Thinking Before We Thinkpiece: A Humbler, Modest Radicalism After Killmonger

I have been watching with avid interest and lingering concern the post-movie analyses about Marvel's Black Panther. I affectionately call this the “The Diaspora Wars” playing out over the interwebs and a parade of dissertation-esque / hurt Facebook statuses. (Spoilers, obviously.)

Now while all these seemingly hot/contrarian takes on abandonment and lost homelands —many championing Killmonger— are viscerally and poignantly written, what I can’t figure out how to write-- and it’s just something that’s gonna take a while to work out-- is how to transform these ever-latent diaspora wars into aesthetics of more encompassing compassion and political responsibility.

Right now some folks are finding a champion in the radicalism and sense of betrayal they take Killmonger to represent in contrast to the staid, cautious, state-centric ideologies of the Kingdom of Wakanda. The Washington Post summarized one aspect of this clash as representative of the "current relationship between Africans and African Americans." The passage about this is worth quoting in full:

Larry: There’s so much animus or competition that I have never quite understood. Both groups use derogatory names to refer to each other. In Africa, African American culture is very big and influential in terms of how people speak and dress. But in creating “Black Panther,” Africans and African Americans came together to create art that black people around the world are proud of. But in everyday life, there is no such unity. I think it’s a vision for what can be possible when the two groups work together.
Karen: In some twisted ways, I identified with Killmonger. Growing up, part of my exploration into where my parents came from, I felt a sort of anger towards Africa. Like, how did colonization happen to you? And the poverty? How are these leaders not doing more? And being black in America, when we are going through fights with racism, police brutality, we wonder if Africans even care. And I think, “Well, African nations can’t help us. They can’t impose sanctions on America for its treatment of black people.” Which is why Wakanda is so amazing: It has the power to help other countries.

And Killmonger's chosen fate at the end avoided any sort of acceptance of reflective responsibility in his choices to destabilize the Wakandan monarchy. He avoided any attempt to reconcile, persuade or coopt the government of Wakanda, or any citizenship in Wakanda, something he's wanted his entire life because he couldn’t see past the hurt they caused when they didn’t even know he existed.

Many responses to the movie, aiming to express the "unpopular" opinion of identifying with Killmonger --how chic and edgy!-- are merely regurgitating a not well-thought-out view: "Black Panther, a movie unique for its black star power and its many thoughtful portrayals of strong black women, depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men."

At some point, we have to do more than hustle for clicks and likes from exploiting the narcissism of minor differences.

Yes, as a black American (man), I too am often disappointed and appalled by the ignorance of first and second generation immigrant families of black American history, and how it allows them to blindly reproduce anti-blackness in their everyday interactions. (As Chimamanda Ngzoi Adichie has observed, “Black” isn’t a concept in Africa.)

To be black in any major America city is to have been lectured (more than once) by Asian and African immigrants on the laziness of American blacks; and to have been shunned socially at several corners by these folks from the ethos of the relentless hoarding lifestyle of excellence-by-credentialism. The things many immigrants believe about black Americans is more typical of the most white professoriate than what one would expect of people of color. 

But it is our choice about whether ignorance has to lead to pain. (Killmonger made a choice and so can we.)

Why do so many self-styled revolutionaries and radicals hold African immigrants to a higher standard than everyone else: Most Americans don’t know American history and are too wrapped up in tropes of anti-blackness. Just like most Americans are similarly ignorant of the histories of peoples in other countries, and the ways in which our capitalism and militarism sustain humanitarian tragedies elsewhere.  Shanna Collins lamented, "It is imperative for Blackness to be understood in an international context, as Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and other Black freedom fighters attempted to do so in the formation of their own radical consciousness and revolutionary politics."

The saddest part of these conversations about abandonment and redemption is that no one is talking about Afro-Caribbeans in all this diaspora belly-aching. (Here I am referring to the Afro-Caribbeans of Puerto Rico, Barbados, Martinique, Guyana, Haiti, Suriname, Grenada, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Virgin Islands (U.S.), Jamaica, and Trinidad.)

Afro-Caribbeans’ experiences of history, racialization, and identity somehow got dropped in this supposed disjuncture between Africans and African-Americans. Caribbeans often understand slavery, poverty and white supremacy, while also being able to identify the patterns of international political order which produce imperialism and anti-blackness. #FolksWhoDoBoth

The Haitian Revolution, as one example of a black Caribbean history, remains a shining example of the possibilities and limits of violence to create opportunities for emancipation, self-determination and new homelands. But what do either immigrants or Black Americans know of these Caribbean histories? Why should we react to Killmonger’s offer of imperialist assistance exclusively in the context of black American freedom struggles when plenty of Afro-Caribbeans died at sea and on land to have freedom from bondage? What can Wakanda learn from Haiti?

I just want a lot of people to get over themselves. Because Black Panther tapped into so many identities and legacies of pain, writers need to seriously think before we thinkpiece. And we need to think about not just our pain, but also of the effects of our own ignorance on Free Black Futures at home and abroad. 

A humbler, more modest radicalism would allow us to think of ourselves less often, even as we combat the ubiquitous anti-blackness that promotes us to think less of ourselves. 

Let’s never be more committed to feeling hurt than thinking about “what is the future we want to build? What worlds can we imagine? And who is the “we” that should do this?