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We remember Erik “Killmonger” Stevens’ lasts words to King T’challa in Marvels the Black Panther:
“Bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Without context, you might find his final petition a bit drastic. He was mortally wounded in a battle with the Black Panther and when offered medical help and the possibility of recovery he refused. He found more closure in death than in a life of bondage.
How many of us, in light of Breonna Taylor’s killing, find ourselves in the same situation? Hopeless.
The black community is despondent. Some of us are dejected when we do speak up. Rejected and silenced when we ask for answers. Desperate.
I mean, really. Breonna is just one of the hundreds of faces we’ve plastered on walls and billboards for God knows how long to bring awareness that someone’s life was taken without cause.
And I’m not just referring to casualties that innocent civilians suffer when they encounter police officers. I’m also referring to the lynchings, the hangings, the harassment, and the silencing of it all for centuries.
Having endured so much emotional distress for a prolonged period time creates a generation, a people, a society that may think or could find comfort in thinking and ultimately behaving like Erik Stevens.
For Killmonger, there was more comfort in knowing he died a hero in his own story than him having to live as a villain in someone else’s story.
He looked to his ancestors and considered the ones who jumped from slave transport ships as heroes, whilst the ones who either did not get the chance or were too afraid to follow in their footsteps, were cowards.
I consider both alternatives horrific, although the first is unadvisable. Given the circumstance, I would hesitate to call their action, the willful launching of their chained bodies into the sea. We know, little, but from the little we do know, the way Africans were treated on those ships and later how they were treated once they reached the shores of the Americas serve as a reminder that humanity is due for a doomsday reckoning.
No one should be subjugated to slavery, incarceration without cause, unwarranted shootings, and discrimination. Abandonment by local government and authorities. Dismissed in court because of their race. Mistreated and harassed because they live in a middle-class, upper-class community and decide to take a stroll only to get pulled over by police or community security because they look suspicious or match a description of suspect. Shot at for legally owning a firearm. Shot and killed for defending their person, their home, and their property by people sworn to protect their person, their home, and their property. No one should be lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Mauled by dogs for assembling peacefully to protest injustice. Hung from trees so their bodies swing to the wind, their blood on the leaves. No one should lose their lives for jogging while black.
But here we are.
Here we are, y’all.
To this very day Americans believe, and rightfully so, that though we have bridged many racial gaps within the country, many more chasms remain unvisited.
I’m curious, however, if this ignorance, this unwillingness to discuss police reform, the unwillingness to invest in the better training of public servants, the unwillingness to admit that there is a historical and systematic (contrary to systemic) problem that dates back hundreds of years is too painful to visit. We’ve outlawed the systemic issues of yesterday whilst comforting ourselves with its ugly cousin, systematic oppression, today.
One must admit years and years of guilt and from that guilt comes shame and from that shame, the choices are then made to remain unchanged or possibly change.
We’re still struggling with the guilt part. Until guilt is admitted and responsibility assumed, change is all too distant.
But returning to how Killmonger exits stage left by leaving behind the outcome of a life lived without justice, without restitution, without reparations for damages, without reconciliation leads people to commit to ultimatums that create extremes where they ought not to exist.
Our society cannot settle for a reality where reconciliation between the community, predominantly more so the black community, and the police force is unattainable.
We cannot come to the conclusion that damages done will remain untouched, unfixed, and unmentioned.
Buildings destroyed by bombs need to be razed, the foundation cleaned up, and preparations for a new and better building set in motion.
But what about the black community?
How do we reconcile the centuries of damages?
Because last time I checked black bodies are not buildings.
I remind the reader of an old but still very much relatable hymn called O Freedom:
O freedom! O freedom!
O freedom over me.
And before I’ll be a slave,
I’d be buried in my grave,
and go home to my Lord and be free.
No more moaning, no more moaning,
no more moaning over me.
No more weeping, no more weeping,
no more weeping over me.
There’ll be singing, there’ll be singing,
there’ll be singing over me.
There’ll be shouting, there’ll be shouting,
there’ll be shouting over me.
There’ll be praying, there’ll be praying,
there’ll be praying over me.
The song, though bittersweet, speaks of an earnest desire to reach the nether, across the abyss of death, to the heavenly kingdom set apart for those who place their hope on the Bearer of All Hope.
It’s bittersweet because it looks forward to justice, restitution, to the breaking of chains and freedom in the beyond.
And although this is true that beyond this realm on earth we will find complete and total freedom we cannot, we must not, under any circumstance, capitulate to a nefarious evil that creates a world where hope for any semblance of justice is beyond the grave only.
I am not denying the truth that many of our heroes, faith leaders, and pioneers placed their hope on the Ultimate Avenger.
For we are reminded:
And let us better inform the reader that this passage refers to vengeance, not justice through reform.
What I would have advised Mr. Erik Stevens to do, could I, is that we can work together, with King T’Challa, Wakanda, and the world to bring forth necessary reform and reconciliation.
Vengeance is not ours to distribute. That is the responsibility of God and God alone. He gives to each that which is rightfully theirs. God gives people what they deserve. If they have worked through life ramping up injustice and evil then that is what He gives them. And fairly so.
But when it comes to judicial reform, police reform, and a societal revamp, we are not calling for arms and scythes but for accountability, transparency, and reformation.
This, I believe, God allows us to do. He demands righteous judgement. Justice.
I wish I could reach out to Erik and advise him to take King T’Challa’s medical help. His energies could have been focused elsewhere, for the better and brighter future of the people he wanted to help and the memory of his ancestors who saw no hope outside of drowning.
My advice, to my black brothers and sisters, and to my white, Hispanic, Arabic, and Asian brothers and sisters, is that we should lay down the calls for vengeance for it is not ours to make. Only God can distribute it evenly, without partiality, without favoritism, without confusion and only He can allow it to last without interruption.
But what we can do is work together to reform the systems God allows us to reform.
In doing so, we can, ultimately like the hymnal mentioned above, look forward to justice beyond the grave whilst not foregoing justice now.
So that when we travel into the beyond and traverse the mysterious bridge of the afterlife, it will not be a bittersweet transition but a sweet transition.
Let us be reminded that there is hope beyond the grave. Let us also be reminded that the One who gives us hope beyond the grave also gives us hope in life.
Let us use this hope for change, for justice, for reform, and for our ancestor’s memories.
If we fail in this pursuit, we will, in turn, produce more Killmongers, anti-heroes who want to right the world with wrongs.
And I’ll remind the reader that when Killmongers exist outside of the comic book universe, the people they kill bleed for real. Their deaths are real.
There’s hope on the horizon for America. There’s hope on the horizon for Black America.
Hope for now and hope in the beyond.
“… be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.“