5 Lessons from Black Panther That Can Save Our Lives — and Transform Black Politics
1. Radical Collectivity & Revolutionary Empathy.
In Wakanda, every action — -and indeed every person’s path — -is anchored to a broader vision of communal liberation. The western trope of “rugged individualism” does not exist in Wakanda. Throughout Black Panther, the Wakandan’s reject a “me” mentality in favor of a “we” mentality: every citizen is deeply invested, first and foremost, in the preservation (and liberation) of the community at large. In the film, what this looks like is black people showing concern for those who have been forgotten, maligned, or left-behind.
Even Killmonger, the grand villian of Black Panther, is anchored in a politics of revolutionary empathy: he is concerned first and foremost with alleviating the social suffering of black people who do not enjoy the privileges of Wakanda.
Black Panther thus provides us with a model for what a truly radical black politics might look like — -a politics concerned with lifting up the least among us; those who have been left behind.
2. Intergenerational Wisdom.
In Wakanda, young people and old people value each other and heed to each other’s wisdom. The “younger” generation (represented by T’challa, his sister, etc.) is not “at odds” with the older generation. Likewise, the older generation respects and yields to the wisdom of the youth.
In Wakanda wisdom (and leadership) is elastic: it does not “belong” to any one particular age constituency.
3. Restorative Justice.
Wakanda’s vision of “criminal justice” is grounded in a radical ethics of restorative care. Throughout the film, director Ryan Coogler presents viewers with a world where redemption (and re-entry) is possible for everyone. For instance, early on in a key scene in the film where T’challa’s throne is challenged by M’Baku, rather than kill him in battle T’challa decides to allow him to re-enter the community. Likewise, even Killmonger is invited to rejoin the community in spite of his transgressions against it.
4. The Women Shall Lead the Way.
In Wakanda, black women are the warrior gate keepers of freedom. They are the frontline. More importantly: they are the community’s lead strategists and organizers. The liberation of Wakanda comes only as a result of the strategizing/organizing genius of women such as Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri.
When I see the women of Wakanda, I see Patrisse Cullors, and Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (the founders of #BlackLivesMatter), and Charlene Carruthers (Director, BYP100), and Elle Hearns (Founder, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute) — -and all the black women warriors who have helped give birth to the movement for black lives.
These women are real-life reflections of the spirit of Wakanda. And like T’challa: we should listen to them.
5. The Ancestors Are Always With Us.
In Wakanda, the living and the dead are married across time and space. James Baldwin once remarked that our “crowns have already been paid for. All we need to do is put them on.”
In Wakanda, the people recognize that their liberation has been pre-ordained and pre-approved by the blood, sweat, and tears of those who came before them. They recognize that freedom is their birthright.
The Wakandans understand that their crown has already been paid for: all they must do is claim it.
There Are No White “Allies” in Wakanda. Only Co-Conspirators.
Wakanda demonstrates that “allyship” is an empty, neoliberal concept that rarely results in transformational change. The Wakandans are not interested in “allies” — instead, they call for co-conspirators. Ross is a co-conspirator with the people of Wakanda, he is willing to be a traitor to his “home” community. Black Panther rejects the politics of white allyship in favor of a politics of solidarity. Unlike “allyship,” solidarity requires sacrifice.
The character Everett K. Ross is a brilliant case study in what radical white solidarity can look like in practice. Ross takes his cue from the natives, he does not seek to “lead.” Instead, he seeks to listen. Moreover, Ross does not assume that he knows what it best for the Wakandans — -instead he sits back and takes directives from them, particularly the black women. Lastly, and most importantly, Ross understands that solidarity requires labor — -it requires that he put in work.