Since I saw Black Panther and identified with [Erik] Killmonger, folks have flung their two cents at me. I kid you not. I received a bunch of vague, neutralist (pseudo-pacifist?) and somewhat sanctimonious platitudes (on my status and via PM) after I posted “Killmonger was right” on social media. I appreciate the discussions the #TeamKillmonger tag has generated and the folks gracious enough to have a dialogue with me; but damn, some people really jumped on me!
I don’t exaggerate. As James Colwell would say, “I deal in truth.” I deal in truth, not hyperbole. The truth of the matter is that I just made a statement. I don’t live in a bubble and I don’t expect uncritical reverence, but I didn’t solicit alternate takes. I’d like to think folks who know me and share my personal space would understand my sensibilities which are informed by my personhood: my positionality, praxis, and pessimism. What I like about Black Panther is that its narrative invokes positionality and praxis which resonate via Black indigenity and diaspora. Pessimism plays into why I’m here for Killmonger, which was little to no surprise to the folks who are (and have been) truly here for me.
I’m a sociologist whose studied interpersonality, criminality, gender, and economics. Through psychoanalytic theory and individuology, I specialize in psychic life. I used to relay how unnerved I was when my studies on Max Weber would coalesce into moonlight erotica career, because Max would star in some very steamy dreams.
I also used to sputter about the surrealism and mind-blown moments I’d find thanks to Max and some of the more cosmic existentialists. These people would speak truth to power quite literally in that they noted every aspect of life as we know it is contrived. Like, we know life because we contrive it. We wouldn’t be able to know anything if we couldn’t break things down for our convenience. The arrogant genius is inferior to the teacher since being able to relay anything—no matter how big—to anyone is truly ingenious, because we are all capable of understanding. The trick is making someone understand.
For the most part, I understand the world to be a very dark place. It’s capitalist, colonialist, sexist, racist amongst other awful things which are resultant and contingent upon ethnocentrism and empiricism that marauded as enlightenment. History has spawned wars, genocides, and insurmountable violences committed in the interests of elites, oligarchs, imperialists, colonizers—some of whom were kleptocrats. Marginalized peoples were enslaved, exploited, raped, murdered, assimilated, sterilized in accordance to eugenics; exhibited as spectacles in live zoos, if not stuffed and mounted (or preserved) as corpses. Some had actual bounties.
And, you peace the hell out if you’re inclined to tell me that’s in the past and everything’s ‘fine’ now.
History is important because ideally, lessons are learnt from past mistakes which shouldn’t be repeated. In terms of survival and the overall species, I think history’s important for affirming what can and can’t make the cut. Or rather, identifying and playing up to, if not eliminating the sword which cuts.
I don’t like violence; but as far as activism goes, I dislike nonviolence and peaceful protest. If there’s one thing history has taught me, it’s that life as most would think appears to be operant upon pain and profit. Prowess is what strings together all of the -isms that come into play, and brutality is what gets you the biggest bang for your buck.
That’s the constant, how it’s always been. That’s my takeaway from life as I know it. Revolutionaries don’t negotiate their validity, their humanity to their oppressors. They’re great teachers who can educate. However, the wealthiest in looks, likeness, and livelihood can afford to be blissfully ignorant; and if they are educated, they become willfully ignorant since the luxury of life as they’ve known it prior has bought off any semblance of conscience.
Not so much when you overtake their estates and march them to a dungeon with some creative devices, or when square off against them in cold blood. After a few blows or rounds on the rack, wealth kind of seems irrelevant and folks are suddenly amenable to change, if not accountability or reconsideration. You could always argue that anybody would abide anything if under duress—and I’d agree with you. The only point of contention is that what might be “duress” to you would be “retribution” or “reckoning” to me; people like me. Call me ignoble, but I don’t have a problem with any of the 1% getting a five finger discount. I mean, when they do, there tends to be a revolution. They’re inclined to change when a substantial portion of the 99% decide to show out. Or, if one of their own is directly affected by something that afflicts another percentage.
Which is another aspect that folks [should] know I ride for: collectivity. You know I’m for it because I am repulsed by the lack thereof. I don’t mean extremism without a lack of nuance. I mean how fractured and disjointed I find this “community” that won’t think twice to drag its own in assuming the mantle of a clique or celebrity, or make it rain for the hucksters whom hijack narratives; this “community” whose loyalties can be bought indefinite times over with a meme or bop from figures who could care less about the justice they allege to seek. Another key thing history has taught me is that the solidarity of marginalized peoples is always undermined by tokens or double-agents: insiders who sell their own out. These folks who peep game, but refuse to recognize it. They mistake a crumb of gratification for triumph. They seldom play to win, if they play at all.
There’s power in numbers, but the 1% maintains power despite the 99%. That’s the real, timeless tragedy. People can come together to effect change in meaningful ways not just amongst each other in a small scale, but on a global scale. No technology or wealth can undermine the unified might and cause of sheer numbers. This is why nuclear warfare has become such an agonized prospect since it is the inversion of this principle: it subverts the interests of many being outweighed by the whims of select authorities. It only takes a handful of people to legitimize a strike that would decimate tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people. That shouldn’t be how things are. It sounds expensive to change.
Perhaps, that change could be cheapened by a five finger discount?
For the folks who still follow me and still don’t get it: let me tell you why I dig characters like Killmonger (onscreen and in comics). It’s mostly nihilism and misanthropy. Call me wrong or whatever you’d like, but I’ve seen and felt enough to cultivate a cynical worldview; and maybe Weber and Freud had a hand in my disdain for pretension. I don’t think the world is a playground; and I dislike how the humanities, social sciences, and the advent of personal essays have rendered everything to be some intellectual or selfish exercise. There are things that just aren’t “debatable” or negotiable, like humanity or human rights—and no, Tami, neither should be contingent on the expense of an enslaved or underclass.
There’s talk of how Killmonger was deliberately slated as some chauvinist since he’d laid hands on women throughout the movie, and I can’t argue that. However, I could argue that as a scholar also in film studies that text takes on meaning independent of its creators; which is why so many are reading this chauvinism as “not chauvinism, but business as usual” wherein Killmonger would’ve targeted and taken down any- and everyone he deemed an obstacle, regardless of gender. I’ve read enough history (particularly, of male revolutionaries) to know that often isn’t the case.
Even as my own dissenters didn’t bring this up, my likeness with Killmonger was never about that. It was about inferno. The stuff people make go viral; the stuff people make define them and life as we know it; how they consciously choose to fight for crumbs while that 1% (many of whom they idolize) feasts. For all of their “deep,” “revolutionary” play-by-play’s which decry unadulterated rage: can you honestly blame anybody for wanting to burn the damn table instead of wanting a seat? Is the table worth sitting at? Is there even a table, or is it just a contrivance?
I can acknowledge Killmonger is flawed and trash in major ways, but he is still my favourite character in Black Panther. In the scheme of redemption, everyone else seemed too secondary or ineffective to me. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say to be diminutive means nothing if you are largely passive. I hoped Killmonger would see a more dignified, cathartic ending than he did; and maybe someday, he will should Marvel decide to bring him back.
FYI: Killmonger isn’t ranked as high as Alistair Smythe, Black Adam, Eddie Brock, Mister Freeze, Gorilla Grodd, Magneto, Morbius, Doctor Octopus, and the dozens more on my favourite villains list; which I find is growing more than my favourite heroes.