Posts Tagged With: african american

Wakandan Ruminations


I went to see Black Panther this past Friday with my extraordinary and insightful wife of 14 years. As we pulled up to the theater and found a parking spot, we had an interesting exchange before going in. It had to do with perception, assumption, and judgement.

In our two decades of knowing one another – which includes 3 years of dating before getting married – one constant annoyance for us has been the misperception that we are an “interracial couple”. That is, in the commonly accepted sense of the phrase. The reason this is significant is because, at first glance, know one would know – and some may not believe – that my wife is, without question, African American. She is no LESS African American than I am, even though to many I more readily… look the part.

It is common knowledge that the spectrum of African American complexions is wide-ranging, making it nearly impossible for someone to look at anyone else these days and deduce with any certainty that they are, or are not, “black”.

You don’t know, so don’t assume.

But assumption is the recurring theme of our public interactions with people who look askance at the “interracial couple” going to see the “black” movie. Never realizing the two of us are far more alike than we are different. Despite the apparent difference in our skin tones. The truth is that the evidence of who we are, who we really are, cannot be ascertained from a glance. Much like the truth of this movie’s significance can’t be defined by the opinions of professional (or unprofessional) critics.

See, within that truth lies the beauty of what it really means to be… African American. Within that truth is the careful, deliberate, often meticulous navigation through society that takes place daily for every African American, regardless of their shade. Within that truth is also the reason why, after watching Black Panther, this movie, this work of fiction, this stylized drama… why it is a watershed moment.

Let me be clear that I fully understand that this is a “super hero” movie. It is a live-action, film adaptation of a comic book, and as such, has no bearing on real-life events. That being said, my head and heart were all over the place.

Why?

There are several reasons. Far too many to fully convey here. But I will attempt to pinpoint the larger one in the context of my feelings.

The African Nation of Wakanda

Wakanda is a country unspoiled. Unsullied by the invasion – or colonization, as the characters point out – of those who would trample its rich culture, prohibit the expression of its traditions, exploit its resources, and enslave its people. Simply put, Wakanda was free to evolve into a highly developed, technologically advanced civilization, while retaining all of its history, customs and beliefs.

For those of African heritage, nothing like this exists in the real world.

Not.

One.

Thing.

To this day, many African nations are considered third world countries. This label typically refers to economically poor, non-industrialized nations who are often reliant upon foreign aid. But seeing Wakanda on the big screen was like a glimpse into an alternate reality. Even stripping away all of its supernatural elements, it stands as a future that could have been. Could have.

But… it isn’t.

For me, segments of the movie stood out as an extended expedition into an incredibly complex and engaging world established through tribal unity, ingenuity, and intellect. It was the answer to the nagging question… what if? What if there was no slavery? What if there was no colonization of Africa? What if there was no systemic racism? This is Wakanda!

But… it isn’t.

Or rather, it never was, and maybe it will never be. And that… that is heartbreaking.

Because it has nothing to do with the lack of supernatural intervention, or the existence of Vibranium. It has everything to do with systemic racism, the deterioration and intentional disruption of the black family unit… the lack of community awareness and concern as a country, not just isolated pockets of effective collaboration … and a society that seems to have lost its compassion and consideration for others.

Wakanda then becomes a sad reminder of unrealized potential, all that has been stolen, and what now feels unobtainable.

But… it isn’t.

Even without vibranium, the technological marvels of Wakanda are not completely fictional. The unique customs, arts, and social institutions exemplified in the movie are very real. We now have a space and an opportunity to discuss errors of the past and make corrections for the future.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

There may be some who think that what I’ve said and what I’ve seen… that it’s simply too late for us.

But… it isn’t.

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Categories: commentary, current events, opinion, personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shades Of Gray


For those of you who don’t know (and less for those who don’t care ) neither my wife nor myself consider ourselves fully any one race.  What I mean is this…

On my side, my mother is of Choctaw Indian and Irish descent.  Her maternal grandfather was a first generation pale Irish immigrant with green eyes and her grandmother could’ve been named Pocahontas.  I only have a few pictures of my mother when she was younger.  She had long raven-black hair all the way down her back, and the most beautiful sun-kissed blemish-free skin you could ever wish for.

My father has similar ancestry.  Although his father was a very dark-skinned man, his maternal grandmother was the true definition of a red-skinned woman from Missouri. As a percentage, I’d say African actually comprises maybe 10 to 15% of who I am.  And that’s being generous.  But yet, for all intents and purposes, I am considered a black man in the best sense.

On my wife’s side; her father, who is black, was born in Philly and has blue eyes because of his paternal and maternal grandparents.  As a matter of fact, every single one of his siblings has either blue or green eyes and now in their golden years they all have stark white wavy hair.  Have you ever seen a naturally blond, green-eyed boy with a deep brown complexion?  Those are my wife’s nephews whose mother would often be questioned about whether or not they were her kids because she has brown eyes and black hair.  My wife’s mother was born in Canada and is of German descent.  Her mother actually has dual-citizenship (which I didn’t know could be passed on to your children).

Still, Dre does not feel the need to choose between black and white, but rather fully embraces all of her heritage.

My point is that people often look at us and have already determined that I’m either 1) Black or 2) Hispanic, and she’s either 1) Anglo or 2) Jewish.  We somehow reflect what people consider the stereotypical interracial couple.  Wow.  Really??  I would think that based on the multitude of places around the world that each of us could trace our roots we’re probably more alike than we are different.  It’s fascinating when you think about it.  I just wonder why there’s a tendency to stop there when there’s so much more to our ethnic story.  I mean, what are we really?  Dre’s father identifies himself as black, but she is rarely if EVER described that way by others.  Most people don’t even bother to ask her ethnicity.  Maybe it’s because in lieu of the possible embarrassment of being wrong, it’s easier to assume.  But still it begs the question: Are we considered a particular race based on our ancestry or purely because of our complexion?  Something tells me it’s more the latter than the former.

I have to wonder what people will say about our children.  Being of such diverse ancestry, they will probably epitomize those who legitimately check the “other” box when identifying themselves on most forms.  We will never force them to identify more with any one race.  Besides, I think culture, in its most basic form, is determined more by how and where you are raised, than what country your ancestors come from.  In that vein, I pray that they will remain a comfortable shade of gray and that they will grow to appreciate everything that came together to create the honorable people they will undoubtedly become.

So today, I salute an America that embraces my children as a product of a dream come true.

Categories: family, marriage, personal, stories | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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