Disclaimer: There might be some spoilers in this blog, so I apologize in advance. But this is not a movie review. I REPEAT: THIS IS NOT A MOVIE REVIEW.
I went to Wakanda. Twice. I’m going again as soon as possible. In case you missed it, although I don’t know how you could, Marvel’s Black Panther opened in theaters in all of it’s glory, and to rave reviews. If you’ve been living under a rock, it’s the story of T’Challa, Prince of a fictional African nation called Wakanda. The film centers on the death of his father, his ascension to the throne, and the discovery of a mistake in his father’s past that leads to a threat of his future. I’m not going to say anymore about the plot because… go see the damn movie, already. What are you waiting for? What’s wrong with you? Anyway… on to why we’re here. Let me tell you a little bit about Wakanda.
Wakanda, as stated, is a fictional nation. As written in the comic books, Wakanda is led and powered by it’s exclusive access to Vibranium, a metal that is the strongest metal on Earth. Vibranium is used to build Wakanda, to power Wakanda, to care for it’s citizens, and to defend it’s borders. Vibranium’s uses in modern technology have made Wakanda arguably the most advanced nation in the world. But part of it’s power lies in the secrecy.
Wakanda basically hides the vibranium, and all that it can do, from the rest of the world. They are seen as just another third-world country, just another poor African nation. They even use vibranium to shield themselves from the outside world. They don’t welcome outsiders, and they don’t offer aid–even though they have so much, and most around them have so little. They do not get involved in the affairs of the world, even though vibranium, and Wakandan technology, could solve a LOT of problems. And Wakanda’s lack of involvement in the world’s affairs–more specifically, issues of people of color, is a major plot point in the movie, and a major ideological battle between King T’Challa and others. And so of course, it’s being pulled apart and analyzed all over social media. Most people believe that Wakanda should do more, especially for people of color, that they should have been doing more, that the doors should have been open long ago, and that the vibranium should be used to solve as many problems as it can. Wakanda’s insulation doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. It presents as selfishness, and elitism. Most people were disappointed that Wakanda had basically watched the world suffer, and did nothing to help. In their defense, the Wakandans were afraid of being exploited, and that’s a valid fear, but vibranium makes for dangerous weapons, and a lot of people feel they can help and still protect themselves from the negative effects of letting the world in. And I found myself torn. So here we are.
I was born and raised in Philly. A little more than two years ago, after 12 years of living in suburban Maryland, I came home. And my life has gotten a lot more complicated. The reason I tell you this, is that when I watched the movie twice, and I read the tweets, and the reviews, and the blogs, I realized that I had created a Wakanda for myself. And that I had opened it to the world. And that I had been exploited. My life was T’Challa’s worst fear come true. Walk with me…
I have two older sisters and five younger brothers. But I am my mother’s middle child. I am also the most responsible of all my siblings. I am the most mature of them. I am the most compassionate of them. And in terms of traditional social assets, I am the most “successful” of them. I am the one who’s been to college. I am the one with a professional job, a defined career path, the one who has owned a house, and a car. In terms of relationships, they are all miles ahead of me. There are kids and partners galore while I’m contemplating a dog. But outside of that area, I am the most “successful.” And that has been a cross to bear. Being the “successful” child has a layer of pressure, a pressing weight on your heart and mind, and pockets. You’re never just asked to help. You’re EXPECTED to. There is a sheen of obligation in every request, a hint of guilt in every hand out. I have been home two years, and I am still wondering if it was a mistake. Because I came back here to be closer to my family. To connect more with them. And then the leaning started. And now I’m scared I’ll never stand straight again. I’m just so drained all the time. I wanted to be open. I wanted to give them the full benefit of everything I could do. Of everything I had. And I thought I was equipped enough to defend myself if it ever got to be too much. I didn’t want to be Wakanda. I wanted to help as much as I could, as often as I could. Paying the blessings forward was something I always believed in. And I had been blessed. So I felt like it was expected of me to give back. “To whom much is given, much is required,” right? I believed that. And they’re my family. So why not? Right? Yeah, well. The aftermath is… not what I expected.
I am tired. Drained. Almost empty. My creativity is forced, my weight gain is embarrassing, I’m isolating myself so I won’t be asked for anything. I’m starting over financially, and I’m rebuilding in so many ways. So when T’Challa is afraid of Wakanda being used up, I understood that. Because I am used up. And when they contemplated keeping the doors closed and letting the outside world sort out their own shit, I understood that too. Because I wish these people would sort out their own shit. When W’Kabi warned T’Challa that letting in refugees would bring their problems with them and then your environment would be as toxic as theirs, I understood that too. Because I’ve had them in my house, and supported them, and it changed my environment. That’s what I felt, what I feel, what I was afraid of. And no one sees the weight on you. They assume it’s light just because you’re carrying it. They don’t consider that it’s taking all the strength you have.
Boundaries are important. And they’re there for a reason. Letting other people cross them can be chaos. And I don’t want to speak like a victim blamer. I know what white supremacy does. What colonialism and terrorism and imperialism has done. But chaos is chaos. And at some point you have to ask yourself why it’s not okay to shield yourself from it. Even if the people involved have a connection with you. Is it ever okay to just save yourself? Because I’ve definitely gone into retreat mode to save myself. I have definitely had to close the door, after the fact. The outreach program is over. Not because I don’t care anymore, but because there’s literally nothing left for me to extend anymore.
So were centuries of ancestors and former kings right in insulating Wakanda? I don’t know. But I’ve been their worst fear come true, so I can’t really say that they’re wrong either.
Wakanda Forever! And Shameka… for right now. Sigh.