Two years ago it was the thing, the main thing. You couldn’t be black and not identify, for a while T’challa and the “Wakanda forever!” salute dominated social media, talk shows and conversations. People have different views on whether or not it was a great movie but what everyone can agree on is that it was able to change the narrative on black people. We were no longer portrayed as supporting characters or backward and in desperate need of a white savior. It also didn’t hurt that the mostly black cast and production team produced the 12th highest grossing movie of ALL TIME at release.
The Black Panther hit big screens at the perfect time, right in the middle of Black History Month (February). A whole month dedicated to celebrating the origins of the black people in diaspora. A month to acknowledge the struggles of slavery, the joy of freedom, the victory of rising above racism on the daily to produce works of genius in every field from poetry, to science, sports, film, philosophy. A simple Google search would tell you about Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Maya Angelou, Mohammed Ali, Louis Armstrong, Martin Luther King Jr., and Kobe Bryant. these are a few examples of black people across different fields who have shown excellence despite tough situations and fought for the present generation to have an environment to thrive in.
Unfortunately, the portrayal of history in Nigeria stands in stark contrast. History has become a vulgar word that should barely be spoken except by old men, only in hushed whispers and is barely tolerated by young people. Sometimes, I ask myself why this is so, why hush up our past. What jumps at me is that I think we’re afraid, we’re peace loving people and we fear our past is too full of many bad things, things we should be ashamed of. We are like the ostrich that thinks by hiding our head in the sand, we can avoid the hard conversations. We forget too easily that “they that forget the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat it.”
This is what we should fear. That we’ll repeat our worst mistakes if we can’t remember them, similar to religious converts that try to sell their religion to you primarily as a way to escape damnation as opposed to actually living a religious life. We run the risk of forgetting why we call these instances mistakes in the first place so let us become a Nigeria that remembers her past.
Let us remember that way before the first British ship hit our shores, we had working kingdoms and empires with checks and balances. We had architectural marvels like the Iya Edo in Edo Benin city, the Kofar Na’isa – Ancient Kano City. These are reminders that on our own we could build magnificent structures and now, over 300 years later, we should still be able to build wonders to be amazed by.
Let us remember that Less than half a century ago, we were a beacon to other African countries by being able use diplomacy and leverage relationships to help countries in distress. Similarly, we were global leaders in export of cotton, groundnut, oil palm and a host of cash crops. To top this off, globally Nigerians in diaspora are known to be some of the most educated people in the countries where they reside.
Let us remember that we have shed too much innocent blood in wars and insurgencies that could have been avoided if unity and progress had been our focus instead of nepotism, tribalism and greed. In order to move forward from this backward mentality we will have to glean lessons from the mistakes our ancestors made.
A historically conscious Nigeria would remember that the appeal and beauty of all the countries we visit and hope to visit are the cultures of those places and not ours: we love Italy for their architecture and food, Greece for its history and America for its culture. The recipe to be just as successful as a technological and cultural hot spot is not to copy and paste their own culture but to appreciate and improve ours with the information and wisdom available to us. Then can we be ourselves and fully appreciated by all for who we are.
To close, I’ll end with the quote that birthed the Black History Month in the USA:
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.” – Carter G. Woodson.