these achievements, HISTORY records these facts.
The colonizers have done their best to omit these facts from history and define Africa and African achievement as myth and fantasy, but the idea of a technologically superior kingdom in which black faces possessed and exerted real power is not a fantastical invention that only exists in comic books. It was real. It not only existed, but it thrived for centuries. The echoes of this original black excellence echo throughout the ages from the earliest civilizations to contemporary society. Colonizers reject this truth. Colonizers want the only images of Africa to be of poverty and struggle. The goal is not to simply diminish black excellence; the goal is to make the world, especially the black community believe that true black excellence is a myth… a fantasy.
Wakanda is not real. But Nubia was. Accra is. Timbuktu, Addis Abba, Rabat, Gaborone are real. These cities are not epicenters of poverty and oppression. In many respects, these cities and locales provide a sampling, a taste of the existence and beauty of African culture and heritage. Embrace them! Instead of dreaming of imaginary flights to Wakanda or emigrating to Wakanda, envision yourself traveling to a real center of black excellence. Instead of fantasizing about black excellence and praising a fantastical culture in “Wakanda”, celebrate the culture in Ethiopia, or Nigeria. Instead of praising the strength, power, and courage of women in Wakanda, celebrate the passion and strength of women in Lilongwe. We must transition to a new mindset where we as a black community claim and celebrate our African heritage at ALL times; not just when it becomes socially acceptable or cool.
Black Panther sparked a revolutionary movement, rippling across the Africana diaspora. In our haste to celebrate and marvel this moment, we cannot commit the same sins as those whom we also angrily condemn. Black achievement and black excellence is not a myth or a fantasy. It should not be treated that way. Not by colonizers and not by us.