The symbol of 'Wakanda' and black political vision

The symbol of 'Wakanda' and black political vision
© ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

This weekend, the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda will rise again in the Marvel film, “Avengers: Endgame.” The country was introduced in the 2018 movie “Black Panther” to great acclaim among African-American theater-goers. The image of a black state that wedded tradition with futuristic technology became a metaphor of sovereignty to millions.

Yet, just as the greeting “Wakanda forever” began to catch on, Marvel razed the kingdom in the 2018 film, “Avengers: Infinity War.” To many viewers, the destruction was as disturbing as an urban renewal project. Now audiences will see the land restored as a place where black lives matter, if only in the movies.

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The African-American fascination with the image of Wakanda was symptomatic of a latent desire for an autonomous space. But while the idea was prevalent in the thinking of ordinary people, it seemingly had no merit in the vision of black political leaders. Neither the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) nor the campaigns of U.S. Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE (D-Calif.) have stated a position on the question of black self-governance. The silence is frustrating in the aftermath of the promising Georgia midterm election.

So why is the platform of black leaders out-of-kilter with the dreams of everyday people? Among the reasons are comfort with the uneven gains in civil rights, shifting demographics in urban political districts, and diffused affinities because of complicated personal histories. And a powerful factor is the undue influence of white, liberal interest money in black politics.

One consequence is the reluctance of leaders to speak out on core black interests — except when they dovetail with liberal interests. Another consequence is a stunted political imagination at a critical time in history. Take Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarJewish Democrats decry Trump's 'loyalty' remarks Poll: Voters split on whether it's acceptable for Israel to deny Omar, Tlaib visas Pelosi speaks with Israeli president after Trump controversy MORE’s (D-Minn.) reaction to the work of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She condemned AIPAC for its effective lobbying of Congress. Yet a politician with a sense of invention would have studied its method for ideas to advance a black agenda.

Harold Cruse most succinctly detailed the need for an invigorated black vision in the 1967 history, “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.” He critiqued the dependency of leading writers and thinkers on white liberal values. Today the problem is manifested in the lack of bold ideas in the political class. While its allegiance to liberal interests makes sense on a number of levels, it should not constitute the end-all in political thinking — especially in these times of emboldened white supremacy.

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No doubt a case for black self-governance is a hard sell in the white-dominated political culture. Media and educational institutions are quick to censor or ridicule such things. The pundits insist on promoting an illusion of “diversity,” despite compelling evidence to the contrary. They refuse to consider that many blacks were drawn to “Wakanda” — created by the white comic book writer Stan Lee — out of a sense of profound estrangement.

African-American leaders in earlier times spoke with more authenticity on the social, economic and spiritual needs of the people. And they did so without the educational or social advantages of today’s politicians.

Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, for example, understood that while blacks should demand civil rights, and the right to associate freely, they will always be a vulnerable group. For that reason, they must strive to control a space for self-preservation. This does not mean segregation as such, but a place of political autonomy. Just consider the role that Hawaii, New Mexico and Utah have played for majority-minority ethnic and religious groups.

In the 19th century, thousands heeded the call for liberty and migrated to settlements such as Freetown in Sierra Leone and Monrovia in Liberia. In the 1820s, thousands immigrated to Haiti to establish residency when it ruled the island of Hispaniola. Other people founded colonies on the frontier. Between 1865 and 1880, some 40,000 black “Exodusters” relocated to Kansas and the Oklahoma territory to create thriving towns. Such initiatives were promoted by people emerging from slavery; surely if they could show innovation, the political leaders of today can show a little grit?

The gubernatorial campaign of Stacey Abrams argues in favor of a Georgia imperative. It may, in fact, be the last best hope to establish a sustainable political base. What is needed is a strategy to grow the voter base and to educate young people in how to run a state. The strategy should encourage a targeted migration to Georgia. It should seek to divert the current pattern of black migration scattered across the region. A black-run state would offer advantages under the U.S. Constitution not available to a municipality, the traditional site of black political engagement.

The CBC can take two steps to advance the goal. First, pursue hearings on allegations of voter suppression activity in Georgia and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Second, host discussions on the feasibility of a coordinated migration to achieve political autonomy. The outcome could be the nurturing of a real-life Wakanda.

Roger House, Ph.D., is an associate professor of American studies at Emerson College in Boston. Since 2014, he has published VictoryStride.com, a multimedia library resource on African-American history and culture. He has produced radio programs on African-American history for NPR, and is the author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy.”