Yesterday I had the pleasure of debriefing the movie Black Panther with four young ladies that are close to entering the real world. I learned so much from them. I walked away both encouraged and pained.
Let me tell you why.
I was encouraged because they are exceptionally aware of the world around them. They saw Wakanda not only as a world untouched by colonialism, but they imagined a world where that could be the reality for people who look like them. They still cling to that hope. THAT was beautiful. They saw strong, intelligent, loyal, black women who were not objectified. Women who were beautiful in their baldness and natural hair. Dark skinned women that looked like them. They saw black men and women portrayed in a positive light, seen as royalty and holding positions of power. Something they have never really seen in film.
I asked these young women a series of questions, and the dialogue just poured out of them. I asked which character they connected with the most. One said Okoye because of her fierce loyalty, and a couple of others said Killmonger. Now this didn’t surprise me at all. In the end we agreed that we all have a little Killmonger inside of us. They understood that his pain went much further than the murder of his father and abandonment by his people. They recognized that his pain pierced his soul. That his pain was for the oppression of his people… our people.
Now let me share that I never led their responses. I asked questions… and they spilled.
The gates of frustration opened when talking about Killmonger. What they have experienced in the charter school that they attend (where they are the minority) was much hard to hear, and still weighs heavily on my heart.
One felt scared when she originally went to this school, surrounded by people who didn’t look like her, but she did it anyway and has almost completed her fourth year. The one thing that blessed me about her is the confidence she has in herself, because of the women in her life that have poured into her. The confidence in her natural hair, the confidence in her beauty, and the confidence to enter white dominated spaces and create a space for herself and for others who may not feel they belong. I see her busting through glass ceilings. There is no single box that can fit her.
Another young woman pierced my soul. She reminded me of myself. Trying to find her way. Not knowing her true history angers her and she longs to be fully immersed in black culture to grasp at something. She has a deep desire to know who she is. Dealing with micro-aggressions and tokenization has had her and another precious soul weary. Hearing “Y’all”, the constant “othering,” and that you’re either talking “white” or inappropriate comments about their African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), causing them to feel singled out and shamed.
Their awareness of racial discrimination in their schools pained me. The obvious insensitivity from teachers and very clear biases towards their black students was overwhelming, but sadly not shocking.
I’ve read studies and articles regarding black boys and girls being disciplined, suspended, and even expelled at disproportionate rates from their white counterparts, but hearing ACTUAL EXPERIENCES took it to a whole other level. I mean, they could have kept talking if we had the time. The examples were there. The impact of personal biases and racism on a systemic level was staring me right in the face.
You see, this is why I find it so vital to have conversations with people. It helps us look past the stats, talking points, political bent and just connect through the human experience – realizing that the people we often speak of are actual flesh and blood. Often times I say and hear others say “LISTEN TO BLACK VOICES”, because many simply do not feel heard… even our youth. I think part of the problem lies with the lack of human contact. Diversifying our experiences with human beings can help us break out of our bubble. I say this with the utmost humility. I LIVED in a bubble myself, and the way that I viewed people was both unhealthy and damaging BECAUSE of that bubble.
Decolonizing our minds is a process. A painful one, but one that is worth pursuing.
I asked the girls… “how do we prevent that Killmonger inside of us from taking over?”
This is where self-care comes in:
Protecting your space
Leaving room for grace – ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’
Well, I expect to continue this dialogue next month because they said they didn’t want that inner Killmonger taking over. They desire true conciliation. They desire Wakanda to exist, and they have real hope that it will. They desire to be confident in who God made them to be and they desire to be more than an “other.” They desire to just BE.