Wakanda Forever: Part 7: – Systemic Oppression in America
After the opening sequence, the Black Panther movie picks up in 1992 with Prince N’Jobu stationed in Oakland, California as a War Dog Spy. We don’t know how long he has been there, but his son (whom he had from an American woman he fell in love with) seems to be about 8 years old. So, N’Jobu has most likely been in America for around 10 years or so.
He arrived in the U.S. from Wakanda with his eyes “wide open.” He knew who he was: a prince of royal blood with a deep connection to his country, tradition and spirituality. His mission, was to observe and report back to his brother, King T’Chaka, and the council, what he discovered about how blacks were treated in America.
But a terrifying thing happened to him during those years abroad. He encountered systemic oppression. He watched as leaders of the black community were murdered by their white oppressors. He watched as communities over policed and flooded with drugs and weapons so they could destroy themselves from the inside out. He watched as his brothers and sisters of the Diaspora were at the mercy of a mostly merciless class of oppressors, with no weapons to defend themselves and no tools to collectively fight back and secure true and total liberation.
Crushing under the unimaginable weight of his experience, N’Jobu, a Prince of Wakanda was radicalized. His “wide open” perspective now became tunnel vision as he took on the ways of the oppressors. This caused him to turn his back on everything he previously held dear. All in favor of a “by any means necessary” approach to revolution. Either kill or be killed. He had lost his way. And while he struggled to hold onto his Wakandan heritage, the desperation of the environment in which he presently lived overwhelmed him.
WARPED AGAINST OUR WILL…
And here is the caution: Systemic oppression has the power to take a good person and warp them into someone else.
And here is the question: If someone can come from another country, encounter systemic oppression and be changed for the worst, what hope is there for those of us who have lived in this system all our lives?
Even though this story is fiction, it is based on truth. Many good people with hopes, dreams and aspirations have been lost to the harsh reality of a concerted, multi-pronged unified attack on their existence and their community.
This type of systemic oppression happens at almost every level with deliberate efforts to stop advancements by passive and aggressive opposition. We see it in the lack of employment opportunities, in the educational divide, in the type of businesses which are allowed in certain communities. We see it in the quality of the homes and apartments we live in and the lack of appropriate sanitation. We see it in the poor response time from city municipalities during times of emergency. We see it with how law enforcement treats citizens of color and how laws are created and even broken to curtail our civic rights. We see it in the often lopsided judicial system and in the school to prison pipeline.
We see it in the drugs, guns, and prostitution which flood urban areas. We see it in the welfare system and the lack of adequate social and community programs. We see it in the many politicians who smile and shake our hands for votes and then underrepresent our needs to those with the resources to help change our circumstances for the better.
And, sadly, we see the effects of systemic oppression in the dark, tired eyes of those who have lost their dreams and have resigned to merely exist for the sake of survival: whether they be good people who keep their heads down while trying to make a living for themselves and their families or bad people who terrorize everyone else as they take what they feel they need in order to survive. We have been divided. With that division comes a level of being conquered. In some ways we have taken on the ways of our oppressors in order to oppress ourselves.
Erik Killmonger fell into this mindset and spent his entire life tearing others down in order to build himself up. He meted out death and destruction to others in order to get into a position where he could kill those responsible for killing his father. And not just for the death of his father, but also for leaving him abandoned in a world where everybody dies.
Remember, his younger self responding to his father in the Ancestral Plane when his father said, “No tears for me?” Young Erik’s response as he looked down at the floor was, “Everybody dies… It’s just life around here.” Erik grew up in a world where his father was dead and his people (Wakanda) didn’t seem to want him. He had been under systemic oppression for the majority of his life and there was no one to cover and protect him from the experience.
How many of our youth feel exactly like that today? How many of our young adults feel this way? How many of us have felt this way at some point in our life? As if the problem of systemic oppression is so vast that it cannot be reversed or conquered. That it is so entrenched that no solutions can be found and implemented. Does “life around here” have to remain the same? And are their other places where life is different?
Erik took his anger and used it for fuel, but he never learned how not to allow his anger to eat away at his soul. And out of his pain, he chose to use violence to enact vengeance on the larger society and bring liberation to those who were oppressed. How do we help those who feel the same way work through their thoughts and emotions to help them gain a healthy outcome?
WHO IS LOST?
Erik’s father says that they are both lost and abandoned. Erik responds, “Or maybe it’s your home that’s lost… that’s why they can’t find us.” This line is telling, for it speaks to the lostness of both the individual and the community at large. Both are fighting to retain what they can hold onto, but without the other.
THE WAY FORWARD?
Yet, in the midst of oppression, there are those who choose to not allow it to define them. They choose to do their best to rise above the hate and ignorance and break through the barriers which restrict them. There are those who let their light shine! Not only that, they work to teach others how to shine as well. Here are a series of questions to ponder as we seek a new level of freedom in our world:
*How can we find our way forward in a system designed to exploit us?
*What options do we have (or can create) to make things better for ourselves, our communities and the world?
*How do we fight without taking on the mindset, biases and hatred of those who seek to oppress us?
*How can we begin to change the minds of our enemies and help them be free from the weight of their own self-imposed oppression?
*In what ways can we begin to dismantle systematic oppression?
*How do we find hope while in the midst of the struggle for freedom and access to life-giving opportunity?
*How do we hold onto and maintain that hope that a better day ahead is possible?
SOME GENERAL ANSWERS
There is an African proverb which I mentioned in a previous post: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Whatever we do to bring about solutions for our households, communities and the world can’t be done alone. It has to be both a community and individual effort. We must come together and:
1. Agree on those key principles which will take us forward into the future.
2. Live out those principles as a community and as individuals.
3. Give each other permission to encourage one another and call each other to task when we do not honor these principles.
4. Work together to create an environment where living the principles becomes easy and where we are celebrated.
5. Be a blessing to those outside of our community, so they can see and experience transformation in their own lives.
If people from other countries are able to come to America and unite within their own communities for the socio-economic advancement and peaceful upbringing of their families, then we who have been here all our lives must re-learn how to unite and do the same. At some point in our past, we were united. We need to rediscover that aspect of our history again and bring it into the present day.
T’Challa told his father, “You were wrong for leaving Erik behind… You were wrong for cutting Wakanda off from the world.” Most likely Erik would not have become Killmonger if he had been received into his larger Wakandan family; if things had been explained to him; if he had been loved and allowed to grow within the larger community. And it is a united family (both biological and community) which will help us ensure that the tragic outcomes of systemic oppression do not play themselves out over and over and over again in our lives.
Let me know what you think. #WakandaForever
-Allen Paul Weaver III-