The beauty of collective Black joy, is that for a moment (or a few), we aren’t joined by the shared painful experiences that are as intricately tied to us as is our rich culture. The ugly downside, is that when the source of that joy no longer exists, we are left with collective Black grief.
Chadwick Boseman died on Friday and his death sent shockwaves through our community. As I, myself, was dealing with the unbelievability of it all, and the sudden rush of sadness that accompanied it – I saw that everyone I know, and many who I didn’t know, were all hurting.
While I consoled family members and friends, young and old alike, and found camaraderie with strangers, which was an exercise in self-consoling, I had to struggle with the unfairness of it all. And I do mean ..IT ALL.
We’ve had our share of tragedies in 2020, from countless murders by the police, death of activists/celebrities, the fight for equality and so, so many deaths due to coronavirus (my own family has had 4 such deaths) – that to have someone as important to the culture die, so tragically at that, was the salt to a wound that seems to be unable to heal.
A wound, so remarkably deep, that has compounded year after year, decade after decade, tragedy after tragedy and injustice after injustice. If I’m being honest, it would be more accurate to say that our community is perpetually grieving in one way or another, while finding the bits of joy that we can. Pure joy, like when Black Panther was released.
The joy of seeing us on screen, as the focus, with Black and African cultures celebrated in all their glory and beauty – made us feel seen. We were the superheroes, the villains, kings and queens, warriors, the strategist, the scientist, the love interest, we were strong, we were fierce, we were vulnerable, we lived in a society untouched by the eurocentric gaze and that is a perfect world to us. It showed us as the beautifully complex beings that we are and did it with swag. The outfits? Too. Much. Drip. Wakanda is a fictional place, but it reminds us of what we could have. Black Panther is so much more than just another superhero movie for our community. And Chadwick, well, there is no Black Panther without him. He brought depth and elegance to the role of King T’Challa in a way that only he could.
In the same way that he brought magic to the roles of James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson.
See, Chadwick was and always will be, the culture. He did it all for us. He is Black excellence. His gift, his true gift, is the ability to turn himself into a mirror. So that we could see us, as we truly are. Without being encumbered by the weight of Blackness in a world that doesn’t care for it. Through him, we are our best selves, we see how to live our best lives.
For those, who just can’t comprehend why Black people appear to be grieving SO hard for “just another celebrity death,” it’s because this grief is real. It’s why there’s been a spike in anxiety attacks, bouts of depression and calls to therapists since his passing. It’s why your co-worker seems…off. Why your Black family member has had spurts of crying on and off. His physical death and the great loss that this creates, coupled with what he represents, is an immeasurable loss for us. Undeniably, immeasurable.
He embodies strength and reminds us of how strong we are. Strong. What a contentious word for us, right? We’re dubbed strong and we are…but usually because we have to be. The kind of strength it takes to survive as a Black person in America, to watch us die over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. The type of strength that allowed Chadwick to continue making movies while receiving chemotherapy, having surgeries and battling end-stage cancer.
It’s not fair!
It’s just not fair!!
We shouldn’t have to always be this strong. He shouldn’t have had to be that strong.
I don’t know how else to put it besides simply saying that we’re grieving. I’m grieving.
We’re hurt. I’m hurt.
But we’ll persevere. Because that’s just what we do. We’ll carry his memory, his legacy, his dedication to our culture and keep fighting.
We’ll find happiness, we’ll MAKE happiness. We’ll hold ourselves and our loved ones closer. We’ll continue to do it for the culture. We’ll be reminded, when we think about Chadwick and watch his craft, of the greatness that exists within us.
And that is the gift that he has given us all. One that we can never repay.
To be young, gifted and Black, as Chadwick said.
Thank you for everything and YIBAMBE!!
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.