Black Panther Reaction: Identity, Blackness and Liberation.
Ok so boom, I’m here to talk about a movie that has really touched me, a movie whose impact on the culture cannot be measured. BLACK PANTHER!
There may be spoilers so I hope you’ve watched before you read this post.
In order for me to share why this film meant so much to me, I have to give some context. I’m African American, grew up in a predominantly black space early on in life then moved to a town that was pretty ethnically and racially diverse, the ethnic component is an important factor. As I went through high school I dated someone for 5 years who was born and raised in Jamaica until his teen years. His identity as a Jamaican immigrant impacted our relationship a lot, but I never realized this until long after the relationship ended. In 2009, as a culture, ethnicity was rarely discussed so I never really understood its influence on identity and lived experiences.
Moving on, I go off to college in 2012, a time where people start discussing ethnicity and the preference for “foreign” women. Once I go to college I quickly realized the way ethnicity and nativity have such a deep impact of how people express their blackness. In college was the first time that I understood the influence of growing up as “African American”. Sidebar - this post may need a few explanatory commas. When I say African Americans I’m referring to Americans who are decedents of slaves in the U.S. As I went through college I only had one friend who identified as African American, the rest of my black friends were first or second generation, when I say the first generation I’m using a definition that is in line with immigration literature, first generation would be people who migrated to the U.S. The second generation would be the people born in the U.S, the children of the first generation. At my undergrad institution being African American was the minority of the minority. I would argue that the black community was very African/West Indian centered which made navigating certain spaces very difficult. It was a feeling of exclusion and I soon realized how some west Africans or West Indians felt about African American culture.
One time I had a professor tell me that because I’m Africa American I would have a harder time navigating black spaces on campus. At first, I was really confused by the comment, then confusion grew into frustration then it was all normalized. Having friends that were black from the West Indies or West Africa really made me deal with my own blackness and identity. For the first time in life, I was exposed to the negative stereotypes that black people have against African Americans. I honestly could talk about how college shaped my identity for hours, but I don’t want this post to unnecessarily long. As someone who used to feel emotions of shame and inadequacy connected to their ethnicity finding pride and acceptance in my blackness took time, to me this film showed various examples of what happens when those negative emotions around ethnicity aren't dealt with in an appropriate manner.
Fast forward to now, I’m a Ph.D. student who studies race and immigration, specifically the relationship between African Americans and black immigrants through outcomes of identity, health disparitues, and social movements. I’ve been in a relationship with a second generation Haitian man for close to 5 years, and all my friends (except two) are second generation immigrants. My own lived experiences have influenced my research in a lot of ways. My main overarching research motivation is to (1) Have black people recognized as a diverse group/dismay the idea that black people are one monolithic group (2) Find a way to bring all the various black experiences together in order to find a way to have transnational liberation.
My research, my lived experiences and my own struggles with my identity have all influenced the way I digested Black Panther.
Overall the film was phenomenal! The attention to detail, character development, and representation of the diaspora. I’m going to use this post to talk about two characters in particular - Killmonger, and Nakia.
I’ve seen some discussion on Twitter about these two characters in particular. In my mind, Killmonger and Nakia see the world totally different but in the end, share the same critique about Wakanda’s lack of involvement in other affairs that affect black people around the world. I saw Killmonger as an African American, separated from the continent due to colonialism and the system of slavery. Killmonger is well aware of his tie to Wakanda but knows that he’s an outsider which heightens his emotions of abandonment. I saw Nakia the way I see a lot of my first/second generation friends from west Africa. Nakia was able to connect with a particular country on the continent but found herself living in a different country/continent at times. The perspective Nakia gained by leaving Wakanda allowed her to be critical of their lack of involvement with other nations. The important distinction between Killmonger and Nakia is their sense of belonging. The idea of belonging or group connectedness is extremely impactful on identity. For Killmonger to deal with the death of his mother (which the film failed to highlight), the death of his father and the abandonment of his paternal relatives all played a role in creating the ideals of Killmonger. As an African American, I related deeply with Killmonger, with his anger, with the shame of being isolated, with the disappointment. I felt as though Nakia and Killmonger’s roles were more closely related than Killmonger and T’challa. Nakia was able to take a nonviolent and reserved approach to Wakanda's lack of involvement because she voluntarily left Wakanda and was consistently welcomed back with open arms. Her views were able to be viewed as the more palatable version of liberation in comparison to Killmonger. Now yes, there is a gender analysis that could be done here too (Killmonger treated women terribly imo), but my main point is rooted in the ability for Nakia to use her various identities to foster negotiations with the people of Wakanda, while Killmonger’s identity as an outsider/American caused him to be viewed as lost and untamed. Liberation looked different to them because their experiences are different, just like the experiences of black people from the diaspora are different. Slavey in the West Indies was different than slavery in the States, that doesn't take away how equally inhuman and terrible they both were. Slavery and colonization are both horrible and have worked in tandem to seperate those with roots from the continent rather than unifying them.
It’s my hope that a character like Killmonger opens up a dialogue between black folk off all ethnicities and nativity status around what it means to a be far removed yet so deeply connected to African culture. I see this moment in time as a parallel between the reconstruction era and pan African movement. Even though the pan African movement of the reconstruction era has its issues it also had an important central ideology of connecting the African diaspora. I’m sure Black Panther meant something different to me than it did to a black Britt or Haitian American and that’s the beauty of this film. Our experiences are not all going to be the same but our similarities of resistance and resilience are nothing to be downplayed.
I’m so excited about this film and what it means for the culture and I’m thrilled to have a dialogue around what the film meant to different facets of black culture. Please feel free to continue this conversation in the comments below.
With love, Breanna