Black Panther and Why it Matters: back to Africa

When I was a child I heard a lot of mixed ideas about Africa and our heritage. On the one hand Black Americans understood the fact that we’re stuck here, regardless of if we wanted to be here or not. We accepted that we would never really know much about of families and heritage and believed if we were good enough, then America would see our worth and accept us.

At the same some “uncles” would talk about how amazing it would be for us to go back to Africa where we would be appreciated. This is in part where the Zulu Nation came from. As children we were presented with the idea that some culture would accept us. Then at some point as young children we hear “Africans don’t like Black Americans” and our souls are crushed as it’s often around this age that we realize what it means in our country to have brown skin. The heartbreak for a child to realize our culture has no history and no one will claim and appreciate us, is heart breaking even if we don’t understand it at the time. (This is one of the biggest divisions in the culture)

So then what? Who are we? Where are we from?

It’s a complex set of feelings. Personally I became obsessed. Heritage is deeply important to me and yet….. I have no answers and a bitterness towards who can easily say “My ancestors are from X and they did XYZ” and I can’t. I have held a certain bitterness towards my homeland, who in my mind don’t care about me. At the same time I can’t point to a tribe and say, that’s me! All I know is that my people is likely from West Africa. It’s frustrating and deeply distressing in a way I can’t explain. I’ll never know how I came to be and what those people went through. 

Then came Black Panther. With all these feelings I walked into a movie and saw the push and pull I feel on the screen. One of the many reasons I felt stunned at the end of this view was because of this element. In some ways T’challa vs Killmonger was about this. T’challa had his roots, his heritage and his god. Killmonger on the other hand was alone. The only thing he had was his father. (Another post will be more focused parentage) Essentially I identified a lot of Eric, and his hurt and frustration at seeing people that looked like him having the things he wanted and also knowing no matter who he is, they won’t accept him. No matter how much they have in common, they won’t accept him. It’s a pain, I can’t describe. 

At the same T’challa had everything we (Eric and I) have dreamed about. Parents, a culture, pride, traditions, acceptance, heritage and most importantly, the lack of pain of being oppressed. Before his father dies, Eric probably assumed he would go to Wakanda one day. Then dad dies and he’s rejected and left to live in a world of white people who will never accept him while knowing there is a group of people like him who refuse him.

So one of the questions is CAN Eric go back? And will Wakanda and therefore Africa acknowledge him. The brother and sisters who were stolen away and live far but are still a related. Honestly it’s a hard and complicated topic, and I’m surprised they even talked about it. It’s clear throughout the movie that the idea was complicated and full of feelings. T’challa had been taught to it acknowledge other Blacks as kin. By the time he started to question this and if the brown folks farther away from Wakanda could benefit from this acknowledgement and help, the damage was already done. Eric had already felt the stick of being abandoned and wanted no one to feel that. Granted, he went about it in violent means. He just wanted to take care of the brown people taken from the motherland, through no fault of their own.

The angry and bitterness is justified. The rage and hurt understandable. I found it interesting too really feel for the “villain” of the movie. I at points got caught up in his rage, angry and hurt for my own lack of acknowledgement and watching my own people being hurt. I found myself frustrated by T’challa being afraid to acknowledge the people that came from his people. Until he found out what his father did and really noticed how bad it was and the hurt monster that created.

There was the great battle and it was ….. Whatever. The important thing is what happens afterwards.  The moment where Eric mentioned that he’d only heard of the sunsets in Wakanda and T’challa takes me to go see it. Was moving in a deeper way than T’challa just taking pity in him. T’challa was showing that even after everything that he accepted him into their world. No matter if Eric scorned that offer, it was there. Eric had a chance to be accepted. I wonder if he would have gone to the same ancestral plane that T’challa did. For the first time it seemed that Black Americans had the OPTION to accept or decline that acceptance. And although I totally understand Eric’s choice, I’m… still not sure what I would say, myself.

On one hand it’s MY culture of being left that shaped me into who I am, not my African untraceable heritage. I see that feeling of pride he had for the rough culture of pain that raised him and…I get it. Hence the “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors ( a complicated statement, and telling that he felt really shaped by African American culture and not Wakandan) who jumped of the ship, knowing it was better to die than be prisoner.” Also those aren’t his ancestors… still the sent image is there. At the same time, T’challa understood then that Wakanda at least should accept its cousins that were stolen away, and help them.

Personally this was the first time I ever thought that Africa might not hate me and might be willing to accept me. I hadn’t even realized it was something I even wanted. The idea that Wakanda/Africa might accept me and understand that it wasn’t my fault I didn’t grow up there, felt huge.  To have lived a whole life feeling like no one would ever love non code switching me and then to see that kindness on screen was huge. I’m a little less bitter and more interested in finding out more about the African tribes I may have been from. I’m less against acknowledging that I am from Africa and therefore want to get in touch with that part of me and possibly visit. This whole aspect is a layer I know that non Black Americans didn’t likely see but, I wanted to cry from relief of feeling like, there might be a place in the world for me, as me.

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