However, I couldn't help but feel the pang of sadness, when the narratives got too close to my own reality, as a black woman, as an American. The feeling that we don't belong, and are not wanted. The longing for a home untouched by oppressors.
It happened when we first got into the car, my 8-year-old, still hyped from the film, asked in amazement, "is that place real?" And I didn't want to break her heart, because mine had already been broken a couple years prior.
Everyday you could bet on someone being shot, worst case, killed. And when a little black 10-year-old girl was shot in the head on the playground, and I visited the neighborhood the following day and children were pretending to shoot each other, I could not take anymore. That baby's blood stain was still fresh on the playground blacktop, no one cared enough to scrub it clean, that kids would come back to play.
I had to get out of the Midwest, it was a dark cloud, blue collar towns shattered by the loss of factories, it's economic engine. Milwaukee consistently ranked as the worst place in the country for black people. In Illinois, Chicago made the daily news for the hundreds of black people gunned down ruthlessly in the streets. Overall, black communities had the worst conditions, lack of resources, horrible education systems, constant violence, seemingly no way out.
By this time, the great migration back South had already been booming. I heard former mid-westerners speak about the wonders of the South, despite the shadow of slavery and racism that our ancestors escaped. Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte were so-called black meccas. I couldn't wait to see what it felt like to "belong" to have venues that catered to us, played our music, showed our artwork. I couldn't wait to see black people prosper in all facets of life, from the store bagger, to the doctor, scientists, to CEO's of major companies. I wanted my kids to see black excellence everywhere, to go to school with black children and for them to not be the worst ones. I wanted to see prospering black families. I wanted to them to feel safe and accepted, and not have fear of being shot down by police in the streets, or code-switching to survive. I wanted Wakanda.
I don't know why I ever set out on this journey, but I began my google search for the perfect black utopia. "Best places for black families," "top 10 cities for black people," "cities where black people are doing well." Of course options came up, and they were certainly better than the Midwest cities I was fleeing from but, I just couldn't find the city that hit all the checkmarks. I wanted my children to experience a different life than I had known. It had to be someplace for us, right? And then it hit me, there isn't, there is not one place where it is safe to be black, that is free of oppression from dominant culture. There is nowhere for us. Wakanda does not exist.
This should not have been a blow, I mean I'm black in America. I knew this, I see this everyday. I tell the stories. But, somehow I felt like I had letdown the two little people who depend on me. It saddened me that couldn't experience life like their white peers, a world that was made for them.
This is why Black Panther will resonate with black Americans in a way like no other movie has been able to. There is a longing deep inside for connection, for acceptance, for HOME. It takes us to a place that we know existed long ago for us, but that we have little hope of recreating in this climate, country, and with this history.