It’s another thought piece centering on Black Panther, y’all! Just ride with me for a sec. I think it will be worth your while.
Since the release of Black Panther last week, there have been many conversations (and on certain Sci-Fi fan pages, outright diatribes) about who deserves the title ‘hero’ and ‘liberator’ in the comic epic. The choices are between the violent and despotic Killmonger, and the egalitarian and democratic approach that T’Challa adopts. Lazy and false comparisons between Malcolm X and MLK generally abound. Foes of the film (wryly) point to CIA Ross as the film’s true hero.
“How is a movie named ‘Black Panther’ going to have a CIA agent portrayed as the hero?” they bellyache. “In Oakland, Black Panthers were hunted and dismantled by the See Ahhh Eiiii!”
I have grown weary of pointing on that Agent Ross Baggins was less a hero and more Shuri’s tool than anything else. He only got in on the action after 1) The Wakandans healed them with their tech; 2) Nakia released him from the office where she’d locked him to keep him out of the way and 3) once Shuri guided him through how to maneuver the remote controlled aircraft she ‘dumbed down’ for his use. Being rescued and reluctantly performing a task do not a hero make.
People see what they want to see.
It’s unfortunate that more people have yet to recognize (or acknowledge) whom the film’s true champion of liberation is: Nakia. It is unfortunate, but it is not surprising. Misogynoir and chauvinism are the two most enduring and recognizable pigments that color Black folks’ fight for freedom. All over Africa, we have no “Founding Mothers” because we have yet to honestly honor the labor and blood expended by our Mothers. There has been no Black liberation movement in Africa OR in the Americas that has been successful without the myriad contributions of the Black woman. Yet while the names of MLK, Malcolm X or Kwame Nkrumah are rattled reflexively as people synonymous with the civil rights and de-colonization, the names Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker or Septima Poinsette Clark are not so easily recalled. Key members of the SCLC have admitted that the role of women in the chronicling of the Civil Rights Movement was purposely downplayed or erased. Presenting a nearly exclusive body of men as leaders of the movement would give it more “legitimacy” in the eyes of the white mainstream. Fortunately, Black women have kept all their receipts; centuries of receipts.
One of the consequences of Black Panther has been a rejuvenation of the possibility of bilateral dialogue – and more cooperation – between Africans on the continent and the Diaspora. In our hubris, we consider these conversations as something new. In reality, this was a dream shared by Malcolm, Maya, Nkrumah, Toure & Co…one that fizzled after the crack and coup epidemics took over communities on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a dream that dates back to wistful imaginations of the captives on the first ship carrying away human cargo from West Africa’s shores. There has always been a fantasy (and by Western powers, a fear) of what we could all achieve if we worked together. We’ve flirted with the idea, but never had the opportunity to put hope in unity to action. This is what I’ve seen on Twitter described as the ‘Nakia Ideology’.
Whereas T’Challa felt duty bound to carry out Wakanda’s tradition of isolationism and Killmonger was hell bent on global domination and subjugation, Nakia proposed the more pragmatic path of cooperation through mentorship and cultural immersion and exchange. In fact, we are introduced to Nakia disguised as a kidnapped girl in a Boko Haram hostage situation. In doing so, she has an intimate peek into the lives of every person in the caravan and ultimately steps in to save a young boy forced into war from an encounter with T’Challa’s claws and an early demise. She later tries to make the case to T’Challa that this is course in one that Wakanda ought to commit to: To receive refugees and mentor marginalized and exploited nations on the Wakandan system of government that has kept them stable and prosperous for so many years.
Kobby Graham was the one who got me thinking more deeply about Nakia…and more specifically about how little the significance of her contribution to this conversation is.
I have seen people dismiss Nakia because she “asked” T’Challa about considering her approach, rather than choking out and skewering elders like a Real King ™ would.
I was inspired to look up which historical figure I might make Nakia analogous to (since everybody else was doing it) and was pleased – and shocked – to discover that as part of their feminist work, African American women sought to broaden their understanding of international affairs as well as the living conditions of black people in Africa and the Carribean. Beyond understanding, they also sought to influence international affairs. By 1920 the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) formed the International Council of Women of the Darker Races as an adjunct. The stated purpose of this council was to assist in the disseminating information about people of color and to instill racial pride. The group invited speakers from Africa and the Caribbean to tour and give lectures all over America with the aim of educating and dispelling anthropological myths.
Adelaide Casely-Hayford, a Sierra Leonean woman of British, Fanti, and Jamaican Maroon decent was one of the group’s foremost partners. The NACW funded scouting and fact-finding missions in Africa and the West Indies, using that information to galvanize financial support for causes and/or individuals overseas. These women also pressured school superintendents in the US to order books about people in the diaspora. They formed sub-committees to study the shared problems – educational, social, religious and industrial – that Africans Americans and Africans faced.
On both sides of the Atlantic, women were fighting for the concerns and welfare of colonized and marginalized people. After coming to understand the true horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who was herself once a slave trader became a ferocious opponent of all forms of slavery and used her influence to try to eliminate the practice in her region.
Fannie Lou Hamer, who is said to have spoken with as much authority and spellbinding capabilities as MLK taught rural African Americans in her purview to read that they might stand a better chance at registering to vote when confronted with arbitrary literacy tests aimed at blocking their right to do so. For a Negro to exercise his/her right to vote meant that s/he was equal to the white male…an idea that the champions of Jim Crowism merely could not abide.
Like Nakia, the list of women who have shaped history in silence and stealth, often from the shadows is long. They rarely seek out glory. There are some names we will never know, though we will benefit from their influence. Maybe one of them lives in your neighborhood. Maybe you are one such yourself. I beg you to keep a record of those deeds, not for the sake of pride, but so that our descendants will give equal honor to the work of our Mothers. (Looking at you, Nana Darkoa!)
Is there a little known woman who has fought for equality and higher standards? Please share her name in the comments. Tell us all what you love so much about her and why!