Living and Learning While Black, Without Armor

One could scarcely imagine the Black Panther, whether it be King T’Chaka, T’Challa or even the brief reign of Erik Killmonger without the obligatory accompaniment of the indestructible Vibranium suit of armor. Needless to say, without donning the bulletproof, deftly Shuri enhanced, nanotechnology infused and upgraded Black Panther habit, or protective suit of armor, the proud tradition of being the warrior protector of Wakanda would have been virtually inconceivable. Mere Hollywood fantasy you may argue? Perhaps. But there’s still so much which powerfully resonates and is historically correct in the relevant concepts of African royalty; a Rites of Passage inspired tradition of passing the honored elder leadership mantle from one generation to the next; and of wisely, preemptively adorning oneself in armor as an essential and salient means of self preservation when at war. Perhaps Black people heavily identified and invested in the Black Panther film’s success not only because of the visceral pride we felt in the all Black director, cast and design team but because it overwhelmingly stoked our preoccupation with realizing a revolutionary reality. We can relate on a deeply spiritual level to an affirming narrative of our own shining, revolutionary representation. We nod in agreement at the delicate, unstable, complicated and warring juxtaposition of our African and American identities and relish in a depiction of a thriving Black on Black future unfettered by white supremacist oppression. The film is like our own personal imagination and was glowingly emblematic of how regal, genius, beautiful and incorruptible we see ourselves as distinct from the white gaze of who we are. We will always and forever stan the multifaceted beauty of our Blackness and have rousing appreciation for any /all art showcasing the unmitigated Black excellence of our narrative from our own unique point of view.

Black Panther the Marvel character, long believed to have been inspired by white creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in order to capitalize upon the Black imagination and conjure a fantasy version of the Black Power unapologetically coined in Kwame Toure’s uncompromising demand for Black freedom in the late 60s; was very much like The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the seminal grassroots movement, in that it normalized the concept of Black people being sufficiently armed for warfare. Ultimately there’s a salient argument for the fact that, in every meaningful iteration of authentic Black Power – both imaginary and true to life soldiers must be fully armed as a prerequisite to knowingly entering into battle or warfare. Given the general assumption that as a Black people, we collectively place supreme value on education and maintain that our genius intellect is our most viable weapon and significant attribute in our suits of armor in fighting against our own oppression; then too, our education must be a refreshing, liberation fueled and all-inclusive immersive experience, designed to wholly prepare us for a glorious future in which Black royalty, wealth, technological advancements and our intellectual prowess are nurtured and flourish without limits.

In the same way that a skilled warrior would essentially embark upon a suicide mission to even remotely consider engaging in battle while unarmed . . . So it is incumbent upon each of us to consider the ultimate sacrifice we instinctively bear by living in a contentious society, in which we are duly unarmed. Since we are neither sufficiently armed nor equally yoked with the oppressive forces against us – as a result, we continue to perish at alarming rates, not just for being physically subdued and slaughtered, but rather we perish because of a profound lack of knowledge. There’s little disagreement about the fact that it is the unique calling of Blacks in America to be the universal casualties of the literal war against us, that sadly many of us scarcely even acknowledge that we are fighting. As a Black people we must of necessity, navigate a grenade strewn terrain of living in an American society hellbent on our annihilation, via a white supremacist waged genocide. Certainly, our people the world over understand the unwritten, and all too palpable rules of engagement in a society, which still benefits from our forced labor, intellectual property, material wealth and creative contributions; but which incredulously harbors a neurotic “Fear of a Black Planet” and demands universal compliance to white male, female privilege in every conceivable form. We are therefore resigned to acknowledging that our very existence, in our own bodies/spaces/homes, are everyday subject to being unlawfully permeated by the murderous intrusion of white, unlawful enforcement officers and begrudgingly accept that we WILL unequivocally lose our lives for merely BEING Black in America. As a means of normalizing our oppressive existence, we methodically tiptoe on eggshells when navigating the mundane tasks in our everyday lives. And we attempt to unsuccessfully mask the most prevalent by product of our systemic oppression: internalized self-hatred. “We wear the mask” as poet Paul Laurence Dunbar brilliantly described, all while politically correctly diluting the harmful impact of systemic oppression’s unwanted gift, by casually referencing the symptoms of our inevitable self loathing as the “pop culture approved” phenomena of having imposter syndrome. Yeah right! Try PTSD for being the zombie like survivors of a 400-years long war, without the benefits of Reparations. Meanwhile, we walk around aimlessly and unarmed as the soon to be martyred casualties of an all-out warfare being waged against us. And even as we are subject to the barrage of the enemy’s unrelenting attacks, we somehow turn our disgust and rage inwardly towards one another and routinely send our most beloved and revered treasures and resources: our children, to oppressive schools which we naively regard as “safe zones”. Tuh! For a proper contextual framework we should consider that: Black students come to schools innocently armed with hopeful optimism and school supplies; Meanwhile teachers, administrators, staff, and policy makers equip schools to be armed to the teeth and dangerous. Educators and lawmakers are flush with degrees, certifications, racism, bias, prejudices, personal/political agendas and rampant white privilege or Black self hatred (or a unique combination of each of these potent power dynamics). Left untouched, an inescapable inheritance of these weapons of mass destruction, all but guarantees that mis-education is the universal inheritance and sole deliverable of the K-16 trajectory.

News flash American public: Black students are collectively unarmed! Indigenous students and other students of color are disproportionately unarmed! Black, Indigenous students of color are victimized first by systemic oppression within the culture at large and then acutely so in your failing, underfunded and total misfit factory producing school institutions. How else could this country have produced a Donald Trump, or assault weapon armed white males who commit mass murders in schools, churches, mosques and synagogues as if for recreation?! Marginalized students and their families are admittedly at fault for still, overwhelmingly regarding schools as a welcome refuge from the inescapable oppressive realities we face everyday by just living, breathing existing in the same space as those otherwise privileged with power. So in schools across the country, our children and the stewards of our collective future are being forced to defend themselves against enemies as formidable as Ulysses Klaue, Black Panther’s evil and bigoted arch nemesis, without so much as a ceremonial necklace, assegai or shield to be used as an ingenious tool to defend themselves or to effortlessly activate their suits of armor when they find themselves in danger. Our students are admittedly at war and instead of being armed with knowledge of self, or critical thinking abilities or technological survival tactics and solutions to the world’s problems – they are outfitted with an outdated and inherently racist reading canon and nightly reading logs, a meaningless collection of high stakes test prep notes and wooden pencils (and let’s be honest, it’s October and by this time of year many of them don’t even have a pencil). I promise you that their insufficient weapons are no match for the intimidating, Vibranium laced armored suits seemingly worn by those accountable for their academic success.

Mis-education is not rocket science. And though it certainly serves as an imagery rich, useful analogy in this frustratingly real asf blog post – mis-education is admittedly no #WakandaForever style fantasy with even the slightest prediction of a happy ending. On the contrary, the powerlessness that Black students and other marginalized students wield is 100% Factssss and all too painfully real in an educational system ill-prepared to duly arm them for the actual battles they face. Though Black, Indigenous students of color are clearly unarmed, they are behind enemy lines and suffer from an educational system designed to bolster white supremacy and keep them in chains. Far too many of the power brokers determining their academic and social realities are resigned to categorizing them as low-performing, irreparably damaged goods who are ultimately expendable in the collective vision of a New World Order. Black students are defenseless while their teachers are akin to the rest of the world, armed and dangerous. This works as a perfect complement to systemic oppression which prescribes a nonexistent future, in which the universal low expectation of Black students, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. This is a vicious cycle to be sure – but one which must be valiantly thwarted by an Educate to Liberate ideology . Thankfully, our innocent, unarmed students are not alone. As divine providence would have it (and has always dictated), each generation is uniquely gifted with a small number but a nonetheless impressive cadre of warriors. I am one and have actualized my unique purpose since my teaching career began in 1994.

We are the parents, educators and even decision making legislative and executive bodies who battle alongside our innocently, unarmed students. We are wholly well intentioned, thoroughly burnt out, admittedly cash strapped and materially tapped out and yet, we manage to fiercely and courageously infuse passion, equity, anti-racism, diversity, inclusion and social justice into our professional repertoire as we live and breathe. We labor to ensure a tangible means to actively counteract the collective mis-education of Black students. We recognize that the education system is merely a microcosm of society and we know that to merely call the world dysfunctional is, well, an understatement. We accept the reality that we are at war, and we take our dues-paying earned positions on the front lines. We are in the system, but not of the system and as for me? I’m fully strapped, locked and loaded as I eschew cushy six figure salaries in highly perched positions in which my impact is if no consequence. Those who fight on behalf of our people acknowledge that the very same white supremacist ideology which wholeheartedly infects the rest of society has an indelible imprint upon the educational system. So we work tirelessly to overtly dismantle systemic oppression wherever it manifests from within the dysfunctional fabric of the pedagogical community and on many fronts, we win. For lack of a better term and as a final, albeit prophetic Black Panther reference: we are acutely conscious of the self-destructive armor we instinctively wield and so we are mindful and ever vigilant to engage in the necessary study and reflective practice which empowers us to disarm our weapons of mass destruction from behind enemy lines. We endeavor to be like the Dora Milaje in that we are the indestructible, first line of defense willing to be fired upon knowing that our own Vibranium infused assegai’s and shields can withstand the onslaught of oppression’s blows.

It is not fiction that Africa is the cradle of civilization. There is scientific evidence and widespread consensus that the Black Woman is the progenitor of the earth and irrefutably the continent of Africa is the most mineral rich land in the universe. So an afro-futuristic, African Diaspora reality with technological advancements throughout and warrior women no longer shackled by Korean, or Malaysian weaves but embracing our natural, beautiful Black selves is warmly welcomed. For me: a Black woman, mother, sister, educator, scholar, warrior and Queen innately imbued with magic and fashioned in the image of God, it is not inconceivable that I could accompany my other sister and brother warriors as the highest ranking force in the military. Without exception, it is the obligation of every Black man, woman and child to assume the protective armor of rigorously engaging our innate, African genius as a means to be free from oppression. As a closing note, in a comprehensive review of the long awaited Marvel film, prior to its release, Time Magazine had this to say of the applicability of art imitating life “The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field—a scenario applicable not only to the predominantly white landscape of Hollywood but, more important, to the world at large.”

We couldn’t agree more. Asé.

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Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

4 thoughts on “Living and Learning While Black, Without Armor

  1. Wow! You constantly amaze me. The picture of going through life totally unarmed and at the mercy of “the system” is one that will remain with me. I have white skin and I have been totally ignorant on a deep level of the struggle many peoples face but in particular those with darker skin and indigenous peoples around the world. No, the struggle, the war, is far from over, but I feel hope as I read your words. Hope for a better world, but it won’t come easily and it won’t come without cost. I think a big part of the problem is ignorance. As I said, I was not aware on any meaningful level of the cost black people are paying for my white privileges.I remember reading a book called “A Way of Life That Does Not Exist: Canada and the Extinguishment of the Innu” by Colin Sampson. He was hired by the U.N. to research the lives of this particular indigenous people and to write a report. That report turned into this book that has had a profound effect on how I understand the world at large. I remember being so enraged at how the people were treated and the deep and painful wounds marginalized peoples continue to live with. I later learned about my native ancestry. I am still struggling with who I am. My skin is white, yes, but my blood is not. Ignorance is prevalent in the white race. Most of us never get the opportunity to learn what price has been paid for us to enjoy the benefits and privileges we take for granted. So, people like you who take the time to write posts like this are extremely important. I am grateful to you for sharing your insights and for the education you offer to all of us regardless of skin color. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carol, I am truly thankful for your always affirming comments but am even more grateful for your refreshing honesty and truth! Thank you for sharing your insight and for receiving my interpretation of the Black experience, especially from an educational perspective, with such an open mind and a heart for transformation and change. I truly believe in better days and will continue to inspire others through my work (and hopefully this blog), to commit to working right alongside me and others. To God be the Glory for allowing me a cathartic outlet for sharing my thoughts, experiences and beliefs without offending well intentioned people of all racial backgrounds and ethnicities, who like you are cognizant of their privilege and willing to be the change we need to see in the world! Blessings to you and your family my fellow blogger and online friend. As always, I appreciate your feedback and heartfelt support. ❤️

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      1. You have my support, always. I do so appreciate your words of truth and wisdom. God will prevail. There are times when the world seems to be a dark and dangerous place – and for many that is the reality. Yet, it doesn’t have to be. Keep shining your beautiful light my friend. It is so needed. I wish you the continued gifts of wisdom and courage to speak truth to power and compassion to the weak and sorely tried.

        Liked by 1 person

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