T'Challa and Shuri, Black Panther

Wakanda Schools and Why We’re Not Ready For A Shared Prosperity

One thing I’ve always maintained in this life: I’m either an early adopter or super-late, past the wave of spoilers and hot takes our culture’s embraced. So, even though I barked at colonizers like M’Baku and crossed my arms like T’Challa and Shuri for weeks, I hadn’t seen Black Panther until this past weekend. A few of my friends and colleagues gave me the harshest side eyes, but parenting, schooling, and life got in the way of carving out a couple of hours for the film. The lamentable element of waiting so long is that, with a movie this hot, I saw half the movie without having watched it.

But once I watched it, I got it. I completely got it.

A radical imagination is at the core of dreaming of a better world. In the midst of resisting against, we have to chime in for what we propose. It’s bigger than a solutions orientation. It’s using a thoughtful framework that accounts for the individual and collective humanity of time eternal. At worst, the mindset creates a new set of problems. At best, it benefits and uplifts all, especially those who espouse inhumane beliefs.

Nowhere is this energy more imperative than in our schools. The plight of black children has been well-documented for centuries as the bedrock of education and all its inequities. Educators who take a glimpse into the Afro-futuristic world of Wakanda might wonder what a land so abundant in resources and unrestricted by institutional racism and oppression would look like, and its implications for our students. The idea that “throwing money at the problem won’t solve inequity” elides the history of stripping and capping resources for schools that serve black children. With a foundational principle of “all we got is us,” it seems like Wakanda would assure their students from early education through university the opportunity (and structural support) to do well for themselves.

Or that’s the hope. I can see how the fervor for a mythical land of prosperity entices so many of us.

However, this also means that we’d have to create a society that openly embraces the ideas we supposedly espouse. What I witness too often is that we want to create these lands with no redistribution. That’s why, for example, too many celebrities want to build up their own schools instead of upending the current school systems and the laws that keep them inequitable. Or why “school choice” boils down to how much a parent can customize their child’s education. Or why too many of the people who readily advocated for Black Panther still insulate power of various forms for themselves and anyone they consider equally or more powerful. It’s this idea that we must pocket resources to only a handful of people we know, even though a fiscal and conscientious redistribution would transform the lives of many.

There’s this weird paradox where we’re tussling with the idea of creating a space where we can just be and a way to bring that to more people than just the talented, exceptional few. The early conversation was too much about whether Killmonger was right. There wasn’t enough interrogation about how we can reflect either of them or Shuri, M’Baku, Nakia, T’Chaka or Okoye. We can call spread ideas about opportunity and success, but to what extent are we willing to dehumanize our most marginalized children to make opportunity ostensible? What or who are we loyal to in this work? What does it mean to be a colonizer to the work versus an ally or co-conspirator?

Are we going to allow ourselves the space to imagine better?

As we speak, there’s a subset of folks who pounce on anyone who uses key words like “integration” and “charter schools” so they can play defense for their funders. Elements like these pull us back from having thoughtful and factual debate about this work. In the wrong hands, technology has a deleterious effect on its users and its targets. We keep wishing for the “right hands” to come work at our schools.

Until we’ve built a society that treats everyone as valued citizens, we’ll turn to each other and find the vibranium within us. It’s our most undervalued resource.