As of right now, the hit Marvel Comic film Black Panther has made over $700,000,000 worldwide and still counting. Contrary to what commentator Ben Shapiro and other obtuse threatened right-wingers believe, their negative opinions toward the movie and toward black people being excited about it have had no effect on people’s enthusiasm whatsoever. Among other asinine claims made by Shapiro and others is that Wakanda isn’t real. Well it’s a good thing he told us or we would never have known! I hope we won’t hear the shocking news that Asgard, Gotham City, Metropolis and a galaxy far far away aren’t real either. Oh but Wakanda is very much real. Not the African nation of course but what it represents.
Wakanda, in the Marvel Comic Universe, is an African nation rich with the most precious metal in the world known as vibranium. Over centuries it has developed into the most advanced nation in the world. It symbolizes what Africa could have potentially been without the effects of colonization and that is a large part of Black Panther’s appeal. However, throughout history, going back to the beginnings of civilization, we as black people have shown what we can really accomplish and what we can be when the physical and mental chains are broken. We need to look no further than the US for examples throughout history. Washington D.C., our nation’s capital’s, boundaries were surveyed by a black man named Benjamin Banneker. Banneker, who had already built a clock at the age of 22, would go on to author an almanac. We all know what an ugly and horrific thing that war can be but imagine the death toll from poison gas if not for an invention known as the gas mask.invented by a black man named Garrett Augustus Morgan and patented in 1912. Morgan, probably the greatest unsung inventor in U.S. History, created many more inventions including a self-extinguishing cigarette, a polish for sewing machine needles which kept the needles from scorching fabric, hair straightening cream and hair straightening dye. His most significant invention, however, has to be the traffic signal which we see on the streets every day. The next time you’re frustrated with being stuck in bad traffic, thank Garrett Morgan for it now being worse.
When recognizing pioneers in the field of medicine, it is almost criminal how some of the most significant contributions are rarely recognized due to not looking like Louis Pasteur or Jonas but Wakanda exists there too. Dr. Charles Drew’s research in blood transfusions and blood preservation and development of large-scale blood banks saved thousands of allied lives during World War II and has saved many more since.Although Dr. Drew may not have received the accolades he may have deserved during his lifetime, his work speaks for itself. Fast forward to the 1960’s. We all know about John Glenn’s historic space flight in 1962 when he became the first American to orbit the Earth. Who knew, until the 2017 movie Hidden Figures, that it might now have been possible if not for the mathematical genius of this black woman here, Katherine Johnson? Her calculation of trajectories, launch windows and emergency back flight return paths were essential to Glenn’s mission and man others, including the monumental Apollo 11 mission resulting in the first landing on the moon. You could suggest that her contribution to the space program was much like Shuri’s contribution to T’Challa’s effectiveness as the Black Panther.
Ever heard of the gamma electric cell? If not, you’re likely not familiar with it’s inventor, engineer Henry Sampson. Sampson, the first black person to receive a PhD in nuclesr engineering in 1971, is considered by many to be the inventor of the cellular phone which makes use of the technology he invented. The gamma electric cell, according to Dr. Sampson, was interestingly enough created to produce stable high output voltage and current used to detect radiation in the ground. Even he probably never thought that it would revolutionize communication throughout the world. And yes,we can thank a black man for that.
So while the nation of Wakanda may be a fictional place, the people and the potential it represents certainly are not. There are many other past, present and future examples 0f black genius, excellence and innovation who have advanced our nation and world tremendously in many ways and are continuing to do so. So when we say “Wakanda forever” it isn’t a wish, it’s a proclamation.