- May 3, 2021
My Problem with Black Panther (As a Black Man)
Let me first say, I am black. I’m not some white guy talking about how Black Panther and Wakanda are unrealistic or made to pander to black people. You know, the things true of every white superhero.
But people aren’t ready to hear that.
My problem stems from Black Panther’s place in pop culture with Marvel making him the premiere black superhero. They’ve done this by making him the star of several comic series, an animated series, and most importantly, his film. Marvel treats him like DC treats Wonder Woman, article on her comic here.
Now like her, he’s a character whose supposed to embody and represent a whole culture of people. He allows black people to have someone they can point to and say, ‘That’s me! He represents me!’
Obviously, that’s kind of ridiculous. Also like with Wonder Woman, there should not be just one superhero character that represents all of a minority. Black people should have many non-sidekick characters to point to and say he/she/they represent me. Sadly, we’re not there yet.
We are getting there. More superhero movies and televisions shows are bringing more diverse characters to the screen. But Black Panther is still considered the superhero to represent the experience of black people.
Again, Black Panther as a character is fantastic. He has real and profound motivation, with stories centering on his world. Black Panther is stuck between the traditions of his culture, the needs of his people, and his desire to help others across the earth.
Most importantly, he’s King of Wakanda, a King of Africa, who wants to help the world.
But, there’s this problem with making him the black superhero. Check out the video form of this article on Youtube.
A King of Africa
Black Panther is an African character, not an African American character. That needs to be recognized. There’s no inherent problem with that. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a premier black character being African and not American. There’s a problem with him somehow representing all black Americans, and being advertised as one of us. He advertised to Americans as much, if not more than indigenous Africans.
He is not relatable to the experience of a black person in America, in no shape or form. There are more white men able to relate to Batman’s experience in America as a white billionaire than there are black people who can relate to Black Panther. You don’t need to relate to a character to like them, that’s not what I’m saying. You should be able to relate to them if they’re supposed to represent a whole group of people.
Black Panther, any of the versions, whether it be T’Challa, T’Chaka, or Shuri, have never grown up in poverty, raised afraid of the police, unable to make rent, scared to walk home at night, or been threatened with the American prison system. They grew up without the experience or hardships that black people have faced in America. They shouldn’t be the lead superhero black people are told to identify with.
Black Panther should be one of the choices Black people can enjoy. He should be like Batman, who doesn’t represent all white men. He’s just another choice among many that superhero fans can enjoy.
The Motivation of the Black Panther
There’s also something inherently insulting to me, about Black Panther’s motivations for helping black people outside of Wakanda. In both the film and comics, he is very much about Wakanda first, not all the black people. He has to be convinced to stop his country’s isolationism and to share his country’s wealth with black people around the world.
In the context of Marvel, and even in the context of the real world, the King of Wakanda should care about Wakanda and Wakandans first. It makes sense that he care for them over black people in America. It makes perfect sense, that’s not what’s insulting.
What’s insulting is that the one black character who needed to be taught to care about all black people is the premiere black superhero. That just doesn’t feel right to me.
It feels more relatable to white people, who have been in power for generations. So many of them needed to be taught why they need to use their privilege to help underprivileged black people. At the same time, it feels like any white person could point to Black Panther and say, “See not all black people get it right, forgive us for not getting it either.” That’s barely a few words off from what a white friend told me after watching the film.
This means Black Panther has too many things in common with the oppressors of black people across the world. A character relatable to white people on such grounds should not be the character who represents black people and black culture.
But it actually makes sense that I feel this way if comic book history is anything to go by. No black creators made Black Panther and his origins. It was all created by two white men, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Again, that’s not inherently a bad thing. This simply explains the dissonance I feel with Black Panther’s character and his status.
Truth of Black Superheroes
Most black people outside of Africa deal with the threat of things like police brutality and a racist incarceration system. Africans across Africa deal with the threat of poverty, famine, and war, in a way worse than any other continent on Earth. Why is the black superhero whose supposed to embody us, the one black superhero who hasn’t endured any of that?
There are other black characters who black people around the world can relate to more than Black Panther. Heroes both in Marvel and other publishers.
For example, look at Luke Cage, he’s a perfect example from Marvel. He had to grow up in an America that treated black people like animals. He struggled with the peer pressure of joining a gang to survive, and went to jail for it. He’s then abused and experimented in prison, which is in no way fair to the crime he committed. He quite literally got his powers as a byproduct of an experience he shares with so many African Americans.
Similarly, Storm is an even better example from Marvel. She was born in Harlem too. Then she’s orphaned after moving to Egypt. There, she had to grow up on the streets alone. This country does change depending on the adaptations and writers. Admittedly, this fact isn’t totally important, considering Marvel still always makes her African.
It’s more important to know that while her ancestry is royalty, she does not know this growing up. Storm grows up poor and alone, struggling to feed herself. She grows up with one of the hardest lives one can have in an African country. This comes just after spending some of her early years in a predominantly and famously black American setting. She has experienced more of the typical black experience in one life time than most black superheroes, especially Black Panther.
A DC example would be Static, he too would better represent black culture. Don’t be confused, the character’s name is not Static Shock, that’s just the name of his fantastic show. As a black teenager, he has struggled and succeeded to avoid the worst America has to offer him. As Static he continues to struggle with gangs, hate crimes, and being of the black middle class.
Static fits the average black experience rather than the worst like Luke Cage or Storm. He knows to fear the police and white people to survive. He’s someone sick of not being able to do anything, and learning to navigate it to help people.
Static deserves to be the premiere black superhero just as much as Luke Cage and Storm. More importantly, definitely more than Black Panther.
Let the Black Panther Reign
Luke Cage, Storm, and Static are just some examples of characters who make more sense as a black superhero for all black people to look up to.
Though, I’m also not saying Marvel and DC should be trying to replace Black Panther with any of them. That would not be a solution to anything, that would just be trading in one token for another. I’m not going to mince words, Black Panther is commonly a token black character in comic books and TV shows. The MCU is the first time I believe he’s never been a token black character in any of his appearances.
Though, he has been preceded by many.
The Solution to My Problem with Black Panther
The solution to my problem with Black Panther is not to pull support from him. Marvel should not stop pushing Black Panther. I’m not even saying Marvel should have pushed someone else instead of Black Panther from the start. I could do that until I’m blue in the face, no one can change history.
Importantly, Black Panther does deserve to popular as a black character.
What I want, and what we need, is for Marvel to push Sam Wilson as Captain America as hard Marvel pushes Black Panther. We need Marvel to push Storm as hard as Marvel pushes Black Panther. And we need Marvel to push Luke Cage as much as Marvel pushes Black Panther.
And not just Marvel, we need DC to push Static as hard as Marvel pushes Black Panther. We need DC to push Black Lightning and John Stewart as hard as Marvel pushes Black Panther.
We need more black superheroes pushed as Marvel has pushed Black Panther. That’s the solution, that’s the fix.
Flood the market. If white kids have a litany of white superheroes to pick from then black people should have that choice to. It’s to the point that there is no white male superhero who represents all white men. Plain and simple, that’s not fair. That’s a privilege that every group of people deserves. This should extend to female superheroes, Latinx superheroes, Asian superheroes, everyone.
My problem with Black Panther is that he’s supposed to represent black people and our experience. He doesn’t do that well at all to me, but he doesn’t have to. Above all, he shouldn’t have that expectation.
To conclude, no black character should, and comic book companies can do better to make this a reality.