At first, I wasn't sure if I was actually going to be able to write this blog post because I was having "all the feels." But this title is far too important for my personal feelings.
In case you've been under a rock for the past six months, BLACK PANTHER is the latest rendition of the Black Panther series in the Marvel Universe. This new Series is written by Ta-Nehesi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. Some basic facts: Black Panther is the first Black superhero in either the Marvel of DC comics, first appearing July 1966, as part of a Fantastic Four plot line. Traditionally, Black Panther, also known as T'Challa, is the King of an African nation known as Wakanda -most of his story lines since the 1960s have supported this narrative structure.
And if you've been living under a rock for the past five years, here is some background on Ta-Nehisi Coates. Mr. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly as they regard African-Americans. Coates has also worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. Additionally, he has contributed to The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post. Some of my favorite pieces he has written are The Case for Repatriations, The Enduring Solidarity of Whiteness, and My President Was Black.
I'm am going to break this post up into three sections. First, I'm going to give you my quick thoughts on the comic book, then I'm going to share with you some writings Ta-Nehsisi Coates has given on this comic, then we'll wrap this whole thing up with some words of wisdom from the man of the hour, himself. Cool?
First, my thoughts:
As someone who wasn't raised to read comic books and is certainly new to the genre, rather than focusing on the plot and the adventure, I was far more intrigued by the concepts of race posed in this book. Black Panther, is all about Race, and yet is not about race at all. Meaning, Wakanda is a fictional African nation, where race move beyond skin color, and is categorized more by culture, ancestry, and region. Yet, this story is a reflection of our real society where race is a tool for power. Race without power means nothing; power cannot exist without hierarchy. Thus, race is a vehicle for power. Race, particularly focused in America, is a tool people can use to organize power. But to be clear, "race" is essentially meaningless and is in itself, nothing. Racism is power.
Next, his thoughts:
As I dive further and further into this world, there have been some articles from Coates related to Black Panther that have really expanded my thoughts and understanding on this work.
The Return of the Black Panther
Despite the difference in style and practice of storytelling, my approach to comic books ultimately differs little from my approach to journalism. In both forms, I am trying to answer a question. In my work for The Atlantic I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? Research is crucial in both cases. The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and the character’s own long history. But it also pulls from the very real history of society—from the pre-colonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of ISIS.
Coates on Conceptualizing T'Challa...
I also had to create some sort of working theory about Wakanda, and to the extent to which I came to one it is this: Wakanda is a contradiction. It is the most advanced nation on Earth, existing under one of the most primitive forms of governance on Earth. In the present telling, Wakanda’s technological superiority goes back centuries. Presumably it’s population is extremely well educated, and yet that population willingly accedes to rule by blood. T’Challa descends from an unbroken line of kings, all who’ve taken up the mantle of the Black Panther. But if you’ve ever studied monarchy, it becomes immediately apparent that the aptitude, or even the desire, to govern isn’t genetic.
Finally, his words:
On March 20, I had the unique and distinct pleasure of being invited to a symposium hosted by the Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh, to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak to a small private audience about his work and be available for classroom-style discussion and questions. Here are some of my most impact take-aways from that 90-minute session.