Wakanda as our “Imagined Home”

As an imagined country (which strategically masquerades as a poor nation), Wakanda is a potent fantasy for black people globally, both in and outside of Africa, because it shows what might have been possible for black communities had their resources not been stolen through slavery, colonization and the ongoing operations of Western imperialism.

But Nakia’s storyline in particular shows us that the African continent is diasporic because it is continually being impacted by the afterlives of Western colonialism and the slave trade in ways that parallel what’s happening in Killmonger’s home city of Oakland.

Many have pointed to Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) as a representation of the African Diaspora’s complex relationship to the African continent; however, none have closely examined Nakia’s (Lupita Nyong’o) mission in Nigeria to free kidnapped Muslim women from Boko Haram, and considered its implications for contemporary Africa.

Why is Eric Killmonger a representation of the long afterlives of African diasporic displacement and dispossession while the victims of trafficking in Africa are left without a framework to understand their violent reality? Jemima Pierre pointedly highlights the privileging of Black identity outside of Africa in her study The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race, “‘new world’ experiences are also consistently accorded primacy in discussions of modern Black identity.

Within this formulation of the African diaspora, then, there was no theoretical space allotted for understanding continental African racialized experiences of slavery, colonialism, and continued racialization in the postcolony” (Pierre, 2013; xiii).  In contrast, Nakia’s mission reveals that black people globally continue to be shaped in sometimes strikingly similar ways by global white supremacy and the afterlives of colonialism.

The film shows in close succession T’Chaka’s and N’Jobu’s confrontation scene in Oakland and the scene of Nakia’s extraction from her undercover assignment. Placing these two scenes together pushes viewers to ask: what do struggles in Oakland and on the African continent have to do with one another? What happens if we use N’Jobu’s conclusions about systemic racism as the true source of the illicit gun and drug trades in Oakland to better understand what’s happening in Nakia’s undercover assignment?

What if we understand the politically and economically destabilizing effects of Western interventionalism as yet another example of the systemic racism and the source of the trafficking operation that Nakia is seeking to disrupt? Viewed in this way, it quickly becomes apparent that white supremacy is a global phenomenon that shapes contemporary Africa as much as, and in a similar fashion to the ways, it shapes black communities in the U.S., Caribbean, Europe, and elsewhere.

On another front, Nakia’s recommendation to T’Challa for Wakanda to become an alternative source of aid to African countries is a form of global black solidarity that aims to challenge the structural violence sustained by western imperial “aid” to Africa, foreign aid that serves to exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, social and economic conditions. Her advice considers how the continent’s coerced dependency on foreign capital has crippled African sovereignty and cultivated persistent economic, social, and political precarity.

In the traditional view, the African Diaspora is constituted primarily by the descendants of enslaved people (and, later, Black ‘voluntary’ migrants) in the Americas, Europe, and elsewhere. As a result, we understand race and racism as institutions that shape black locales outside the continent of Africa, but tend to overlook the ways they operate in Africa itself.

Especially in the post-independence moment (after formal colonization), majority-black African nations are typically viewed as spaces where racism does not meaningfully operate (with Apartheid South Africa as an exception). Thus, Africa is usually separated from the African Diaspora; it is instead referenced as a past, imagined ancestral home without a racialized present condition.

In turn, as Jemima Pierre points out, “The first step is to recast Africa in a modern frame so that we may see the experiences and practices of its populations as part of the broad—indeed, global—ideological, cultural, and political-economic terrain established and continually updated by the racial legacies of European hegemony and white supremacy” (Pierre, 2013; xv).

The existence of Wakanda reveals that Post-Independence Africans in and outside of Africa are not exempt from a diasporic reality of loss, longing, and resistance. Black Panther refuses ideas of a pre-modern Africa unaffected by the ravages of global white supremacy, yet Wakanda still operates as an alternative “imagined home” for both Black people in and outside of Africa. Thinking of Africa merely as the source of African Diaspora ignores the ongoing historical, political, social, and economic links of black people within and outside of the continent. Wakanda acknowledges those links.

Black Panther represents Africa as being affected by the diasporic condition of displacement. beyond the movement of bodies to include a displacement of ideology, aesthetics, politics, and economics. Although only a desired utopia with its own internal rifts and problematic representations, Wakanda reminded all blacks everywhere of our diasporic condition. It showed us that a ‘return’ to an Africa outside of Wakanda is not a removal from diaspora because Africa continues to be inflicted by local and global structural violence through anti-black racialization.

Therefore, Africa’s anti-black racialized reality that spurs the necessity of an imagined home like Wakanda makes it always a part of the diaspora. Wakanda reveals that Africans continue to live under the legacies of colonization and imperialism that can make us foreigners in our own land.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: March 14, 2018


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