Black Panther, Brown vs Board of Education and the Power of Imagery
January 23, 2018
In 1940, husband and wife Psychologist team Dr. Kenneth and Dr. Mamie Clark conducted a research test surrounding dolls and children’s attitude about race. This led to a lawsuit of Briggs v. Elliot, which became one of five cases in rolled into the civil rights hall mark case of Brown v. Board of Education. In the famous “Doll” study, it was found that black children consistently picked the white dolls, because they deemed the dolls that resembled them as inferior and not as beautiful. This had a resounding effect on the Supreme Court, which ruled that segregation was not only immoral, but psychologically damaging, that was in 1954. Twelve years later the character of Black Panther debuted during the of apex of the civil rights movement (1966). However, before we get into this marvelous character. Let me first take you back to the early 1990’s, and introduce you to a short geeky child who was fully immersed into the world comics and all of its amazing characters.
When I was young child, my brother and I used to accompany my mother to the supermarket, unlike other errands, this one was our particular favorite. Not because we loved grocery shopping. But because that particular grocery had an amazing aisle full of comic books. It was in that aisle where my love of comics manifested, and where I discovered the character of Black Panther. So, who is this character? Well there is really no way I could properly articulate over 50+ years of comic book character history lore in just a few short paragraphs, all the while describing to you why his comic was both groundbreaking and sociologically important. But, I will try, so here goes…
Black Panther is the title of the King, chieftain, spiritual leader and protector of the fictional African country of Wakanda. According to the comic, 10,000 years ago a very large meteorite landed in the territory of Wakanda. The meteor was full of a metal called Vibranium, a substance not from this planet. The metal could be applied in a number of different applications, including when processed a certain way, be made completely indestructible. This makes this the most precious metal in the world, and for a country that literally has a mountain full of the stuff, makes them the most sought-after piece of land in the entire world. However, unlike in real life where Africans were overcome with colonial interest from Europe, the Wakandans guarded their borders furiously-even from other African nations. They closed off their borders, shut themselves off from the rest of the world, and guarded their most precious resource. In their seclusion they became the world’s most technologically advanced society—in secret. They are literally 100 years ahead of modern society in terms of technology and social conditions; In fact, according to the comic, they have cured all known diseases, including cancer. In other words, it is a utopia in the middle of Africa, an Eden if you will. It makes one think what would have been if the real-life continent of Africa would have not only been able to keep its natural resources, but to monetize them and in return cultivate its many nations-free of westernized influence.
There are a number of things remarkable about the creation of that world, number one it showed comic book readers what an African nation could look like free from European colonization. Also, it displayed what an egalitarian society truly looked like. Yes, this society is led by a King, but its fiercest warriors, are the Dora Milaje, a group of women sworn to protect the king. Furthermore, the smartest person in Wakanda, society that is full of intellectual geniuses, is a woman named Shuri, King T’Challa sister. The other remarkable thing about this comic is that this was created not from the mind of some radical black activist, but from the minds of two white men, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, go figure.
So why is all of this important? Well as the Clark psychologist team discovered over 78 years ago, children can transfer feelings of empowerment or inadequacy based on the representation of interest. This has a profound effect on how a child feels about themselves. Its why characters such as Black Panther and Wonder Woman are so important, it allows groups who are often ignored to find themselves placed in the middle of the super hero conversation. Superheroes, whether in real life or fictional, help establish an imprint of positivity. It is why imagery of Barack Obama became so important. Our children need to see that people who do amazing things, looks just like them.
Look, I like when my 4-year-old daughter plays with her spider-man action figure, but I LOVE how she identifies with Wonder Woman. Its’s like she instinctually recognizes the importance of Wonder Woman. Black Panther will do the same for her, and millions of children of color.
I can only imagine the young child who will see the images on the screen and be blown away from the imagery, story and beauty of Wakanda. The best part about it, he or she does not have to go with their parent to the grocery store to experience it. They just have pay for an admission on February 16, 2018 and enjoy the show.