After 'Black Panther': When The Excitement Of Wakanda Fades, Please Don't Forget About Africa
An open letter from a U.S. Diplomat
February 19, 2018 at 5:37 pm
As my greasy hands reached for the remnants of my overpriced, extra-large, buttery popcorn, I felt my heart tightening with the realization that Black Panther was about to end. There, in the dark movie theater, surrounded by people of all colors with whom I shared the past two hours and fifteen minutes of the Wakanda experience, I felt a sudden nostalgia for a moment that had not even passed yet.
I felt myself fearing the fleetingness of this magical moment that united all of black America at a time when it seems there is an assault on all people of color. Having served in Africa as a U.S. diplomat improving relations between America and African countries for the past five years and through my nonprofit work in West Africa for over a decade, I cultivated a passion for Africa. As the American daughter of African parents, Africa is in my blood. So, I was disheartened when I returned home at Christmas to America after serving my country to reports that Africa was considered to be full of “shithole countries.” Part of me felt like all of the work so many of my colleagues and I committed to working on in Africa promoting peace agreements, strengthening democracies, and fostering economic partnerships among other things, was being undone. The African part of me swallowed yet another tough pill that other Africans before me swallowed accepting that our people are constantly denigrated through images and messages that perpetuate stereotypes of Africans as primitive, poor, and less than.
Given the state of racial tensions in America, I was even more anxious to come home for fear that something could happen to my black husband at a traffic stop because of flagrant police brutality towards people of color. Coming home made me fear for my two babies because the Black Lives Matter movement’s mere existence affirms that, well, currently, their lives don’t matter as much to our society. So I basically came back and mourned what I felt was a profound loss of hope in my country. Feeling as defeated, unsupported, and exhausted as many other black people in America right now, I loved and needed every minute of this movie. Black Panther was validation not just for the work that I do, but for who I am.
While I didn’t know the other moviegoers in theater number nine, I knew that every single person in that room felt something. Something real; an almost palpable pride in this imaginary land that is not so imaginary actually. Just like a surfer awaits the perfect wave knowing the tide will cause that wave to eventually pass, I realized that the euphoria around Black Panther would dissipate eventually. So, I whispered a prayer:
When Wakanda fever dies down, please let everyone remember that although Wakanda is make-believe, Africa is real. Its people and descendants are real. And it is a continent that has always been worthy of the pan-African pride the movie is encouraging.
As the lights lifted and people began to shuffle for their belongings, I lingered in my seat with my husband watching the remainder of the credits. We lovingly exchanged glances with satisfaction because we know the real magic of the movie: Africa is real. There is a bit of Wakanda in every African country.
We rose from our seats with our heads held a little higher. When we exited the theater, we walked a little taller. The African in me was proud to see African-Americans dawning African garments and posing boldly in front of the movie posters. As the cold winter air sobered my joy, the nostalgia hit me again in the pit of my stomach. Is this just a fad?
As astounding as the record-breaking box office sales for this movie are, this movie would not be as seismic if it did not lead to some action, some introspection, some conversation at the very least about how we capitalize on this momentum, the curiosity it has illuminated in so many African-Americans, and the need for media to more positively affirm black identity in our society.
So my message to black Americans is this: Africa is yours too. You do not need permission to know your roots. Africa is a continent of varied nations with myriad challenges, but also abundant opportunities. Yes, there have historically been some challenges between African-Americans and Africans in America, but perhaps this movie can help us to confront these issues head-on. In many ways, African-Americans have been conditioned not to like Africa and not to identify with the continent. As one friend put it, this movie presents an opportunity to solidify the ties of African-Americans to Africa.
As we leave Wakanda what can we actually do in our real lives? The first way to capitalize on the curiosity ignited by the Wakanda experience is to increase our awareness of the African continent, of African issues, and to actually visit Africa. From the desert dunes of Morocco to the beach-lined coast of my beloved Cote d’Ivoire, to the resilience of the people of Madagascar and the sky-rises of South Africa, there is much to see and learn. Africans in America must be open to sharing their experiences with African-Americans because they are the best advocates for the homeland. Secondly, you can support reputable African-based grassroots organizations or organizations run by members of the African diaspora based in America that improve conditions in African countries while fostering exchanges with Americans. Organizations like mine, Ivorian Hope, do this and many others exist as well. Third, I strongly encourage supporting pan-African organizations that work to strengthen the black community here in America like Baltimore-based Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. Despite having worked in African countries pushing them to improve the human rights situation, to uphold rule of law, and to address gender inequality, the reality is there is much work to do right here in our own backyard. This is why I believe in our need for civic engagement–not just to vote, but to engage and hold accountable our local politicians on immigration policies and on other policies that affect us. Go even further and run for office or join the State Department to increase our representation on such key issues.
Most importantly, do well in whatever corner of the world is yours because the more we advance in our jobs and careers, the further the voices of all those whom we represent will reach. By 2050, the UN projects that Africa will have the second largest population in the world and possibly the largest youth population, which basically means Africa is the future. If nothing else, it behooves us as Americans to forge positive relationships with African countries that increase political stability and economic prosperity because our futures may be dependent on this. So, black people, we don’t need to wait for Black Panther 2 for our wokeness to be reignited. My hope is that this will not be just a fad, but rather a new chapter in American history where we are empowered to write the ending. Wakanda Forever!.