As difficult as it may be to accept, gender is a social construct and has an entirely different meaning from biological sex. Western ideologies, which were largely dispersed through domination and conquest, have their value. Yet, Western colonization of parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas also replaced, altered, and in some cases, destroyed indigenous belief systems and cosmologies that were beneficial to the peoples that created them. Hopefully, the following 9 frames will provoke further study about this topic, gender dysphoria (a very real human status), and a greater understanding of people and peoples who do not neatly fit this very Western concept of being either one thing or the other.
This is not a review of the film Black Panther. This is a brief musing about what crossed my mind after I saw this film. First, Black Panther is unapologetically “Black.” I use “Black” here to indicate that while the film is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, it also includes Africans of a variety of ethnicities, African Americans and a genuine nod to the entire African Diaspora most of whom are descendants of former slaves in the West. I am a member of that African Diaspora. The film also gives a few cultural nods to the Ndebele, Yorùbá, Maasai, and Akan peoples on the African continent (thank you, actor-vocalist-friend Saycon Sengbloh for pointing this out first). The film gets the multi-facted roles of African women so very right. The film also has some serious messages unlike any messages you have ever heard in a Marvel Super Hero movie. Don’t worry, if you have not seen it yet, I’m not going to ruin it for you. All I can say is that it is an entertaining joy ride of a film that will make you think…really, really think. With that said, here’s what I thought about immediately after I saw Black Panther.
Black Panther has stirred up a genuine sense of pride in Black Americans that we don’t get to feel with this much enthusiasm too often. It has taken decades of hard work to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who have endured brutal chattel slavery, Jim Crow, systematic racism and discrimination, police brutality, you-name-it. It has taken decades of hard work and scholarship to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who, for centuries, were told that Africa had no real history, no real contributions to civilization when all of what these descendants were told is/was/remains patently false. However, it is dangerous to over-romanticize any history; to make any and every description of our African ancestors totally positive. Black Panther, in its own unique way through fiction, de-romanticizes history by showing us a multi-ethnic, multi-generational Wakanda with all the friction and righteous compromise and conflict such diversity can foster. You leave the movie theater proud, but fully aware that Africans (and we African descendants) have tremendous gifts and flaws not because we are or ever have been inferior or superior, but rather because we are human.
I remember a lecture given by the late African scholar, Dr. Ali Mazrui back in 1996 where he stated that to deny Africans the ability to be wrong was also the same as denying them their humanity. Dr. Mazrui was always controversial. He said the only African-American activist that he had any real respect for was Randall Robinson, the founder of Trans-Africa. When asked why he only dug Robinson, Dr. Mazrui said, “Robinson not only raises his voice when Whites do something wrong to Africans, Robinson speaks out when Africans are doing something to wrong to other Africans.” I’ve never forgotten that statement and what that statement truly means.
When you love your people, you praise them when they are right and you don’t make excuses for them when they are wrong. You work to correct them. You speak out against racism, colonialism, and the exploitation of your people no matter who the adversary is. That lecture by Dr. Mazrui, and so many lectures given by visiting and former professors drove home that I could not afford to care as much about how Africans and African-descended peoples looked to the rest of the world more than I cared about how well or how poorly they/we all were doing. If you love your people you don’t worry about what their image is and how it affects you as much as you worry about their well-being, period. Black Panther shows just how difficult that can be, but it also shows that it can be gloriously done…
Now, if you don’t exactly understand this post, it is probably because you have not seen Black Panther yet. It could also be because you know very little about the continent of Africa’s very complicated history. However, my points will be clearer once you’ve opened a few books and taken the ride to Wakanda. So, get to the movie theater. You won’t be disappointed. Wakanda Forever.
This is a short blog…because, well, finishing a dissertation is serious business. There are two dates that are important that I would like to highlight for you. The first date is May 25, 2017 which is African Liberation Day, but also the launch date of Africans Rising, a continental and global movement spearheaded by its launch director, South African native Kumi Naidoo. Naidoo daringly states that one of the first problems the continent has is a leadership that will not make room for the young; and young Africans are no longer simply willing to point their fingers at the harsh and lasting damage from past European colonization and exploitation, but also at African leaders who hold power too long and often. I invite you to visit this organization’s website. Read the magnificent Kilamanjaro Declaration and sign on to this movement of continental Africans and members of the vast African Diaspora. Join us on 25 May 2017 by wearing something red and turning off all of your electronics (lights, etcetera) for at least a few hours to acknowledge the millions of Africans across the continent who do not have electricity. Visit: Africans-Rising.org and read more about this beginning. You can also watch a video of one of the most brilliant minds on earth: the anti-apartheid activist, feminist and environmentalist Kumi Naidoo here. This is worth every minute:
The second dates for you to remember are June 20 & 21, 2017 which is the premier of season two of Queen Sugar. The Ava DuVernay-created show is a revelation. Never before has such an honest portrayal of a Black farming family been shown on television with their virtues and their flaws and their humanity in tact. So, I encourage any and everyone to watch the two-night premiere on the OWN TV network or app on June 20 & 21, 2017. You can watch a trailer for the second season right here.