As we formulate a new approach to U.S.–Wakanda relations, let us establish at the outset, Wakanda is not an s-hole country. Its natural resources and technological advances surpass nations considered First World. With the right intentions, Wakanda has the capability to create a Utopia for all humanity.
As former Ambassador to Senegal (during the Clinton and Bush Administrations), and having had State Department postings in Belgium, Greece, and Turkey, I know forming U.S. relations with the fictitious country in the blockbuster film, Black Panther, would prove to be an unprecedented case study in global affairs. This multi-tiered approach would include:
- Americans should learn to value in and respect the cultures and traditions of Wakanda.
- The U.S. should be open to trade with Wakanda without colonizing or exploiting it.
- African Americans should welcome Wakanda’s initiative to heal the relationship which could possibly lead to a paradigm shift in racism and classism in the global community.
During my tenure as Cultural Affairs Officer in Athens, Greece, there was great anti-Americanism, with several kidnappings and killings of Americans. Protestors demonstrated daily at the American Embassy. They were so disillusioned about the U.S. foreign policy decisions at the time that they were not interested in discussing cooperation on economic growth or trade and investment. I, instead, focused on sharing our education and technology, as well as art, music and dance. This strategy gave me a positive rapport with Greek government officials. I also learned I must share without trying to institute cultural assimilation.
As a Foreign Service Office in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), I had a passionate conversation with an Ivorian colleague. Admittedly, I was cavalier in making some suggestions. His immediate reply was, “You Americans always want to democratize everything.” This taught me a valuable lesson. The American way is not the way for everyone.
Wakanda’s monarchy is far from the democracy that America has tried to promote around the world. Arguably, the most powerful of all the nations on the African continent, Wakanda has a pivotal resource needed to ensure America’s stature in today’s technology-driven world. That resource is vibranium. The U.S. Government must re-examine all elements of existing policy toward the continent based on past mistakes during the Iraq War and the continued conflict in Afghanistan.
Black Panther is filled with subtle influences on international relations. The clear references to racism bring to mind the thought-provoking essays of Merze Tate, the first African-American woman to receive her doctorate in international relations. She joined several of her colleagues in the late 1940s during a time where the world was often divided up amongst white European powers colonizing black, brown and yellow people around the world. She wanted to remind their students that they needed to see race as a central mover in international affairs. In fact, many would view the film as a testament to the primacy of race in studying global affairs.
While vibranium is a powerful resource Wakanda is willing to trade with the U.S., it pales in comparison to what its people share with African Americans: blood ties to the continent of Africa. Black Americans are disconnected from their tribes and traditions. Yet, there is a growing interest in ancestral rituals, as illustrated in the film. This can serve as a foundation with which we build love and trust with each other. Maybe T’Challa will reveal more resources to family members of the Diaspora. With its education, technology, spiritual practices and military policy of peace, the U.S. would easily be Wakandanized. There could be worse alternatives.
Financial success aside, the film provides a host of lessons the U.S. and other industrialized nations must learn. While the military and economic power may enhance a comfortable lifestyle, education and health, recent tragedies around the world have proven otherwise. The absence of moral leadership in the U.S. and other parts of the world will help us realize there are other places that provide a critical resource needed to retain our current stature on the world stage. That critical resource is not vibranium, or any other resource mined out of the ground or caves. We need honorable leadership. Despite all the “Christian” and family values touted in speeches and campaign rallies, families are forcibly separated, destitute Americans in crises are abandoned and domestic terrorism goes unchecked.
Erik Killmonger, the former CIA operative trained to be a killing machine, wanted to export vibranium as a resource to empower blacks around the world while using it as a weapon against their nations’ power structures. Without honorable leadership and common civility, he would succeed. Easily.
Ambassador Harriet L. Elam-Thomas is Director of the University of Central Florida Diplomacy Program and author of “Diversifying Diplomacy: My Journey from Roxbury to Dakar.” Elam-Thomas’ stellar career with the U.S. Department of America’s Foreign Service spanned forty-two years, during which time President Bill Clinton appointed her to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal. The memoir website: www.diversifyingdiplomacy.com