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Why we need more black heroes

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Growing up, I watched a lot of television. I watched cartoons all day, everyday, from shows like ‘Dragon Ball Z’ to ‘Ed, Edd n Eddy.’ Before I even knew what being black meant, before I even knew or cared about what black empowerment was, I searched for colored people in cartoons to relate to.

In the show ‘Codename: Kids Next Door,’ I only watched for Numbuh 5, a side character that happened to be a black girl. In the show ‘Ed, Edd n Eddy,’ I loved episodes with Rolf and Plank; Rolf was an Indian kid and Plank was a plank of wood. In ‘Dragon Ball Z,’ Piccolo has always been my favorite character, and he is not even brown, he is green.

Any character that wasn’t obviously caucasian, to my then juvenile mind, were just like me, black. The blue mouse in ‘CatDog?’ Black. Zim from ‘Invader Zim?’ Black. The meatball, large fry and shake from ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force?’ All black. White was so much the standard even back then, aliens and inanimate objects were some of the characters that I related to the most.

The problem with my childhood relationship with this ragtag team of colorful characters is that they were almost always the token of the show. They occasionally exhibited stereotypes, and, except for Static Shock, they were never the hero. They were side characters, and they stayed that way. I grew up without a childhood hero; no Superman pajamas, no Batman Halloween costume, no themed birthdays, nothing.

Today, however, when I see ‘Black Panther,’ even if it’s just the trailer, a cheesy smile will slowly climb its way to my ears as the video ends. It is a completely different feeling. I can already see kids wearing their pointed ear and metallic claw costumes on Halloween, not wanting to take it off when the night ends. Themed birthday parties, all black pajamas; everything I missed out on growing up will be that much more commonplace for black kids today.

I want ‘Black Panther’ to help kids feel comfortable in their own skin. Coming from someone who has dealt with internalized racism and self-hate due to the consumption of stereotypes and skewed perception fed by TV, it is not an easy bump to get over. Many young black girls grow up feeling pressured to straighten or perm their hair, while boys feel like they must walk and talk a certain way to not stick out or scare someone. If it goes further, they could internalize the negative messages they hear about black people until they believe it and convince themselves that they’re one of the good ones. They become much like Dave Chappelle’s character Clayton Bigsby, the blind, black KKK leader who exiles himself once he finds out who he actually is.

Part of the package with the common case of self-hate is hating where you come from. If you ask black African immigrants about their experiences with bullying in the United States, you will probably hear about African-Americans being one of the most common aggressors. Some African-Americans think that Africa is nothing but adobe huts and starving children, and won’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. Since the movie is set in Africa and plans to empower people, I hope that it not only brings up African Americans, or any one group of Black people, but reconnects all of us together. At least the ones that aren’t too far gone.

One thing that ‘Black Panther,’ along with its peers such as ‘Get Out’ and ‘Insecure,’ has done already is prove that black people are worth writing for. Black people practically carried ‘Get Out’ to an Academy Award Nomination, helped Issa Rae get from YouTube to HBO, and now could push ‘Black Panther’ to earn a $150 million opening weekend, according to the Wall Street Journal. Not to mention ‘Empire’ and 50 Cent’s ‘Power,’ or “Nollywood,” Nigeria’s film industry which has cemented itself as the third largest in the world, according to This massive uptick in black-created cinema serves as a wake-up call to both black people and companies who underestimate how far Black people’s support goes.

Black people have had a rough history with mainstream entertainment. People still occasionally do the good ol’ blackface, and black people are still massively underrepresented in cinema and TV, however this proves to black people that we have the power and financial strength to represent ourselves. ‘Black Panther’ isn’t going to solve racial discrimination or end police brutality. In fact, I suspect its effects on interracial conflict will be minute if anything. What it will do, however, is help black children dream big and allow them to relate to a hero that actually looks like them, and remind black people what strength in numbers looks like, both of which are worth the world.

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Why we need more black heroes