I remember sitting in American History class. My high school was predominantly white with maybe 30% or less minority population. I sat next to the only other black person in the classroom.
We flipped through the history book and found the section of African American history. I am not exaggerating, out of a 400-page book, we had one chapter and it was maybe three pages long.
Can you imagine being a young American black girl discovering who you are and trying figure out your place in the world to discover ONLY three pages of people who look like you?
Society does a great job perpetuating images and standards of beauty many cannot live up to, especially black women. Much of my childhood came with hating the way I looked and wishing I wasn’t black. Feeling cursed because my hair felt different and my skin was too dark.
I used to play pretend with my friends and cousins; we would pretend we were white. White people were beautiful. They were models. They were on the front cover of magazines. They were leading ladies in the movies, especially the romantic ones. They were Disney princesses.
By the way, I was an adult when the first black Disney princess was created.
I recall a time in high school when a Hispanic boy asked the only two or three black girls in class why black girls didn’t have hair. Too many of us had breakage and short hair because our parents were taught to tame our afros, coils, and curls by putting a chemical in our hair to permanently strengthen it.
I was twenty-four when I discovered the real texture of my hair. Even now, I find myself defending the stigma that my hair is ugly in its natural state. I have to protect the image of my puffy afro from people trying to convince me I am more beautiful when my hair is straight.
So what does all this have to do with a Black superhero from Wakanda?
Majority of black representation on the big screen is often extreme stereotypes, sometimes perpetuated by our own people. The only “real” black movies with people that look like me were gangster life in the hood or slavery. None of which I could relate to.
But, Black Panther is a superhero. What does that have to do with black culture?
It is the representation that being black can be cool. It is the celebrations of black roots and black culture without being slaves or poor. It is the idea that dark skin is beautiful. That kinky, coily hair is fashionable and attractive.
It is the image of black women being celebrated and regarded as crucial characters in a plot and not the side-kick of the leading white girl or white man. It is dark black skin being the majority in the movie and not just the token black man in a cast to represent “diversity.”
Many may not comprehend the importance of black culture, our need to be celebrated or our need to be represented, not only in history books but in the media, in cartoons, and in movies.
After all, they were not the young girl questioning her beauty and the worth of her people.
Oh, how that has changed. Now, we are dark-skinned warriors, a part of a rich society the rest of the world does not even compare to. We are superheroes!