A Black Panther
by Chris Williams
My dad started reading comic books when he was a young boy growing up in Detroit Michigan. It was the 50’s and he was a smart and skinny Black kid with big dreams. His love of fantasy and science fiction grew stronger as he got older. These worlds and characters were his escape from a reality and a country that was constantly putting barriers and obstacles in his way. There would be no Superman to save the day and the Bat Signal was never going to light up the night sky over his brick home in the city. He studied hard and he worked with purpose. When my dad was a teenager the first Black Panther comic made an appearance and for the first time he saw someone who looked like him reflected back on those colorful pages that he loved so much. He saw power, grace, resilience, intelligence and courage. He saw himself.
I was raised to believe that my Black skin was beautiful, important and special. I can still hear my mother telling me to be proud of how dark my complexion was as she spread cocoa butter over my ashy knees and elbows. I was young, I was barely a boy when these statements began to increase in frequency. There was so much undeserved praise coming from my parents over something I had absolutely nothing to do with. I didn’t choose my dark skin just like my white friends didn’t choose theirs. My white friend’s parents were not intentionally building up their self-esteem in regards to the color of their skin but my parents, having spent all of their lives in these United States, knew what was to come for their youngest son. My dad knew that he had to build me up while I was young and bright eyed because this country would soon try to tear me down and extinguish my light. He knew this country would put those familiar obstacles and barriers in my way. Every positive out of my mom’s mouth was meant to armor me against the negativity headed my way so that when I was eventually teased for having Black skin the voice inside of my head would whisper, “you have the blood of Kings and Queens running through you.” So that when a teacher had low expectations I could raise the expectations I had for myself. So that when I saw only the worst images of me on the news or from the entertainment industry I could remember that framed black and white photograph perched on top of my mom’s dresser. In it my grandfather stood tall wearing his soldier’s uniform looking sharp as hell and proud as a lion. I was not raised to think I was better than anyone else but I was raised to believe that no one else was better than me.
Like my father, I have a love of all things science fiction and fantasy. I grew up reading comic books and escaping into their vibrant stories and colorful pages. It would be disingenuous for me to say I was a Black Panther reader. Truth be told the Flash was always my go to guy. But every once in a while I’d come across an old issue of Black Panther inside one of my dad’s dusty basement boxes and I could imagine what it was like for him to read it when he was my age. I could imagine the joy on his face as he turned the thin pages. The Black Panther helped shape the young teen who would become my father years later. Today I understand the value of positive representation because I am my father’s son. He may not be a superhero but he is an extraordinary human being.
Today I have friendships with people who look like me and people who don’t. I am constantly trying to figure out what my purpose on this planet is. I can be petty. I can be thoughtless at times. I can be rude and unforgiving. I can also be funny and I can be welcoming and I can be loving. This country has been breaking my heart since I was a child. I can feel my armor wearing thin like the worn pages of my father’s comic books. I feel the loss of Black people who I have never even met. I feel a deep sadness within my community but I also feel a cold numbness spreading inside of me. Luckily I know what it looks like and what it feels like to overcome obstacles and barriers; it’s in my blood after all.