The Real Wakanda: When Art Imitates Black Life

There is so much being said about the #1 movie in the nation right now.  Yes, I’m talking about Black Panther again, but you had to know that from the title right?  So, strap in and I’ll take you through this week’s reflections on the significance of this global event as it relates to “The Real Wakanda”.

I was fortunate to be born into an American family that felt it important that I learn all I could about my African and my American heritage.  This was no small feet in that there weren’t many written records to consult since the branches of my family that left Africa for the Americas did so as enslaved persons.  This is a fact and one that I say without shame.  It happened.  What is truly remarkable to me is that an unfathomable marriage of strength and divine mercy resulted in my line surviving the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade, the American Slavery era, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era right on down to today.

Most of our “histories” are oral though a few have been preserved in pictures and writings.  It is a big deal that I can now say I know the names of those from my direct line going back four generations into the late 1800s. Without Marta D. and Willyerd, without Willie Lee and Jeannie, without Willie and Wilmotine, without Carrie Lee, Robert, Eva, Noble, Willie Belle, Esau, Maggie, Haywood, Dora, Emmit, Mary Lou, Lewis, Minerva, Thomas, Mattie, Willie, Malinda and those whose names we lost at sea, there could be no me.

So when y’all wanna talk about Killmonger…

I swallowed the pain in that little boy’s eyes when he looked at his daddy and said,

“Maybe it’s your people who are lost and that’s why they can’t find us.”

That’s not made up.  That’s real and we need to talk about it.

Those of us who know that when we face ourselves in the mirror that a piece of who we are is missing and in some ways can never be fully recovered. This is a psychological burden that prevents true wellness of mind in some.

For those who can afford to have a DNA test done we can fill in some of the gaps.  For example, I was fortunate to be able to obtain some pieces of my DNA story through 23andMe a few years back.  As it turns out, my maternal haplogroup branch is one of the oldest in the world beginning in eastern Africa, migrating to western Africa and expanding to the north along the Atlantic coast to present-day Morocco and the Canary Islands.

Travel really is in my blood, y’all. (wink)

Most of my maternal haplogroup relatives are concentrated in Ethiopia and Sudan today.  If you’re wondering, YES, that makes me want to hop a plane and walk the land of my foremothers. I am ON it!

I am hungry to know more about the other branches of my family and seeing Black Panther only fanned those flames.

I want to KNOW myself and that was a big part of what shaped Killmonger’s character.  In his case, he knew the truth of who he was, but he was still cut off from a real “knowing”.  You realize that when you hear his father’s voice catch as he admits that he should have taken his son home long ago. Being in America cut off from his people broke something deep inside young N’Jadaka. If you look around and have the courage to be honest you can see this brokenness in many African Americans today.

Black Panther opened up that longing in a lot of people to want to know the “home” that has long alluded them as “African” Americans.  Still, it can’t just stop there.  We can’t let this be a fad. So, I pose a question to each of you reading this that I want you to ask yourselves:

What can I do to support African Americans connecting to their African culture?

Perhaps you can sponsor a mentee who wants to learn their genetic lineage via 23andMe or AfricanAncestry.com.

Maybe you can be the voice on the school board that insists that African and African American histories and cultures and languages be reflected in the curriculum and not treated as a special add on during Black History Month.

Where are the Africa Trip fundraising drives for newly graduated seniors to take a gap year on the African continent?  Where are the study abroad programs to Africa and its MANY universities?

I appreciate the real way that Ryan articulated in his film this double consciousness that W.E.B. DuBois captured in his scholarly works on what it is to be an African American.  I am looking forward to the continued conversations that Black Panther is pushing people to have out in the open.  Now, I want y’all to see what this movie is doing for black folks in this clip from The Tonight Show because right now, we are #winning.

Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Lubbock, Texas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.

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