Before most of black America pulled their dashikis over their head and threw kente cloths over their shoulders for the Black Panther premiere, they had collectively anticipated the premise of the movie with an unnatural excitement. Much of the hype had nothing to do with the storyline or the fact that the Marvel Universe had finally been integrated. There was one aspect of the film that intrigued us more than anything else:
We wanted to see Wakanda.
The idea of an African utopia is not new. We had created versions of it before. We are sometimes fooled into believing in a romanticized version of Kemet where pharaohs were not slave-owning monarchs. We imagine a welcoming Motherland waiting for us with unlimited resources and open arms. We wonder what a present-day mother continent would look like if it hadn’t been sullied by colonizers and empire builders. With Black Panther, we would get to see it in 3-D with surround sound.
Before I even saw Black Panther, I had already decided to engage in a weeklong experiment of becoming a black conservative as part of The Root’s I Tried It series. For the last four days and counting, I have limited my news consumption to Fox News, Breitbart and other right-wing media outlets that I normally laugh at for their predictably unfair and mentally unbalanced news slant.
Those polar opposites were separate and unconnected in my mind until last night. While watching the Fox News evening lineup and listening to the rationalization for the rise in gun violence, praise for the Trump administration, the vilification of immigrants and non-Christians, and—most important—the overwhelming belief in a past and future idyllic “great” nation, I realized something:
America is Wakanda for white people.
Since Donald Trump descended down that slow-moving escalator with a stern, lipless scowl, surrounded by his orange-skinned family members of various shades, we have been inundated with the phrase “Make America great again.”
The overwhelmingly accepted idea of American exceptionalism is an unquenchable fantasy that lives in the Caucasian consciousness in the same way that the African paradise occupies the hearts and minds of the descendants of this country’s stolen human chattel.
It is not real.
Black people already know this. We understand that America’s status as an international economic superpower was earned with the blood and sweat that irrigated the cotton fields of the concentration camps we euphemize as “plantations.” On the eve of the Civil War (not the one fought by Captain America—the other one), cotton was 60 percent of America’s exports, and 80 percent of cotton was produced in slave-owning states.
This is the reason that the U.S., like the fictional Wakanda, had unimaginable wealth. We had an unlimited supply of the valuable resource of free labor. Steven Deyle explained the value of slavery this way in his book Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life:
It was also equal to about seven times the total value of all currency in circulation in the country, three times the value of the entire livestock population, twelve times the value of the entire U.S. cotton crop and forty-eight times the total expenditure of the federal government that year.
Yet the Confederate-flag-waving traditionalists who revere their Southern heritage while touting the legacy of freedom and liberty that “make America great” willingly overlook this inescapable fact. They forget that there is only one reason America was ever considered great in the first place:
Slavery was America’s vibranium.
The idealized memory of a bygone era of Christian values and moral righteousness also conveniently deletes the evil immorality of the 4,743 lynchings from 1882 to 1968. Their America is an Atlantis-like land that didn’t slaughter the indigenous, steal their land, herd them like cattle and commit a genocide that wiped out entire nations of Native Americans. In their delusion, their forefathers were geniuses who didn’t bomb churches with little girls inside, spit on children trying to attend integrated schools, bust skulls on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, or bash the brains of peaceful men and women who wanted to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Even now, they are trying to re-create their own Wakanda.
They believe that their country can only be saved with a border wall and a travel ban, even though net immigration is less than zero, and immigrants are more hardworking and peaceful than American citizens.
They paint the descendants of the same people who built their Wakanda for free as lazy, violent and seeking handouts. They believe that the reason for their economic demise is outsiders who discovered their secret location and are crossing the border to steal jobs in the vibranium mines and heart-shaped flower fields.
And worst of all, they voted for Killmonger.
They were not satisfied with the previous king, so they voted for the one who threw his challengers off a cliff. Even when they found out that he mistreated their women, they didn’t care. They’re cool with his hate and equivocation of “both sides.” No one understands why they support the war hawk with the weird haircut, but they do.
Is this your king?
Black America understands that Wakanda is not real. We can appreciate the fairy tale, but if we believed for a second that the illusion was real, we would all be collectively packing our bags and booking one-way flights to T’Chaka International Airport.
But half of America is on a mission to re-create a fantasyland that never was. They dream of an all-white world devoid of Muslims, melanin and anyone who dares to kneel while their national lullaby plays softly in their ears. Their version of vibranium is the unlimited wealth that white privilege affords, black lives are their national enemy, and their Dora Milaje is made of gun-toting social studies teachers and cops who shoot black people in the face. They are desperately trying to make it a reality because their American dream has always been a mirage.
It’s Wakanda for white people.