The idea of being an exceptional black man was never a big deal to me. Hmmm, let me rephrase that, it wasn’t a big deal to the 7 year old version of me. I was born in Port au Prince and I never thought of myself as a black boy. I was just a boy. I pretty much new the trajectory of my life. I dreamt of being a doctor or a teacher like my mother…maybe I’d become an engineer like my father. At that age, anything seemed possible. The only things that didn’t seem possible were my entire country falling apart and having to leave everything I new, behind, to come to someplace alien.
Leaving Haiti and moving to Long Island, NY provided a ton of firsts. I learned that the cold completely turned my swag off. I was introduced to sports like basketball, football and our favorite national past time, yep, racism!! The late 80’s and 90’s were a funny time for this phenomenon. We’d reached a point where white folks had to employ a subtle hatred. Not to worry though, percentage of racist white folk, black people took it upon ourselves to continue self-enforcing the same old misconceptions about who we were and could be. I remember being made fun of for my big lips and my dark skin by lighter skinned African-Americans. There were all kinds of insults hurled my way. I don’t think I’ll ever forget being told how color blind Haitian people were by some kid wearing Cross Colors:
Only two discoveries overlapped the atrocity of my new experience. The first was discovering comics. Who needed to chill with a bunch of kids rocking Gumby cuts when you could chill with the X-Men right?….RIGHT?
I escaped into these amusing tales and I would pretend to be these heroes. I’d be Cyclops, leading the X-Men or Batman as he tried to figure out one of Riddler’s clues. Yeah, I know, I was one cool ass kid! All this fun I was having by myself was always tempered by the fact that none of my favorite heroes looked like me. What was up with that? Did black people never build rockets to outer space? Did we never take class trips and get bitten by irradiated spiders? NWA always looked angry….why did they never Hulk out?!
Marvel and DC were like the New York version of the show “Friends.”
This is why I thank the comic book gods for Christopher Priest and his version of Black Panther. The story thus far, to steal a phrase, is that Black Panther is the ceremonial title possessed by T’Challa. T’Challa is the ruler of this super technologically advanced, African nation called Wakanda. This title–The Black Panther–is the equivalent of the president, pope and joint chiefs of staff, all in one. This guy has super human senses, two six foot tall chicks that protect him at all times, and access to his own army and weaponry–that’d make Batman blush. I didn’t give two shits about any of that. All I saw was a hero, who happened to be black, who wasn’t particularly defined by that. In a stroke of genius, Priest didn’t even have T’Challa narrate the book. Instead, that job was left to his state department handler, Everett K Ross. The self proclaimed “whitest man on earth” acted as the voice of your average comic reader and always gave you the sense of wonder at the machinations of the title character.
The magic of the Priest run, on Black Panther, was that it served as an important reminder: I would always be a man first and black second. It brought me full circle, back to the child that understood the trajectory of his life and knew no limitations.
Not bad for what was supposed to be “kids stuff” huh? If you’re looking to check out what I’ve been rambling about, the first 12 issues of Priest’s run are collected in two trade paperback volumes. Get off your ass and get ’em! Deuces!!