The first ever WakandaCon offered Black sanctuary in an unexpectedly emotional experience
I feel whole and Black as fuck.
When Beyoncé’s Lemonade dropped in 2016, I became the target of ire from many of her fans. The album, its imagery, and subject matter did not move me in the way that it moved most of them, and my apathy towards it and critiques of the artist have always been easily dismissed as hateration.
But I don’t hate Lemonade. For those who have felt empowered through this work, I celebrate the fact that they are able to feel that way. I celebrate that they are able to find their free-est and unapologetically Blackest self in the songs and their accompanying imagery.
I am overjoyed that it feels uplifting and spiritual and revolutionary for others, but it does none of those things for me. It is not my anthem. A friend once said to me, in so many words, “I look forward to the day your Lemonade comes,” and I never forgot that.
Black Panther is my Lemonade, and WakandaCon is my Sweet Tea. As a Black woman born and raised in the South, I need both of these cherished elixirs in my life.
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Chicago played host to the first ever WakandaCon this weekend, a conference meant to celebrate all things Black Panther and center Black people. I was lucky enough to attend the event as a panelist, but I went first and foremost as a fan of Black Panther and lover of Blackness.
The social justice and Black feminist-friendly conference brought together so many different kinds of people. It didn’t matter whether or not you had an academic interest in Black Panther. It didn’t matter if you were interested in the implications of the conflict between T’Challa and N’Jadaka, or the secrets of T’Chaka and Zuri, or the Black feminism of Nakia, Okoye, Shuri, Ramonda, and Ayo. It didn’t matter if you were obsessed with the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, or a dedicated fan of the comics, or only cared about the Black Panther film and nothing else. There was something at WakandaCon for you.
Yes, there were Black comic nerds and cosplayers in abundance, but there were also Black academics, theorists, organizers, gamers, educators, theologians, poets, actors, artists, writers, creators, entrepreneurs, and regular-ass “I just love the movie cuz it got so many niggas in it” Black Panther fans. Thousands of Black people convened to celebrate something we all love. There was no pretense, no performativity, no tokenism, no gatekeeping.
Black queerness was not only acknowledged, but celebrated and allowed space to fully exist. Black people with disabilities were considered in the planning and accommodated in the spaces. Black people of all ages were represented and welcomed, from a toddler adorably and enthusiastically cosplaying N’Jadaka/Killmonger to a woman in her 90s aggressively punctuating the majority of her sentences with “Amen!”
The Market Place was a large room filled with vendors. Black entrepreneurs, business owners, and visionaries gathered to share their passions and sell their creations. There were board games, kente and Dashiki, Black as fuck t-shirts and Black Panther apparel, jewelry, apps, handbags, art, books, and more. I spent a lot of money there, and it was all worth it.
The many panels, presentations, and performances were of an impressive variety, with curated material like a game lab which hosted a tournament, an improv comedy performance and Decolonizing Comedy show, talks about Physics, Biomimicry, and Ecology, live podcast shows, networking events for activists and “Women of Wakanda,” and a stunts and fight choreography workshop with Black Panther Jabari Stuntman, Mark Willis.
I heard Erika Alexander (Living Single, Concrete Park) speak about her experience in the entertainment industry as a Black woman for the past thirty-four years, how much it has changed and how much it has stayed the same.
I heard the organizers of The Shuri Project speak about their summer program, which teaches young Black girls about both technology and self-esteem and gifts them a free laptop at the end of the summer.
I heard Flint residents and organizers Nayyirah Shariff, Marseille Allen, and Dr. Kent Key speak about the health crisis in their city, caused by structural, environmental, and multigenerational reproductive violence. They talked about many things, including how we move forward and strive for policy changes to create a world in which Black people can be as secure and cared for as the people of Wakanda.
A woman I had only met two days before saw me in the room following the discussion. She came to me and cried—about the environmental racism happening in Flint and other communities of color, about the unending violence of white supremacy and colonialism, about the helplessness she felt in that moment and had felt in many moments over the years. I hugged her and I held her embrace for longer than normal, and she in turn held mine.
We were practically strangers, but the conversations we’d had and the moments we’d shared over the course of the conference had made her comfortable with me, and I with her. She trusted me enough to be vulnerable and naked with me in that moment. Enough to be so honest about her fears and anxieties and the toll that white supremacy takes, and to trust that I would understand her tears. She didn’t ask me to comfort her, but I did, and it was one of the most sincere and transparent moments I have ever had with someone.
During Sunday’s closing ceremony, the founders and producers of the event addressed attendees. A couple hundred of us packed into a room to debrief and fellowship one last time before this amazing event came to an end. The organizers made it clear that they were intentional about creating an affordable, accessible, inclusive event to show their love to Black people and celebrate Blackness as a whole.
They spoke about the what WakandacCon had meant for them, the revelations they were able to take away, and the goals it allowed them to achieve. They thanked us for believing in them, and we in turn thanked them for believing that we would come. They each cried as they spoke, tears of joy, exhaustion, and disbelief, and many in the audience cried with them.
What became clear was that we had all been touched by what we had experienced together over the course of the weekend, and we didn’t want it to end.
Just when we thought things couldn’t possibly get any more emotional, we suddenly found ourselves watching as a man approached the mic, said to his girlfriend, “It’s been fourteen months and nine days” as he got down on one knee and proposed. We looked on as she answered, “Yes,” and took the ring that he offered with tears falling from her eyes. And this room, filled with elated Black nerds, academics, theorists, cosplayers, organizers, gamers, educators, theologians, poets, actors, artists, writers, creators, entrepreneurs, and regular-ass Black Panther fans, joined this couple whom the vast majority of us had never met in genuine celebration of their engagement with a unified exclamation of “Wakanda Forever!” It was surreal.
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I’ve heard countless people say that it’s just a superhero movie. That it doesn’t really matter and it shouldn’t matter to me as much as it does. I vehemently disagree.
Black Panther makes me feel like my free-est and unapologetically Blackest self. It’s uplifting, spiritual, and empowering for me. The imagery reaffirms me and the music nourishes me. I feel celebrated. I feel whole and Black as fuck in its presence.
WakandaCon gave me that, too, in such unexpected ways. It gave me an experience unlike any other I’ve ever known, and for that, I will be forever grateful.