Shut up and listen:
Conclusion of a four-part series
Sheletta Brundidge has made a living talking — from TV, radio and as a standup comedian, you name it, she’s done it. But after being blown away by Black Panther, Brundidge decided to enlist other voices in the community to unpack the power and reach of the blockbuster film — hence, she must shut up and listen.
Let me tell y’all something about me: I LOVES ME SOME MESS! Any time there is a rumor about the hottest actor or a juicy tidbit about a chart-topping singer, honey, I am all over it. It’s sad, I know. Try not to judge me too harshly. It’s just the newswoman in me, I guess.
You see, I spent 20 years in the television media business trying to find out stuff that city officials and government leaders were trying to hide. I dug up dirt on politicians and shined the spotlight on crooked contractors. That was my THING.
When I watched Black Panther, as great as the movie was, I looked for some mess. I immediately leaned over during the closing credits and told my husband Shawn, “You see that? This movie tackles the nasty relationship between Africans and African Americans. You know, they think they better than us; and we feel like they ain’t good enough to be us.”
My husband waved me off, as he often does when he sees the messy part of me coming out and mumbled, “Woman, you’re crazy.”
Wanting to prove I wasn’t totally bonkers, I went out and found the foremost authority on African and African American culture: Mahmoud El-Kati. He’s a lecturer, writer and commentator on the African and African American experience. He’s also a professor emeritus at Macalester College in St. Paul where a distinguished leadership scholarship bears his name. In other words, he is one of ‘dem, as my grandmother would say, “deep thinkers.”
El-Kati’s daughter-in-law, Sylvia Williams, is a good girlfriend of mine. When she heard about the final installment of this series, and how I wanted to tackle this topic of African and African American relations as brought up through the characters of King T’Challa and Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, she insisted that I interview him. I’m gone shut up and listen as Brother El-Kati (MEK) breaks it down for me.
SB: What was your impression of the Black Panther movie?
MEK: This is maybe the second time nationally that Hollywood has focused on Africa in a big budget production. The ABC television mini-series Roots was the first time it happened, which was a huge phenomenon when it aired in 1977. When I say that, I mean to say that with both of these shows, Roots and Black Panther, Africa got all the attention.
We were proud of Roots and it set ratings records back then. Now Black Panther is setting records at the box office. But the most important thing about Black Panther is that it put Africa on our minds for a minute. It’s been 41 years between Roots and Black Panther. That’s a long time.
SB: What do you see as the fundamental difference between Roots and Black Panther when it comes to the portrayal of the African culture?
MEK: We’re having serious conversations now about Africa beyond disease, disaster, and all of the ways we see Africa in mainstream media. This movie has replaced the image of Africans as naked savages in the jungle boiling food.
That stereotype has dominated our image of Africa for the longest of time and this movie, this Black Panther movie, has changed that and causes us to talk about something else, even though it’s fiction.
SB: So the reason I called you is I was talking to Sylvia, your daughter-in-law, and telling her my suspicions that this movie is tackling the issue of the messy relationship between Africans and Black Americans…
MEK: That’s a myth. There is nothing to that. People talk that way and that conversation always comes up. Somehow someone has tried to force us to believe that there is an antagonistic relationship between Africans and African Americans which is superficial. We don’t mostly know what we are talking about when we say that.
The Africans I have met in Africa adore us, they don’t dislike us. And Blacks in this country have a meaningful relationship with Africa. Look at our churches for example. With all the mission work the Black churches provide to parts of Africa and the aide they send over and all the infrastructure they help to build, it’s been very positive.
SB: Well then where did I get this idea from? I know I didn’t dream it up or pull it out of the sky…
MEK: We are muddleheaded about this. I think we are mutually ignorant for the most part. The mother of it is ignorance. Europeans have been ruling our lives and have put these images out there, oh God, since forever. Europeans always have a new fantastic tale since the days he called Africa the “Dark Continent.” Not because he was talking about the people, but he was in the dark about Africa and that’s when the myths began.
This all goes back to the institution of slavery. They put these images out there that were naked savages living in the jungle. We know why that was done: to justify slavery. It’s propaganda to further White supremacy. That caused all the myths and lies and misperceptions about Africans and African Americans.
Brother El-Kati currently works with young people who want to help push back against the White supremacy movement in this country. The group is called Solidarity. They offer a free workshop on the fourth Friday of every month called The New School of African American Thought. Anyone is welcome to attend. For more info, go to www.mahmoudelkati.com.
Sheletta Brundidge welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.