Wakanda does not exist. At least Trump hopes it doesn’t.
So why are the Black community celebrating as if it does, and furthermore, like we’re all citizens? Why are we wearing attire that would usually be reserved for weddings only to sit in a heavily air-conditioned and blacked-out room (excuse the pun)? Why are my social media feeds inundated with Black Panther images, videos, memes, quotes, prayers, benedictions and incantations?
I’ve really had to think deeply about my answer to this.
If there’s one trait we have as Black people which transcends all others, it is pride. We are proud of our rich history and heritage, and try to preserve our culture throughout generations. Recently, with the help of technology, there has been a surge of people from the African diaspora attempting to connect to their ancestry. Many Black people, for the first time, have been scientifically able to trace their roots back to actual countries in Africa which must come with a sense of belonging and another facet to add to their identities. How could one not be proud? Now I don’t know who sent the dashiki memo but we all managed to turn up to the flicks in attire that was really doing it for the culture – I have never seen such a celebration of African-ness in my life.
The fact that Wakanda is a fictional place is actually immensely empowering; it circumvents the divisions we have historically imposed among ourselves and instead unites us. This meant that everyone’s Africa was acceptable. In the movie, the cast wore attire and intentionally spoke in accents which represented each corner of the continent (all the Westies recognised M’baku’s Nigerian accent- the Naija babes have already claimed him). South African Gqom music was playing in Shuri’s lab (much to my delight) and I’m sure I saw someone eating Ghanaian jollof rice in the background when T’Challa and Nakia were in the town square… I’m sure of it!
What a beautiful depiction of a united Africa.
The film, however, reiterated how little I actually know about the other African nations. My view of Africa and Africans has been skewed by what I know about Ghana (and a bit of Nigeria) only. And this is an interesting microcosm of humankind: the world mainly acknowledge the negative aspects of Black culture.
The reason why the Black community are so excited about Black Panther is not only because it is different but because it validates our differences.
For the first time, there are images of Black people being shown that do not align with the world’s narrative. For once, we were not shown as poor, uneducated, criminal, violent, aggressive, ghetto or comical. I saw no twisting of the necks, no snapping of the fingers.
The men had deep-seated insecurities and the women had quiet strength which came in all shapes and sizes. The protagonist and antagonist were Black; similarly, there was a ‘good White guy’ and ‘bad White guy,’ suggesting our characters and behaviours cannot be defined by the colour of our skin.
We have seen White people in all sorts of roles in films and so we subconsciously know that there a different types of Caucasians. But with Black people, the world has not been exposed on a large scale to us positively and so those of us who are ‘well-spoken’ or ‘wealthy’ or ‘educated’ are perceived as anomalies or as though we’re ‘acting White.’
I think the World sees Black people as one dimensional and refuses to believe that we can be anything different from the aforementioned labels: our ‘bad’ behaviour is innate and our motives cannot be good because it’s ‘who we are’. I think humanity is made of differences and the fact that Black people have been reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes has made us seem less human, like we are animals which can only respond to stimuli.
This view has undoubtedly shaped my personality, as I’m sure it has done with many of us. I am acutely aware of how the world views Black people and am cautious about how I will be received when meeting new people. I used to feel as though I couldn’t be myself in new situations for fear of being stereotyped and, as a result, felt the need to overcompensate in order to be accepted. I’ve been bullied in the workplace because people confused my ‘niceness’ for weakness – in fear of being labelled negatively, I allowed a boss at TGI Fridays to make me feel totally worthless because I didn’t stand up for myself like I normally do. I have also lost a job because an employer was able to justify their lies by labelling me as ‘aggressive.’ I mean, why would anyone question it? This is a whole separate post in itself!
So for me, this film exposes the different facets of Black people and in doing so, allows others to view us positively and enable us to feel comfortable in our identities. It humanises us. To see different types of Black people, women especially, in Black Panther has liberated me; it has radically changed my idea of strength and beauty and intelligence. I don’t have to follow anyone else’s blueprint for these things but can create my own version.
Black Panther has also given the Black community a renewed hope.
Although a fictional metal, Vibranium represents the rich resources across Africa which were stolen from us during colonisation (every single country in Africa was colonised other than Ethiopia, debatably); it gives us a glimpse of what could have been if we were in charge of our resources all along. And better yet, it is stirring up a desire among Black people to ‘cultivate our own land’, take responsibility for the talents we have been blessed with and make something with them that can contribute to the rest of the world.
It is not too late for Africa.
Wakanda does not exist but it can…