- Victor C. Bolles
Wakanda Forever (the latest release of Disney’s Marvel Universe) opened November 11th and has already grossed over three-quarters of a billion dollars, respectable but only about half of the gross of the original Black Panther. The fictional country of Wakanda was created by Marvel founder Stan Lee along with Jack Kirby way back in 1966. This fictional country is an African paradise where (thanks to a meteorite made of vibranium that smashed into the country) the people live in the most technologically advanced city on Earth, using its technology to hide from the view of other Earthlings. The peace and tranquility of this African Eden is broken, however, as Marvel villains apparently have little difficulty finding Wakanda and repeatedly attacking it in a search for the vibranium.
I have not yet seen Wakanda Forever as I am suffering from super-hero fatigue as the number super-hero movies increases exponentially, but I probably will see its sometime soon. I liked the original Black Panther and wrote a commentary about it (The Sequence of Life, March 30, 2018). Brown University Economics professor Glenn Loury on his The Glenn Show podcast (Imagining an Afrotopian Past) noted to Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter that Wakanda bore a “family resemblance” to an imaginary “black-centric historiography” that believes that the ancient Egyptians were black Africans and had developed advanced technology ahead of the barbarous Europeans.
Most sub-Saharan people were pre-literate, they had not developed a system of writing and, thus, left no recorded history. What history, stories, myths or legends such people had were embedded in their language and memory generation after generation. This is a problem for African Americans whose slave ancestors were thrown into slave ships oblivious to their origins, mixed with other tribes, without a common language and no cultural memory. It is what Harvard professor of sociology Orlando Patterson calls natal alienation (the breaking of bonds across generations). People are cut off from their past. They know nothing of their origins, their culture, their beliefs.
I immediately recalled that Frederick Douglass wrote in his narrative about how he had been separated from his mother as a baby. His slaveowner (he still calls him master in the narrative) did this on purpose. All the slaveowners did. The best way to make slaves compliant is to break all their family ties, rupture all their human connections. This is the opposite of the theme behind Alex Haley’s famous book, Roots. The goal of the slaveowner is to make the slave rootless.
So it is no wonder that Americans of African descent want to recreate the roots that they lack. Sometimes it is aspirational like the belief that the ancient Egyptians were black. Sometimes it is merely entertaining such as Marvel’s Wakanda or even humorous such as Eddie Murphey’s home country of Zamunda in his movie, Coming to America. But it can also be dark as the underlying antisemitism of the notion of Black Hebrews as espoused by Kanye West and Kyrie Irving or the rewriting of history to cover up some less than great African history as was done in TriStar Pictures’ The Woman King released just this last September.
Even darker is the false historical narrative of the 1619 Project that, instead of creating a glorious fictional history of African greatness, portrays an unremittingly evil white American history that is just as fictional as Wakanda. Lacking a historical reference, woke progressives create a history that would explain their current situation. However, there are many alternative scenarios that would also explain their current situation. These they choose to ignore.
Professor Loury goes on to say, “We Black Americans are, by far, the wealthiest and most powerful and most secure large population of African descent on the planet.” He continues, “We’re Americans, not Africans, English is our native tongue, we’re Westerners.” He believes that many African Americans are struggling with that concept. Even the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture identifies Western civilization as white culture, not American culture. Professor Loury clearly disagrees with that depiction of what makes an American.
Slaves in America (and probably all slaves around the world) suffered from natal alienation imposed by the slaveowners. These poor souls lost their tribal heritage, their native religion and their language. They were torn from their families as was the case of Frederick Douglass. Over time they learned the English language. They became Christians. After emancipation, they often adopted the names of their enslavers (although as an escaped slave Douglass had chosen a different name to go by).
Life after slavery was still very difficult for the freed men (and women). They formed families and worked hard, often as tenant farmers. They created the historically black colleges and universities and almost five thousand Rosenwald schools to educate themselves. The black churches replaced the tribe. They became doctors and lawyers and (excluded from white society) built their own business communities such as Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma and also Wilmington, North Carolina. Communities that were ultimately destroyed by white supremacist mobs.
But as famously noted by Thomas Sowell the black community made slow but steady progress despite Jim Crow laws, segregation and separate but equal schools. Progress that is, until Lyndon Baines Johnson decided to help them. There has been scant economic progress for blacks since the start of the War on Poverty. But any economic progress has been more than offset by the breakdown of the black community. The War on Poverty has led to the breakdown of the family structure of poor people. Not just blacks, but all poor people as noted by Charles Murray in his book, Coming Apart.
The War on Poverty has taken the economic sting out of children without fathers, addiction and incarceration. Single mothers are lionized rather than criticized. Entitlements have blunted the benefits of forming families. The Black Lives Matter organization even denounces the traditional family structure. This is the modern form of natal alienation. The continuity of middle class values has been replaced by a highly sexualized, gangster influenced hip hop culture.
Middle class values and the traditional family structure along with a good education are the bases for economic security and wealth generation in America. They are the foundation of what has made America the most powerful and prosperous nation in history.
And those are the same values that are being undermined by the American welfare state. Welfare payments replace the familial support structure. Successful blacks of all types, from sports stars, entertainers to business executives, often give very high praise to the struggles of their single mothers. But they are the exceptions and are far outnumbered by unsuccessful blacks whose single mothers could not meet the challenge.
The best way to create an actual Wakanda for blacks here in America and not just on a movie set, is to adhere to those traditional American middle class values (the Smithsonian has a list if you need one), get a good education, work hard and make sure your children have a secure family network to support them. Blacks won’t need an Afrotopian vision of the past if they are busy creating an American future.