Three independent incidents kept some of us engrossed in the news last month. There was the much-anticipated global release of Marvel Comics’ Black Panther movie, yet another mass shooting in a US school resulting in 17 lives lost, and right here, the killing of an alleged gang leader followed by rioting from members of his community in East Port of Spain causing the closing off of parts of the City.
Each of these events incited public outrage and accelerated public rifts relating to black empowerment vs white fragility, US gun control vs US 2nd Amendment rights and law enforcement empowerment vs law enforcement accountability.
What struck me as I had conversations with people and combed social media considering the posts on each side of these deeply polarizing debates, was the commitment to the “us” and “them” binary at the cost of seeking deeper understanding of the other.
Despite what for the deeply melanated was an almost out-of-body, cathartic experience, the Black Panther backlash from conservative whites in America, and some others, has been loud and resilient, from the posting of fake memes on social media and protests outside cinemas, to talk-show soliloquys on how idiotic black people are for reacting in their way to the film. The divide is deep and for the most part both sides are talking at each other, convinced and convicted by their own rectitude.
Watching and listening to this polarised debate made me deliberate on the irony that one of the real lessons from Wakanda had sailed right over so many of the debaters’ heads, namely that there needs to be a conversation about current human solidarity, brotherhood and understanding, while at the same time recognising the historical and structural injustices which the people of the African diaspora have and continue to suffer. We manufacture easy false binaries which make us feel safe in a world so vast, multi-faceted and byzantine that to do otherwise would force us to confront our own impotence to deal with it.
Wakanda has other lessons, the principal of which has not been missed by most commentators – the role of female leadership in Wakandan society. They guide, they protect, they are warriors – but for me, most important of all, they embrace their femininity, are open, conscious of their power and creative in their understanding of how and when to use it.
Contrast this with the latest idiocy from the 45th POTUS: let’s make schools safer by bringing guns into the classroom! Let’s not bother to try to understand the problem; let’s not try to get its root. No, if the teachers had been armed, they “would have shot the hell out of the gunman before he knew what happened.” I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. But this isn’t late night satire on TV with Jimmy Kimmel: this is the man with the nuclear codes in his jacket pocket.
And then I saw the pictures from East Port of Spain and I read the reports of how our leaders were planning to respond: tougher legislation to root out gang leaders, armed police and soldiers. I may have missed it, but I heard and read nothing about understanding why our young men from certain communities are subscribing to gang culture, about why gang leaders are trusted more than elected officials in those communities; and nothing about the need to identify and address the underlying causes of this societal dysfunction and exclusion. No, the answer is more guns.
And I considered again the female leaders, Nakia and Okoye. Undoubtedly strong and as tough as steel when required; but thoughtful, compassionate, understanding and full of grace, always. I thought of their profound stand-off with very different and deeply held ideologies and yet their ability first to seek understanding of the other and eventually finding a path to manifesting a solution neither of them could have achieved on their own.
If ever you see them in our Parliament, ask them to stay.