Wakanda: Black Asgard

BlackAsgard

Wakanda: Black Asgard by Professor A.L.I.

I am a fanboy. I am also an Afro-centric historian, and therein lies the disconnect I experience when watching Black Panther. I bought my tickets, action figures and other paraphernalia well in advance, and even tried 3D printing a Kilmonger Mask to no avail before I watched the film on opening night. As an owner of every single issue of the character, from his Fantastic Four debut, the Jungle Action run, through his involvement as a key Avenger, and the now-iconic runs by Priest and Hundlin, I’ve been a Black Panther stan. Therefore, I was prepared to channel my Frantz Fanon and engage in cognitive dissonance as I knew the film would be unable to escape the one critique that my inner-historian had, because the source material is born of ignorance to Africa, and what it entails.

Africa is not a country. It is a continent so large that it encompasses one of the longest stretches human beings can travel by land traversing two hemispheres. It is also the most linguistically diverse places on the planet. Nigeria, a single country, a little larger than Texas boasts over 520 languages spoken and thousands of dialects in addition. This is the story throughout Africa, and with linguistic diversity comes cultural, religious, political and social diversity as well. Africa is so much, and as such, it is too much for simple minds to comprehend, and therefore it is reduced to the size and persona of a singular nation, in order to diminish it for the intellectual palatability of ignoramuses. This is homogenous Africa present in the source material that gives birth to Wakanda and the Black Panther.

My dear ustad, Edward Said should be turning in his grave-since Wakanda represents as Orientalist a depiction as the classical paintings of Gerome. Wakanda is the other, as envisioned by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and as the other, it helps to elucidate what the West is in opposition. It was a tribal space, constructed with savage norms, like battles for succession, the mythology that depicted numerous deities, which wove Orishas (from West Africa) with Kemetic (Egyptian) beings in a new-pantheon. Its heroes and villains were bestial-invoking animalistic qualities, and the worst of these was literally named Man-Ape. This setting was created only 20 years after phrenologists and Aryan supremacists argued the racist, fallacious notions of the intellectual inferiority of Africans.

This was the source material, and over the years other writers and artists would revise the depictions. In particular Black authors tried to re-envision what the Black Panther represented and used the writer for social critique. Christopher Priest and Reginald Hundlin did so in relative obscurity, while Ta-Nehisi Coates has built his exposition in the era of the marketing around the film and around his own following and has tried to dig into some of the constructions of this character. The challenge for them is that T’Challa, was originally constructed as a b-list character; and if we used the metric that heroes are defined by their villains, then the Jungle Action series, which introduced Black Panther, gives us a spectrum of villainy from the Man-Ape on one side to the actual Ku Klux Klan (KKK) on the other! T’Challa never had an A-list villain in his early run, with only the Klaw being significant, but even he was an after-thought for the great heroes that Lee and Kirby had constructed.

T’Challa has in recent years fought Dr. Doom, Namor, and Morlun, but these characters, despite being significant in their gravitas, are not the Black Panther’s villains. The one reoccurring character and foil of significance for Panther was Kilmonger, and for avid readers of the Black Panther, it was always frustrating that this character could defeat T’Challa over and over again. The film brilliantly retcons (reconstructs) Kilmonger, in such a way and in such opposition that it elevates T’Challa in the process. The film also helps reduce some of the bestial elements of M’Baku, aka Man-Ape, but retains the animalistic totems that the source material is based on.

Yet, the film draws a line in the sand between east and west. T’Challa and Kilmonger represent two polarized black experiences. T’Challa represents a bloodline that has never been colonized, and Kilmonger is raised in the diaspora. This adds an element of social critique and draws from the best Black Marvel writers, who have used the character to critique the social fabric in which we live.

While all this was good, the cognitive dissonance had to be employed while the film took me to Wakanda. A place that wove Hausa with Swahili and disparate cultural traditions, and the aforementioned bestial depictions. Mythology compounded, and an exotified landscape which draws the best of all of modern Africa, and its numerous biomes into one mythic place. This was the one things I hated. It reaffirmed homogenous Africa that the source material spoke to-but then, my inner fanboy began a debate with the historian within. The debate took me from Wakanda to Asgard, and questioned why, as a historian and one who has taught Viking history in detail that I did not have the same issue with how the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) dealt with European (Germanic, Nordic, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic, etc.) narratives in the same manner? I think I did, but to me, it did not matter in the same way this is when the third voice from within spoke.

Wakanda may be a Black Asgard, but, I was a man of color, a global Black man, a part of a larger diaspora, and so much of me was in the film. M’Baku’s quote “praise be to Hanuman,” to the East African garb, the ancestral worship, the mythology, the ritual-too much of who I am was woven into the film. The Jabari clan (the Arabic) the rescue from Boko Haram earlier in the film-all were touching on my faith as well. These were the complex layers I was navigating, even as and parts of me were in conflict with Kilmonger’s methods, while others championed his goals. C. Everett Ross as a hero figure despite being a CIA agent, and the dubious depiction that is, in light of the involvement of this organization in the destabilization of Africa, was not lost upon me either-nor was it that Kilmonger was constructed in a Malcolmesque way, while T’Challa was like MLK or Mandelan in his depiction.

In the end, the film is a must see-an all-Black cast, a Black director who shows love to the Town (Oakland) and Black Executive in Marvel who has championed this project since the very beginning. Analyze it, discuss it, and understand its critique of our world. Know that the source material is problematic but that the film tries to rise above, and at worst, it depicts a mythological space that is no more than a Black Asgard.

***

As always, I find the best way to deconstruct homogeneity and broach the bridge of Africa with the Diaspora is through music.  Enjoy this limited release EP entitled Black Seed that dovetails nicely with Black Panther and touches on these very themes:

blackseed

 

 

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How To Kill A Troll

HowToKillATroll

Dissecting the Troll

J.K. Rowling and J.R.R Tolkien have taught me one undeniable truth about trolls; that the lack intellectual capacity.  Furthermore, in childhood I learned from simple legends and lore, that trolls lurk under bridges.  Therefore, I should be unsurprised that as an educator, artist, and human being, in the habit of building bridges, and combatting ignorance, that I would attract the attention of these dimwitted beasts.

Most recently, in pieces dedicated to eradicating Islamoracism/Islamophobia or satire critiquing colonial constructions that remain a part of the framework of our status quo, I’ve attracted these trolls.  They lurk on social media, where I share these articles, and songs, and share their ineloquent hatred of me under the bridges I lay with these public posts.  The most common phrase is “go back to where you came from,” which is ironic, in that I am a product of the colonial monster that was set into motion by the wicked wizards that also created these trolls—I would gladly go back to the royalty of my ancestral roots, if they too would recede into the coal-lined-caves from where toxic DNA emerged.

Name-calling doesn’t work on trolls—since words usually go over their heads.   They understand our world only in black and white terms, in which they see what they are as purely good, and whatever is “other” as existing to serve them.  Ignoring these trolls does not sit well with the educator in me either.  I recognize that beneath their grotesque form, mutated by bad magic, and a long-standing legacy of hatred, that they are simplistic beings, who are merely frightened.  To this end, Wordsmyths was born—to educate, annihilate ignorance, and unify that strand of humanity within all of us, my acknowledging the divinity in us all—and by extension our connection to the universe.

WordsmythsWhat does Wordsmyths mean?

A wordsmith is a colloquialism for an individual with deep diction and proficiency with language.  I spell it, purposefully with “myth” replacing “-mith” in order to convey a different meaning.  Specifically, I was speaking to the “mythology” that created trolls in the first place.  Myths, created by “Wordsmyths” to help control ignorant, blind followers, and distract them from the reality of our connection.  The refrain in the song about “One God” is about the “one reality” that binds us all—that the notion of separation is not real, but truly a construction of simplistic minds.

This song is not a critique on religion, or any dogma, but a critique on ignorance.  It is also critique on patriarchy and colonialism (which are also based on and supported by falsified social construction).  The lines “Like the sun and moon, swimming in their own orbits,” refer to the Quranic verses about theses celestial bodies in a chapter, that has an oft-repeated refrain, “which of the favors of your Lord do you deny.”  It’s a chapter that reveals to the reader, in depth of reflection, that the entire universe is one reality and that we are all connected to the many miraculous things in it.  I follow the lines with “our suns and moons, left upon strange doorsteps, African origins…”  These lines are a clear critique of the social construction of race, of colonial realities and chattel slavery—it posits the notion that we are all truly African, coming from one place of origin as homo sapiens.

The lines “phantom opera mask, covers our Moorish features…” refers to the idea that those constructed as “others,” must don masks in order to be relevant in a farcically socially constructed society, such as ours.  Death is referenced, as is life, in creating a sense of liminality throughout this piece.  The lines “Last days, face east, it’s gorgeous, sunset, earth flipped, cats are sorted” refers to the scientific phenomena of pole shift (where magnetic poles shift their positivity and negativity) ostensibly shifting what we consider North and South, as well as lines in Abrahamic faith based traditions about the last days.  The lines “On horizon, I see a cubed Borg ship.” is a nod to Gene Roddenberry and my inner fanboy, while at the same time, envisioning a cube, or Kaaba, as a vehicle for cosmic travel.

Later I say, “religion constructed; pay the doorman, life distorted, rather be a free man like Morgan; yet forging our own chains on purpose; burn bill of rights and habeas corpus, freedom forfeit…”  These lines specifically call out the idea of religion as a construction, and the idea of the promise of freedom of religion, something that chains us to the idea that this is a reality, furthering our separation from the idea of the oneness of the divine and hence our reality, and therefore ourselves.  The verse takes a political turn, when I speak to the truth of what this can mean to a subsection of a population, victimized by Islamoracism, by saying, “unsupported, innocent souls are deported, to an island (Guantanamo), tortured and water boarded, truth serum injected, falsehoods recorded, justifying barrels, oil barons have hoarded, this America, hegemons have exported…”

These lines specifically call out the trolls to respond to a reality that is a clear violation of that document they choose to hold dear, as they champion this land—it is this egregious hypocrisy that not only leads to Guantanamo but to “Muslim Bans” and the dignity of those racialized as “Muslims” in ignorant minds in a hate filled society.

The song finally ends with the argument that our unity, is not an extrapolation from any text, but something manifest in our minds, and the acceptance of the logic of this argument, that we are all connected, leads to peace, in soul and body: “Don’t dismiss it as, ‘Oh yeah, it’s from a core text.’ Process this; in your cerebral cortex. My body says PEACE, my Ka* says hotep.** Who will you worship? One God or wordsmiths?”

PEACE

Professor A.L.I.

*spirit in Kemetic/**peace in Kemetic

p.s. So how do you kill a Troll?  By making them bob their head to knowledge manifest on the mic.