In a hot, dusty field with no grass, trees or flowers, lay emaciated African children with protruding bellies and bulging eyes, too weak to move or to swat away the flies landing on them like cow dung, as a White person displayed them and urged us to send money for food (a mere 70 cents per day).
That is my first prominent memory of seeing Brown people on television. I also remember watching Fat Albert: a group of seven Black boys who would get into a little mischief and then always end up in a junkyard playing broken instruments. Fred Sanford and his son also gave me a few laughs as they too dealt with funny scenarios around their home in a junkyard. Similarly, I tuned in religiously to J.J. saying “Dyno-mite” on the show Good Times as he and his family navigated life in the projects.
I also have vivid memories of watching Roots with my mother and father while we ate dinner and I drank my nightly tall glass of milk (“It will help you grow, Baby,” my Dad would always say). Afterwards I would have nightmares about Kunte Kinte getting whipped.
What about you? What are your earliest memories of seeing Black people, your people -represented on television? What did they tell you about who you are? What did they tell you about the way the world sees you? What did they tell you about who you could be?
I certainly didn’t consciously consider these things as I was delightfully distracted or entertained; but I think more about how we are depicted ever since I became a mother. It matters. My son said to me the other day after I left a lot of food on my plate the oft-uttered phrase, “…there are starving kids in Africa.” It was a phrase I had said before, as had my mother and father (probably when they were encouraging me to drink my nightly tall glass of milk). However, that day I immediately responded back to my son, “there are starving children everywhere: up the street, all over the United States and in every country. The continent of Africa certainly isn’t the only place that struggles with feeding all of its residents.”
But why did he only think of Africa as poor? Most likely, for the same reason that most Black people will list visiting London and Paris as dream trips, over travelling to Cape Town, Morocco or Tanzania as a dream trip (as a side note: I promise you that the the latter are just as, if not more beautiful). Since the very first Tarzan movies, Africa has always been represented as poor, barren, uncivilized, uneducated and savage. How sneakily destructive it is to be taught (subliminally or directly) that your home is a hostile wasteland; and the first thing that you are taught about your people is that they were slaves (not enslaved). And then in all early media, African Americans have typically been portrayed as poor, dangerous, slaves, maids, thugs, drug dealers, and other bottom dwellers. Unless we were blessed enough to have parents or others who provided us with outside knowledge, how could we possibly, and solidly be proud of who we are?
So, the movie Black Panther isn’t simply revolutionary, it’s healing. None of us Black Americans knew we were dangerously sociologically dehydrated until Black Panther came along and quenched our thirst—an IV of cool-ass Blackness. Now we are invigorated: no doubt that thousands of Black folks walked into work this weekend wearing some African swag or with a whole different swagger. There is something powerful about being reminded of your greatness—ain’t it?
I don’t know about you, but while I am usually annoyed when my news feed is polluted with the same post repeatedly (okay, we get that it’s cold) I have loved the countless pictures of stars and my friends raving about the movie; dressed dashiki-clean going to see the movie, article after article written about the movie, and streams of IG’s and tweets. To put it mildly: we are a joyful, obsessed, exuberant bunch of folk; and it’s a beautiful thing. I’ve been trying to think of how we can keep this feeling of love/euphoria and prideful unity going:
- Ensure that the kids in your life or in your community see the film.
- Ensure that the kids in your life and in your community have opportunities to be consistently reminded of their greatness. Self-love is rooted in true knowledge of self and our history.
- I decided two years ago to always smile when I encounter another Black person, particularly at our young Brothas. I realize that when they walk on a bus or in store, they are mostly met with faces of fear and disdain; and I didn’t want to be another person (particularly as their Sista) who added to that
- Speak to one another.
- Be careful of what you watch, listen to, and read. How does it represent you, Black people? Messages are always being sent about us that unconsciously affect the decisions we make, the way we see our people and ourselves.
- Support Black businesses whenever possible.
- Check your language. It’s time for us to stop degrading ourselves and each other. We are the only race who seems to do it so pervasively. I understood the idea of taking back ownership of the word “Nigger” – but now I think it’s time (past time, actually) to either call each other by our first names or a loving name (Sista, Brotha, Queen. King, Beautiful). No more nigga, bitch, ho. No more using Africa or Black as if they are derogatory things (that Black, no-good, so-and-so). Also, please let’s not use any more language that separates us by using the rules implemented by slave masters created to do just that. No more “team light-skin” and ‘”team dark-skin” African vs. African American vs. Black.
I’m greedy, I guess. I don’t want to let this feeling pass. I don’t want to have a conversation 10 years from now that starts with, “Remember how hyped we were when Black Panther came out? Whatever happened to that energy?” I believe that in our own way, if we try, we can truly create “Wakanda Forever!”