An Encomium to the Black Experience: Why I am excited to see Black Panther
Colonized, broken, subservient, destitute, poor and reliant on aid. These are the common motifs that typically come to mind when some give an errant thought to the continent of Africa. There is a deep history, explaining aspects of these considerations, mostly colonial but they are not the whole picture. Africa has a rich legacy, a cultural tapestry that stretches back to the dawn of time, achievements that have been unsung or even suppressed. I have been doing a lot of reading lately, mostly on literature that have undertaken a bold and honest look at the history of humankind. I have been studying how the legacies of colonization persist in modern day vestiges of prejudice and systematic disenfranchisement. I have also been looking at how language and narrative can exhibit and perpetuate invented divisions. Two books come to mind here and I would love to suggest them to you, They are Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harrari and Dialogical Self Theory by Hubert Hermans, and Agnieszka Hermans-Konopka.
The former is an exquisite exploration of the journey of humankind, showing the many paths we have taken, niches we have settled in. It is exhaustive and holistic account of the different cultures that have been weaved, as well as how our tools, worldview, philosophy, most importantly how empire has shaped both the earth and ourselves. The latter takes a look at how language and narrative can either build bridges and understanding of the “other” or perpetuate divisions we have come to know. The book does an amazing job at explaining the source and drivers of threat perception upon the globalized stage. Critical to this is the examination and distinction between Monological and Dialogical communication. Monological being a top down and rigid form of discourse that limits the bandwidth of communication. Dialogical communications opens all possible channels, is inclusive and seeks to holistically deal with misperceptions, born from countering positions.
Racism and prejudice are sterling examples of monological communication. Communication that serves to assuage a perceived grievance or rationalizations oriented towards a particular end, typically division, suppression dominance or protectionist impulse. Think here of the Trump White House’s worldview on immigration, or the attitude of noblesse oblige that continues to plunder African through the Charitable Humanitarian Complex” I count myself very fortunate to have lived in a country where my personal encounter with racism has never gone beyond the threshold of mere offence. My life has never been threatened, nor my personal or professional pursuits limited due to my race. Nevertheless I recognize that a system of suppression and oppression are firmly in place with various degrees of manifestation. As a black male in Canada, I cannot discount the full and complete legacy of dispossession and disenfranchisement that continues to be the plight of my aboriginal brothers and sisters. Nor the strained relations between law enforcement and many people of colour as well as other vulnerable minorities. There is a system and it persists.
Black Panther, a story of the technologically superior and unconquered super power of Wakanda, is a welcome opportunity to buck the exaggerated and monological narrative surrounding Africa and perhaps other culture served the same treatment in history.
I do not know as much as I should about my deep ancestry, but my Grandmother has told my family she is descended from the Maroons. A group of West African slaves taken to the greater and lesser Antilles to fill the void left by the indigenous genocide that took place there. I am very proud to know that the Maroons were among some of the first slaves to revolt against their cruel masters in Jamaica. Knowing that I have that blood in my veins has been everything for me. For years I have pondered at the level of cultural and spiritual dispossession that European colonialism has dealt to my people, I have wondered about the cultural traditions I was torn from as a result and the Gods I have not had the opportunity to worship. My orientation towards Africa has always been a curious wonder, deep longing and pain that I do not know it as well as I should. When I think about achievements like the Library of Alexandria, and the strength and monuments built by many on the continent I wonder about the real life Wakanda’s that have evaded modern western history’s record, narrative and respect.
Will there be some who are put off by this film? Of course, the symbol of the Black Panther and Black Panthers has always been controversial and weary by those determined to subvert and twist it for some of the reasons listed above, none of that will detract from the beauty and majesty of this re-presentation of black culture.
What I am most excited for is the generation of black boys and girls who will look to the big screen and see towering and talented heroes who look just like them. I look forward to those seeking reconnection and a homecoming, I look forward for the dialogical discourse that this film will no doubt launch. I look forward for the raising of a voice so often distorted or muted in the media. I look forward to the day when parents no longer have to warn their children about walking at certain hours or wearing hoodies….they can wear capes….they can learn science. They can clothe themselves in vibranium, be bulletproof and achieve epic feats.
Whether in Marvel’s Wakanda, or DC’s Vathlo Island (Krypton), Afrofuturism is a welcome balm for those seeking reconnection with their motherland, inspiration and an invitation to a deeper understanding of race relations.
If we can confront historical grievance and misunderstanding in an inclusive and dialogical way, without suppression, there is no limit to what we as a human species can achieve or heal. I am proud of this opportunity, and it moves me deeply. Wakanda Forever!
I wrote this after watching Kendrick Lamar‘s video All the Stars, featured on the Black Panther original soundtrack. It almost brought me to tears. Take a look, a beautiful tribute to African dress and culture.