"Is there a Black one?" ....Honoring Black Panther
Growing up as a Black child in America, at some point you will realize what it means to be Black. My earliest memory of experiencing racism was around the age of 8 or 9 on a playdate with a white peer from school. My parents grew up during a time when America was explicitly segregated, with firsthand experiences, yet that did not prevent them from allowing me to experience the world in as free a manner as possible. But, in less that a decades' time, I learned what they knew was inevitable. At this day and age, the details don't matter, but message was loud and clear - what does it mean that I'm black? Why is my friend questioning me and people who look like me? Why did my mother get so mad when I got in the car and told her I was confused about my time at my friend's house? As I have aged, I know the answers to all of those questions.
I have memories of being a young girl and being out at stores with my mother or grandmother. When I would ask about certain toys, they would ask me, "is there a Black one?" Although I had an array of Barbie dolls, or other figurines, or book series, it didn't take me long to learn that I better select the black options that were available. I soon learned to love and embrace them and become excited when a black option became available. As I grew older, I understood more deeply why they wanted me to select options that were black. It was important for them to show me that I not only belonged in this world, just as much as white people, but that I was extremely capable and could achieve any goal I established. They wanted me to embrace my brown skin because they knew what it meant to feel the hatred of the world merely because of the color of their skin. As I began my higher education, I learned of the Clark Doll Experiment, and its' findings were not at all shocking. I should probably, ask my mother if she and Grandma were aware of this study, but it takes no rocket scientist to predict the outcomes - especially being black and from the segregated South.
When you grow up in a world that is dehydrated of culturally-informed thirst-quenching representation, you internalize that sense of isolation, negativity, and hatred that white America established and profited from, which has negative impacts on your psyche and self-esteem. The impact of being implicitly or explicitly told that you are different, less than, intimidating, angry, aggressive, or have limited worth has consequences to the soul that are immeasurable. You carry this weight, not always aware of just how heavy it is until you experience a worldwide treasure like never before. Black Panther was that worldwide treasure for this current generation.
Most Black people can remember clearly the day they heard of the release of Black Panther, let alone when they pre-purchased tickets and went to the theatre to see it. Many Black folx bought whole outfits, created family themes, and took pictures together at the theatre with Black Panther paraphernalia or beautiful African print attire. Black people remember watching a cast of brilliant, bold, intelligent, resilient, beautiful Black bodies playing each role with class and cinematic perfection. That moment of seeing ourselves on a big screen, portrayed in positive light, in a symbolic setting that is often viewed in negative light was healing to our souls. We finally had our "is there a black one" moment, seeing a superhero on a major Hollywood screen.
That level of climax, pride, love, and joy speaks to the level of grief we experience now in the devastating loss of Chadwick Boseman. His handsome black face and resilient black body represented a number of roles on the big screen, but especially one that we needed for times such as this current double pandemic we live in. Chadwick, as Black Panther, gave us a gift much deeper than we even realized at the time. He had been diagnosed with cancer two years prior to the release of the film. He did what many of us have been taught to do that live in black skin and that is to "keep on keeping on." He was fighting a battle very few people were aware of while continuing to show up, giving his energy, time, strength, and love to each and every one of us who he represented in the embodiment of Black Panther.
Mr. Boseman, we are grateful. You gave us a gift that we can never fully comprehend, but will be able to eagerly share with generations to come. You gave hope, pride, confidence, and joy to young black boys all over the world. You gave love, honor, respect, and strength to young black girls. You reminded us older black bodies that we have come a long way and that we must continue to fight for what is right and to get into 'good trouble' until America truly sees, honors, and values black bodies. You reminded us all that we have an eternal key in our hearts to Wakanda, given to us by our ancestors. Though our hearts are heavy beyond solid grip, especially in these trying times, we know that we must find our way following the light of King T'Challa. Rest well, good and faithful servant. To merely say 'thank you,' does not do proper justice.
My good people - take care of yourselves, love yourselves, and allow your emotions to be present without question or judgement.