Why Black History Month Should Inspire Our Definition of Blackness
It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since the global phenomenon and cultural shapeshifter Black Panther, ceremoniously hit theaters with the abundance of thematic gloriousness that propelled the celebratory crowns of Black folks both near and far.
Social media became an vibrant photo album, hosting the once-in-a-lifetime experience, documenting the unification of brothers and sisters, decked out in traditional garb that evidenced the undefeated force of Black power, and how it transcends the horrific infiltration of white power.
Returning to the stunning scene, depicting the elaborate reception to Marvel’s marvelous investment in the theatrical embodiment of a Black superhero and honorable monarch of the kingdom of Wakanda, the most technologically-advanced African nation, thanks to supercharged vibranium — it’s easy to recapture what made that season so magical.
For me, it was the idealistic characteristics of Nakia, played by the luminous Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o, that captivated my imagination, while challenging the realness of struggling with an identity that I never seriously questioned, until a fictional African superpower forced the desire for reconciliation.
It’s not hard to see why Nakia captures the heart of T’Challa, the new King of Wakanda, who switches to his superhero role to defend his territory and its invaluable riches, when it’s urgently required. She’s a highly skilled huntress and sophisticated spy, who can stealthily gather intel with her chameleon-like moves that allows her to blend into targeted environments.
Nakia looks good doing what she does best, and she’s a trusted counselor, to the man who admittedly “freezes” when the name of his” one and only” comes up or if she happens to appear on cue.
But the standout about this Black woman character, who is described in the comic book as a “War Dog” and illustrated in the film as an activist to the core, who is passionate about protecting the interests of her homeland, but is also willing to share the wealth with the less fortunate around the world, is how strongly she identifies with what she knows to be true.
What does Blackness mean to you?
This layered question came up a lot during the extensive press tour for Black Panther that took leading cast members all over the globe, where they diligently and patiently answered questions pertaining to the prolificness of a life-changing movie, the first of its kind for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because of the deep dive into core subjects of Black history with tragedies from displacement and fractured bonds.
Black Panther shook the very foundations of our beings by not “letting us off the hook” as the late and great Chadwick Boseman, the real-life superhero once stated in an interview.
Social engagement on massive platforms breeds long-awaited conversations that didn’t have the chance for activation in public squares back when openly discussing the toxicity of of sexual predatoriness in high-end workplaces was considered taboo.
Diaspora wars took off with viral ammunition, way before the event of our lifetimes arrived to gather us together in the blissful communion of what it means to not let the disease of white supremacy, successfully severe any hopes of not allowing glaring differences in varying interpretations of the Black experience to finalize the great divide.
The online verbal confrontations that encompass fractions of disenfranchised Black folks and splices of Black cultures is manifested from the evils of colonialism and slavery — the unforgivable acts of violence that white power propelled in reaction to the fearfulness of Black power and its searing potency.
And this is where the splendor of Wakanda takes over, as a spectator who can’t help mourning the loss of what could have been if only white invaders hadn’t brutally massacred tribal lineages with gluttonous fury, and with the mandate of destabilizing the core mechanisms of Blackness to erase any threats to western civilization.
Nakia is self-assured in her steadfast loyalty and profound love for her nativity as a proud Wakandan, and when I examine those traits, it’s hard to relate to that level of commitment.
What does Blackness mean to someone like me?
Even before I was aware of the privilege that comes with dual citizenship, I did know about my inability to seamlessly float from one identity to the other.
Leaving America at the age of eight for assimilation into my Nigerianness was a weird and turbulent assignment for a child, who couldn’t quite express the loss she felt, and how it became a hovering menace that interfered with the completion of her transformation.
By the time I left my homeland for my place of birth at the age of eighteen, I was ready to escape the decades-long immersion that weathered Nigeria’s worst period of societal woes, at the hands of a criminalized government that contained traitorous ingredients of bribery and corruption with deadliness of back-to-back military coups.
College life in the States was the opportunity to rediscover my Americanness at a time in my life when such pursuits are rewarding.
I was able to refute the blatant lies my parents had been fed by white folks who were aggressively gracious towards African immigrants back in the sixties and seventies, as part of the trusted strategy of demonizing Black Americans to maintain the great divide that has crippled Black cultures for far too long.
But even after being an American for more than two decades with very limited visits to Nigeria, despite the booming renaissance that began about eight years ago, with celebrities flocking to the prime locations of Lagos and Abuja, certifying the mass appeal of the most populous African nation that could’ve been the real-life version of Wakanda in an alternate universe — I’m still uncomfortably straddling two vastly different identities.
Rewatching Black Panther in honor of both Chadwick Boseman, who sadly passed away last summer, and Black History Month, I’m struck by how inconsolable I was, almost grief-stricken by the ancestral codes that were stolen from me, by the horrors of white supremacy.
As an American girl raised in Nigeria, I was taught to respect my Black culture without sacrificing reverence for whiteness, which I was blessed to claim, by birth and the inheritance that would be certified, once I was mature enough to relocate.
It would’ve been nice to enjoy the bountifulness of a wealthy African nation, bursting with great minds who are primed to elevate their culture in their homeland, like Shuri. It would’ve been dope to have the security and majesty of fierce gorgeousness and warrior spirits of the Dora Milaje, under the tutelage of a capable ruler, protector and Black Panther, who is unapologetically Black in thought, word and deed.
Nigeria like other Black and Brown former colonies hasn’t been able to live up to the hype of “Independence Day” since that fateful date of October 1st 1960, when the British formally handed over power back to a victimized Black nation that has remained destructively powerless with no rescue in sight.
The world premiere of Black Panther back in 2018, encouraged me to establish what Blackness really means to me, without familial influences and with the accumulated years of interactions with communities that thrive in cities where diversity isn’t a trend.
I’ve always joked about not feeling quite Nigerian and reservedly embracing being American with honesty of how not being a descendent of slaves, is the undeniable distinguisher of why my journey to define my Blackness has to recognize personalized qualifications.
Black History Month is a good time to resurrect a work in progress, as I make the extra effort to do what I should’ve accomplished way before now, which is to reconnect on a deeper and more spiritual level with my tribal currency, while complementing those values with the durability of my Americanness.
Blackness is worshipping the verses in the storybook that holds the gems of our evolution that was damningly rewritten by the scorn of whiteness.
Generations keep fighting to reignite the narrative that burns with an undying flame.
There will always be those who look like you, but consider you the enemy within, who must be defeated, and white supremacy is responsible for creating that cracked foundation that threatens to swallow us whole.
My Blackness is not negotiable.
I’m empowered by all the facets that are comprised of who I used to be, and what I’ve become as someone who never wants to stop evolving.
I’m a Black woman, who loves her home country unconditionally, but avoids the abusive nature that comes with that investment, and I’m also married to my Americanness with full knowledge of the high-risks that are associated with living in a country that’s wired against the best interests and survivability of those who share my skin color.
There’s no safe haven; just the dreams of what could’ve been and acceptance of what can’t be altered.
My Blackness will never stop being my best asset, and I will strive to maximize those moments when I’m inspired to reevaluate what that means to me.