Ok, I would like to provide some commentary for my fellow Mayonnaise Americans who may be less than aware of a lot of the discussions surrounding race that I have made a point of finding and eavesdropping on in order to learn.
This, therefore, is to be considered a White Person’s Guide to Conversations in Black Panther that May Not Be Obvious to the Melanin Impaired.
I will post links to WOC and POC writing on this topic where I can, but mostly I’m wanting to spoon-feed you some stuff that probably seems basic to anyone who isn’t white, but trust me. A lot of us white folks are pretty fucking clueless.
Also this intro is my way of getting beyond the preview space without just typing the word SPOILERS over and over and over.
So, yeah, past this point, here there be SPOILERS.
1. I want white people to look at the sheer range of skin tones in this film. Then I want you to notice that a lot of the members of those five tribes of Wakanda were grouped on the basis of skin tone. I don’t necessarily mean darkness of color, but the underlying tones, red, blue, yellow… which was a stunning way to emphasize the variety of black skin tones, without resorting to colorism.
2. I want you to also note how each tribes clothing and color choices varied from each to each, as well as clothing design, and personal ornamentation. The most obvious of these is the gentleman with the lip plate. But those differences spell out some subtle background bits that are not explicitly given to you. Such as which tribe Queen Ramonda is from. Look at the stills and you’ll be able to tell.
3. Respect for black women. One of the biggest differences between T’Challa and Killmonger is their respect for women. Yes, Killmonger kills several men, but he also shoots his girlfriend to get to Klaw, chokes one of the women in the garden of the heart-shaped herb, kills one of the Dora Milaje and nearly kills Shuri. These kills are focused on in a way his killing of men, apart from Zuri and his fight with T’Challa are not. And even before he kills his girlfriend, she’s an accomplice, not a partner. T’Challa on the other hand respects his mother, and Shuri’s accomplishments. He respects Okoye and Nakia. Killmonger respects no one else, let alone women. There are no women who mean anything in his story. His mother is never shown or mentioned. He was raised in toxic masculinity and chose to wallow in it instead of grow out of it.
4. T’Challa’s speech to Killmonger about how he has become the enemy, by adopting their tools, weapons, and attitudes, has echoes of the message of an Audre Lorde essay called the “Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” While Lorde is talking specifically about white feminism and its many failings regarding women of color and queer women, the point still is the same. You cannot defeat Imperialism if you. yourself become an Imperialist. Seriously, this article is pretty great. It also points out Killmonger’s lack of respect for women versus T’Challa’s great respect for the women in his life.
5. One of the ways T’Challa demonstrates his respect for women is by laughing with them when they poke fun at him with harmless teasing. For many men, there is no such thing as “harmless teasing from a women,” vis a vis the infamous Atwood quote: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
6. The humanity of Erik Killmonger as a villain. He has several points in his defense. Yes, Wakanda has been hiding instead of helping the other black people out in the world. Wakanda’s aid could have helped in so many ways, at so many different times during history. Killmonger’s attitude is an echo of Nakia’s early in the film when she is “rescued” from what is presumably a “Boko Haram” convoy with other women, whom she is trying to help. She pleads with T’Challa to help because Wakanda could do so much more for them.
The main difference between their approach is that Nakia wants Wakanda to bring aid to people who need help, and Killmonger wants to bring them bigger and better weapons, starting a war that can only end in mutually assured destruction.
Killmonger also has a point about T’Challa’s father leaving him behind when they killed N’Jobu trying to kill Zuri, after telling him they knew he had betrayed Wakanda. Zuri knew that N’Jobu had a son, and I am relatively sure he told T’Chaka about him, at least that was implied in and around the flashbacks. He’s right, in that T’Challa really doesn’t know what it’s like out there. Neither does W’Kabi, who is so easily won over by Killmonger’s delivery of Klaw’s body. This ignorance drives T’Challa and W’Kabi to different extremes. T’Challa to deny Killmonger, and W’Kabi to accept him unquestionably.
I think that’s about it. I am really loving this tendency of the Marvel movies to humanize the villains of the stories. The Vulture in Spiderman Homecoming was another excellent example of this. Yes, you agree with him to a point, but then…
So, fellow Mayonnaise Americans, if you want to ask questions about racism, but are afraid to bother POC with them, hit me up. I will help you google terms to find excellent 101 level articles and beyond that are not by me or other white folks. It isn’t easy for those of us who are white to see a lot of the shit involved in racism. But we can learn. And the first step is self-education, and bugging other white people who hopefully get it.
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