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The controversy around Black Panther’s supposed “appropriation” shows the necessity of pan-Africanism

February 2, 2018
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Two week’s from now, Marvel’s highly anticipated superhero blockbuster Black Panther will finally see the light of day. Already praised by critics as Marvel’s best film yet and featuring an almost all-Black cast, controversy was bound to pick up steam, and pick up steam it did! A group of DC fans *coincidentally* chose Marvel’s first majority Black-centered film to launch a campaign to sabotage its Rotten Tomatoes ratings. But an even more serious controversy revolves are the tensions that have re-flared between continental and diasporic Africans (particularly Black Americans) leading up to the film’s premiere.

As we all know, Black Panther takes place in the fictional African land of Wakanda, but most of its leads weren’t born on the continent. In addition, moviegoers have boasted about their plans to wear elaborate African garments when they see the film. This has led to renewed charges of appropriation by some African continentals against Black diasporic people, and counter-charges of bigotry toward Black diasporic people by African continentals. But in the words of Hov (in his admittedly problematic 4:44 single), “nobody wins when the family feuds.”

Others have already written about how, while diasporic Black people can do a better job at respecting the African cultural customs they adopt, to call this appropriation is ludicrous. Black diasporic people are Africans, simply displaced and systematically denied our ties to our homes over centuries. Trying to find a way back to our roots can often be a clumsy process, but it does not carry with it the historical significance or abuse of power as appropriation of Black customs by non-Black people, which always furthers Black oppression.

But more important than pushing back against the “appropriation” argument is the understanding that there does not even need to be pushback on a mass scale. As a reactionary society, we have a tendency to take the most obscure or irrelevant segments of a population and blow their ignorance out of proportion, misleadingly making them the face of their entire community.

I would stake my life on the fact that most African continentals do not subscribe to the idea that other Black people are appropriators. In my experience, and in the experience of almost everyone I know who has ever traveled to the continent, everyday Black people from there overwhelmingly welcome our journey back, and even offer assistance as they can (this may not always be the case for their governments, however, which can be non-representative).

Speaking from a Black American perspective, I know how easy it can be to ascribe the ideologies of a few African continentals to many, given that honest representations here are few and far between. It’s not difficult to use interactions with the few wealthy immigrants you went to college with to paint a picture of an entire continent. But we have to know that Africa is bigger than Nigeria, and the often rich migrants who make it through America’s anti-Black immigration system often are required to possess a certain set of politics to do so.

We have to know that most Black people, regardless of their place of birth, don’t go out of their way to attack other Black people just because. Belief to the contrary is a product of white supremacy.

It’s well past time we stop taking ideas white supremacy has presented us with about each other at face value. Black Americans are more than those who make it to Hollywood. African continentals are more than those who make it as doctors and lawyers here. There are poor Black folks across the globe who are thirsting to move past these limited conversations about appropriation and into mobilizing a real, true pan-African solidary. Let’s center them in our conversations. And I imagine Black Panther might offer many of those conversations a starting point, if we let it.

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