There has been much fanfare surrounding the latest Marvel comic, turned movie Black Panther. Black people across the diaspora are excited about this movie, what it means and what it represents. Black Panther proves that an all-Black cast with a Black director can put together a quality film from head to toe, that can be a major winner at the box office – the movie is staring down $1 billion at the box office worldwide. This movie has something for everybody; Black people (of course), comic nerds (we love y’all too), and also educators… yes, educators too.
A teacher recently created a Wakanda curriculum for her middle school students as a lesson and teaching companion to the movie. It’s a well-developed piece of teaching that I recommend all educators implement; whether their students see the movie or not. With that said, many Black people believe that Black children need to see this movie; that black children need to powerful images of people who look like them who happen to be heroes from the continent of Africa. Many celebrities and good-natured folk who paid for Black children to see the movie. I believe that educators, particularly non-Black educators should to see this movie. It’s a great movie, but what I believe is important for educators to grab from the film are the messages concerning Black students that are vital if we really want to end the school to prison pipeline and help Black children be all they can be both academically and personally. Here are my five major takeaways from the film that educators must consider when educating Black children (I apologize for the spoilers, however by now, you should have seen the movie):
- Strongly consider teaching from an Afrocentric perspective. Black people worldwide were excited to see this movie; a movie that was a picture of Blackness that encapsulated the regaled elegance, storied culture and intellectual contributions of the diaspora since the beginning. Many of us continue to reach for Wakanda. Unfortunately, many of us were not taught about how Africa and African thought shaped much of the Western world. We weren’t taught of African explorers who traveled to the “New World” prior to Columbus. We weren’t taught that African theologians, who shaped Christianity in the West and the East, were African. A fictional dark-skinned superhero can do wonders for the self-esteem of Black children. What can do even more for Black self-esteem no matter the age is knowing the truth about the contributions of Black peoples throughout human history. Black history didn’t begin in 1619. Africa has contributed to and continues to contribute to humanity. Rather than continuing to educate through a lens of Eurocentrism, STRONGLY consider educating through the lens of Afrocentrism.
- Acknowledge, identify and address Black childhood trauma. It’s easy to dislike Eric Killmonger for his anger and his violent behavior in satisfying that anger. Many cite Killmonger’s character as a common trope of the angry Black man. However, Killmonger endured major trauma as a child. His father was killed and he knew that his family from Africa never checked for him. That trauma-informed his life decisions. There was no one to help him through the pain. He took it upon himself to inform his own therapy. However, that pain only led to him causing pain in the name of help a self-righteous cause. The same can potentially happen (and has happened) to Black children who’ve experienced trauma. Educators must do a better job of identifying and supporting students who have endured trauma of any sort. We must abandon the foolish idea that black children are less innocent than white children… or narratives that say, Black people, women, in particular, are so emotionally strong, or even physically strong, that they can endure anything. Our failure to identify and address Black childhood trauma may lead to children taking therapy in their own hands; coping in unhealthy ways that are assisted by a lack of psychological and cultural awareness on the part of adults.
- Realize that education for Black people is intrinsically linked to Black Liberation. For T’Challa and Killmonger, their missions came down to helping people. Killmonger wanted to use the resources of Wakanda to help Black people worldwide fight oppression. His education was a means to achieve that end. T’Challa went steps further than his father… he decided to use resources of Wakanda to help those areas where his father sent spies – one place, in particular, was Oakland: the foundation of Killmonger’s trauma. Knowledge has a purpose. It always has for Black people. From Blacks who learned how to read and write to escape slavery to Blacks who went to law school to fight segregation, redlining, and gerrymandering; education has always been a means to an end – Black Liberation. If you can answer the question, “how does the knowledge of this thing I seek to teach further the cause of Black Liberation?” then you can teach whatever the “this” is to Black children.
- Absent the right environment, Black children may conceal intelligence to protect their spirits. For fear of being colonized and exploited by the Western world, Wakanda shielded themselves to appear as a third world country. Once in Wakanda, the CIA agent couldn’t believe the advanced society Wakanda created. His bias was smacked right in his face. The same has happened to many an educator; when exposed to the intelligence of a Black child they perceived to be stupid, their ignorance and bias smacked them in the face. Schools kill the spirits of Black children every day. Schools over discipline Black children and schools undervalue the minds of Black children. Black children know when educators care or don’t care about them. When they know you don’t care about them, they don’t trust you enough to willing offer their hope, dreams, and intellect to you for fear of you exploiting them and failing to properly cultivate them. So, just because a Black child doesn’t “show” you that they are “smart” doesn’t mean they are not. Maybe, you haven’t earned the trust of that child to allow you rights to visit the Wakanda that is their spirit.
- There is no community without the elders. T’Challa was surrounded by elders, including his mother and the spiritual advisor. T’Chaka played an advisory role even in death. T’Challa was supported and empowered by the elders throughout the movie. The community of leaders and elders important to the key moments of Wakandan life. The same is true for Black children. You cannot teach Black children, absent the Black community. Educators love calling parents and maybe visiting homes; they enjoy calling Black men to greet children on the first day of school and inviting parents to the school on their terms. However, between the hours of 8:30am to 2:30pm (or whatever time school starts and ends), educators shut their doors and adopt a posture that says to the community, “we know what’s best, not you.” You’re six hours a day with a child isn’t enough. To make real connections in the life of a child, you must make links between the curriculum in school and the curriculum in the community. Along the lines of the education for liberation theme, you must invite community leaders and activists into the classroom to speak and to teach students. This is how you strengthen community – understanding that in the fight to educate, the community is your strongest and most staunch ally.
Educators must keep these things in mind rather than seeking the next “flavor of the month” to “close the achievement gap.” Use these takeaways to redirect your curricula, reframe professional development, rework discipline practices and reintroduce the school to the community. If educators are serious about teaching every child, particularly Black children in our nation’s cities, “get rich quick” remedies must be abandoned. The real work is in confronting White supremacy and White Male patriarchy with students and community; empowering them to, and assisting them with, dismantling it.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!