For as long as there has been cinema, black people have longed to see themselves represented in a respectable manner on the big screen. For decades, every organization that has fought for human rights for black people has cried out for the need for such a thing. Now, with Black Panther fast tracked to bring in $1 billion at the box office, some are asking how this phenomenon can be used for the betterment of those who see themselves within that beautiful imagery.
Inspiring is what some have called Ryan Cooglers Marvel masterpiece, but inspired to do what?
With the overwhelming black support that has been showered upon this film, a mainstream offering in name only, we see that the age-old adage of black dont support black is a misnomer.
What has been missing from cinema and television has always been blackness for the sole purpose of blackness; and not as an incidental happenstance of plot, dialogue, set design or costumes. Blackness that is unencumbered by mainstream sensibilities, is beautiful, proud, complex, advanced and forward-thinking. This has fueled an often reluctant African-American populous to the movie theaters in unheard of numbers.
Indeed, as the rest of society heaves and moans under the weight of its own contradictions in showing its historic disdain for black people, the need for blackness for its own sake is becoming increasingly apropos for many. It is unfortunate that the post-racial America of President Obamas dreams has become a nightmare of stupidity, demagoguery and racism.
But with this imaginary Wakanda still burning in our consciousness like a nuclear reactor, theres no end to the things that we can do.
For as long as black people have been in America, our souls have strained against the conflicting nature of our very existence. Yearning for acceptance in a land that was built off the genocide of our kin on one hand, aching for a connection to a time before the arrival of the slavers and pirates off the coast of West Africa and the kidnapping of our great, great grands.
In Rosewood and Black Wall Street, we had American Wakandas that were destroyed by white people. Those are but two of the dozens of black enclaves that were wiped out for simply manifesting black excellence in real time.
Though the word Wakanda was made up by Jack Kirby, African-Americans have been searching for it in philosophy, religion, academics, music and mysticism since half-past Jamestown in 1619.
New York Times writer Carvell Wallace wrote in an article titled Why Black Panther Is a Defining Moment for Black America“:
Black Panther is a Hollywood movie, and Wakanda is a fictional nation. But coming when they do, from a director like Coogler, they must also function as a place for multiple generations of black Americans to store some of our most deeply held aspirations. We have for centuries sought to either find or create a promised land where we would be untroubled by the criminal horrors of our American existence. From Paul Cuffees attempts in 1811 to repatriate blacks to Sierra Leone and Marcus Garveys back-to-Africa Black Star shipping line to the Afrocentric movements of the 60s and 70s, black people have populated the Africa of our imagination with our most yearning attempts at self-realization.
What does an actualized Wakanda look like? To me, it is gender-balanced, it is insular, it is wealthy, it is educated, it is prosperous, and unapologetic in its distrust of foreigners.
According to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, there was a four percent increase in hate groups last year, which was up 2.8 percent over the previous year. The total of 954 is a 20 percent jump from 2014.
Among the more than 600 white supremacist groups, neo-Nazi organizations rose to 121 from 99. Anti-Muslim groups increased for a third year in a row, to 114 from 101 in 2016, the report said.
With distrust in law enforcement at historically static levels among large African-American population centers, and the justice systems continued targeting of black faces to feed the heartless automaton created by their racist ancestors, could there be a more perfect time for a Wakanda all our own?
Land aside, black national identity in America is not nebular. There are concrete measurements upon which a nationhood can be measured. Measures like entrepreneurship, of which Black women are the largest growing group in America, education, Black women are also the most educated, are positive indicators of a positive historic trend.
According to Pew Research, from 1996 to 2012, college enrollment increased 72% among blacks, compared to 12% for whites. Additionally, black high school graduation rates rose by 63% over the same span.
Also, the long-neglected institutions of black academia are experiencing record enrollment numbers as of late. North Carolina A&T had a record-breaking fall enrollment last year and will have its largest student body population ever. Kentucky State saw a 162 percent increase in freshman enrollment, Spelman College applications jumped by 3,000, Virginia State had a 50 percent increase in new students over two years while Elizabeth City State posted its first net growth for incoming freshman in seven years.
Additionally, there are more black millionaires today than at any point in the history of this country. Though some would argue if this is at all beneficial to idea of black nation and institution building, we cannot refute the fact that their existence has been a windfall of inspiration for likeminded black executives, entrepreneurs and gatekeepers. Imagery means a lot. The existence of any template of success alludes to one being able to replicate it, and this is how black excellence can inspire others to do the same.
Though the conduit was Ava DuVernay, would she or Ryan Coogler even exist without Spike Lee? See? Thats what Im talking about.
Their existence is a necessity for us all due to the degrading, demeaning and stereotypical imagery that Hollywood often paraded as black content. Wakanda begins in the mind, and the mind needs positive imagery and examples, especially when there has been a historic dearth of them
Similar to the increase in HBCU enrollment being directly correlated to the racial animus that permeates our current societal dialectic, and how racist and sexist work policies inspired black women to get educated and employ themselves, external pressure is being exhibited by a callous mainstream that is visibly repulsed by pure black thought. Thats how diamonds are created.
This can be replicated. However, the history of Wakanda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe dates back thousands of years. It takes time to create a nation, even when that nation has no borders and is only in our hearts. Time and love. Time is infinite, but we only have a small amount to work with, but love can make time irrelevant.
When the world is against you, love of blackness is an act of self-defense. Can ya dig it?