What Black Panther Means To Me

Kayla Marie of Black Girl Nerds recently started the viral hashtag about Black Panther, #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe, inspired by a question she asked her 8-year-old son.

The responses have been wonderful, heartfelt, inspiring, and full of hope.

For me, Black Panther is something I feel like I have waited for my entire life. I started reading when I was very young, around 3 years old. Aside from the usual Dr. Seuss and Little Golden Books, my mom’s girlfriend gave me Garfield and Casper the Friendly Ghost. I would read the funnies in the Sunday paper and eventually moved up to Richie Rich and Hot Stuff, the Little Devil. When I got older I would devour the Archie universe digests. In maybe about fifth grade is when I started reading the X-Men and that is when I encountered Storm.

Storm looked like me.

Well, I mean, Storm was a badass goddess with a stark white mohawk and I was a twiggy, ashy, Afro-Asian kid, but still—we were both brown and I was mesmerized. I was starved for characters that looked like me. I found Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats and then Shana from Jem and the Holograms.

But they were always the one. The token Black woman. Like me in the Asian & white side of my family. Like me among my friends. And this tokenism haunted me throughout my life. Barbie got to be a veterinarian or a lawyer or a doctor or a scuba diver or Black. Black was a single option along with the occupations. In films, television, and books I was allowed to see myself as the sassy Black friend, or the magical negro, or the wise old Black lady. I was never the love interest. I was never the hero.

Needless to say, when I saw the first Black Panther trailer, I cried. I read the Ta-Nehisi Coates issues and Roxane Gay’s World of Wakanda but they did not prepare me for all that Black excellence on the screen all at once. Yes, I know representation matters, but I always felt that the entire phrase is “representation matters for children.” But no. Representation matters for me, an adult who may have given up hope on ever seeing anything like this in my lifetime. What does Black Panther mean to me? It means that I can believe this is just the beginning. That the success of a major comic book–based film with a cast that is almost completely Black as well as Black creators behind the scenes means that maybe, just maybe, we are at the beginning of something wonderful in media for Black nerds like me. Black Panther gives me hope.

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