Black Panther Invites Us to Make Homes for Those Without

Promotional image from Marvel Studio's Black Panther.
There are few things in the world more precious than home. When I’m there, I can be exactly who I am. I don’t have to put on a good face to be accepted—I can just be me. I don’t have to dress a certain way or agree with a certain ideology. I am loved and safe and valuable even if my wife disagrees with me or my children are angry. Home is safe. It should be, anyway.

For many people, the places that should be home—family, community and country—have been undermined or destroyed. Oppression, racism, and systemic violence have denied people security and love. Too often, this is a direct result of the racism the villain in Marvel’s latest movie, Black Panther, is afflicted by. Erik Killmonger grows up in the streets of Oakland without a father, denied a connection to a loving home, land, and family. He sees the oppression and suffering of people like him, rooted in Africa but displaced, and so sets out in anger and vengeance.

It’s difficult to respond with grace when someone is angry and bitter.

The worst part about Killmonger’s villainy is that his anger is justified. His rage over people’s suffering is understandable. He is angry because people are dying and others could have done something about it, but didn’t. This frustration and anger fuels a need to make a change, which he believes can only be accomplished by from others. And yet this path of vengeance won’t make the world a better place, even if it makes him feel better.

T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, recognizes Killmonger’s intent and does not deliver a killing blow in their final fight. Instead, he offers healing. Yet with his final breath, Killmonger says, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” And T’Challa becomes determined to do something more than watch the suffering of people from the safety of Wakanda. Killmonger’s unrelenting commitment to ending oppression and enabling people to fight back gives T’Challa the motivation to act. But rather than oppress a different people group, he sets out to lift up the oppressed, to make a home for those who have so long been without.

Killmonger’s longing to defeat oppression reminds me of growing up amidst substance abuse and violence. My home wasn’t always safe. My community often treated me with disdain or even contempt. And it took a long time to overcome that and finally find a place I could call home. My wife and I have an honest and loving relationship; my faith community provides support, encouragement, safety, and compassion. I have moved from a place of feeling displaced to feeling like I have a home. And while it isn’t always perfect, it is the place where I am loved.

But I’m tempted to become complacent because of my security. It’s easy to forget the suffering of others in my contentment. Instead, I need to be intentional about noticing the scars of others. And then I need to start asking who does not have a home around me and how can I welcome them into mine? Are there people who are struggling with anger and bitterness who I can help? Are there systems that I can help change—those that maintain the pain instead of healing it?

I’m tempted to become complacent because of my security.

Killmonger was right that the oppressed must be freed, but his methodology was unhelpful. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his acceptance speech on receiving a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

It’s difficult to respond with grace when someone is angry and bitter; I am tempted to respond with equal or greater anger and, in doing so, perpetuate the system of violence.  However, responding with love and understanding can be the first step to breaking a cycle of hate. I, like T’Challa, can instead look at the suffering that has led to someone’s aggression and respond with an invitation to community offering healing, or at least compassion.

For T’Challa, he offers homes to people who have none, buying up condemned buildings and providing security, education, and opportunity; making a home out of a place that caused the pain that transformed a young boy into the Killmonger. For our society, it means beginning to see all people as valuable, equal and important enough to save regardless of colour, class, sex, or religion. For me, it means acknowledging the hurt in every person and making sure they know they are valuable no matter the cost. Because opposing oppression, racism, and abuse always costs something. I am inspired and challenged by T’Challa’s speech to the UN inviting the world to see all people as valued and work to make a society of equality where everyone has a place. We, just like T’Challa, cannot afford to sit in our safe places while others are without a home. We may risk our own security in doing so, but who said love was safe?

Dustin Schellenberg

Dustin Schellenberg

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Dustin spends his time exploring the far reaches of space, understand the ancient ways of might and magic, and wandering the post-apocalyptic wastes. If it has a reasonably open world, a crafting system and some way to sneak around, he'll be there. When not gaming, he's probably planning his next D&D character (because his DM keeps killing off the old ones). He is a competent bass player and guitarist, mediocre mid laner and outright awful FPS player. He is father of two, husband of one, a sometimes theologian, and all-times pastor of Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB.
Dustin Schellenberg