Eulogy for Wakanda/The King is Dead
by Dylan Rodríguez
As we thrill in the spectacle of recent Wakandan events, maybe what i can best offer here is something other than tribute. A eulogy seems more appropriate, given what has become of our vision of what constitutes freedom. Whatever the case, accept my reflections with heavy layers of salt, knowing that we live in times where open expressions of Black joy and pain, whatever the cause, are encountered by the white-multiculturalist world as provocation for police action.
Two things happened as i bore witness to T’Challa’s fight to preserve his throne. i, along with so many others, indulged in the techno-martial artistry—the righteous violence—of Black Panther, Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, the Dora Milaje, and the rest of the born-and-raised Wakandan crew that leapt into action and into my most indelible forthcoming daydreams of revenge and revolt against a wicked white supremacist Civilization.
i felt righteous pleasure watching our Wakandan heroes dismember, capture, and interrogate the South African villain Ulysses Klaue. i wanted to see them take his ass apart, bone-by-bone, sinew and nail, starting with his tongue. But this is clearly a reflection of my own pathologies, significantly induced by the times.
On the other hand, i identified with the flawed, vengeful, self-destructive, and violent urges and fantasies of our alleged villain from Oakland who rightfully, legally, and ethically took T’Challa’s throne and flaunted that shit like Huey in the wicker chair, back in the day. Oakland Erik truly did not give a shit about the established royalty or the isolated peace of this African kingdom, because he was ready to command Wakanda as a techno-military complex purposed for the vindication of oppressed Black peoples of the world!
Erik Killmonger was a prodigal thug-slave, a 21st century Spook Who Sat By the Door wrongly identified as villain, whose dead serious Black humanity has been reduced to that of a Black Straw Man, with his dreadfully open anti-Black misogyny all we are meant to remember. At his Black Straw Man worst, Killmonger represents the predictably African American carrier of sexist, ultra-leftist, military adventurist masculinity—a toxin that apparently proved a greater threat to Wakandan life than the infiltrating presence of that damn white CIA agent.
And by the way, why the hell is T’Challa (or anyone else in Wakanda) bringing—welcoming—that white man into the massive, mind-boggling, invisibly wondrously secret, not-a-white-person-in-sight capital of the Afrofuture, much less tolerating the presence of an active CIA agent (in a way, the ultimate white man) into Shuri’s research lab? Truth of the matter is, Agent Everett Ross should’ve been left to die. To my mind, Oakland Erik was acting on General Principle when he whooped T’Challa’s ass and took his throne.
i am not a committed scholar of Wakandan lore, and i don’t know if T’Challa had a good reason to keep Everett Ross around, but i know for damn sure, as a student of Black radicalism and Black revolutionary liberation struggle, that there would never be a good reason to let a CIA agent get any closer to Wakanda than within faint sounding distance of a Jabari woof.
It’s hard to imagine Erik letting Ross into the kingdom. At his best, Erik is the harbinger and attempted catalyst of global, armed Black revolt—to the detriment of an insular Black nobility. For the record, i will never accept Agent Ross’s description of Oakland Erik’s military biography at face value: i choose to see Killmonger as a brother who has been undercover for years; i have convinced myself that Erik regretfully did all that nasty Navy SEAL shit for the U.S. state because he was obsessively, single-mindedly accumulating the resources, the knowledge, the skills, and the training to flip the script, take the throne, and spark the global Black revolt.
Come to think of it, there are a few people reading these words who know that we carry some guilty piece of Killmonger’s biography with us, because we’re wrapped up doing the labor and operating the machineries of a racist imperialist state, because it pays decently, because we’re not really sure if we are willing to revolt, because we don’t know how to do anything else, because goddam this is a hard place to be right now, and has been for a long time, and the struggle is rough, and i’m wrapped up in the reactionary, sexist, self-hating shit that every place including Wakanda has fabricated, and fuck you Wakanda for leaving Erik out there like that. (Wakanda, you knew Erik was still out here, you knew about the Oakland PD, you left him for dead, and i will never forgive you for that.)
Many of us have celebrated T’Challa for rendering a stark contrast to so many other representations of Black masculinity with which familiarity has bred contempt. i am sympathetic to this celebration, but not won over by it: many (Black) radical people i know already believe in different versions of Black Superheroes, and at our best, we do not need them to be kings or presidents (or even Superheroes).
Fake ass Black Panther and the rest of Wikanda won’t save us. At least Erik wanted to. The royalty only gives a shit about their damnselves and the kingdom. They don’t love Black life in all the world, especially not Erik Killmonger’s Thug-villain Life.
Some shit can ruin a story, fuck up a fantasy, and rudely interrupt a petit bourgeois dream (full transparency: mine is a Pinoy version, projecting and contorting through this experience with Black mythology). Wakanda has been a beautiful nightmare: a gathering of tribal royalty that protects the Afro-analogue of a ruinous, decadent, negligent, technocratic, imperially benevolent (counter-) Civilization that simultaneously and always undermines, polices, and discredits the possibilities—and actually existing forms—of (armed) revolutionary Black liberation struggle.
It is no surprise, then, that this Black Panther king is a humanitarian and not a revolutionary, a white-friendly African elite counterpart to Black (woman/queer/feminist; masculinist/ American/militarist; etc.) radicalism, proto-radicalism, and anti-Civilization. In the end, T’Challa has become a gentle African neoliberal, buying a block of degraded buildings in Oakland for the good of “those” Black children. He is domesticating the Panther, caddying White Life to higher levels through magical noble Blackness like Bagger Vance, teaching us that “we should treat each other as if we were one single tribe.” Fuck you for saying that shit, T’Challa, and fuck you again for expecting me to buy into it.
The movie poster says “Long Live the King,” but the king is dead, and maybe we should be wishing long life to those who would dream, draw, write, speak, sing, and create for the best kind of king-killing.