Editor’s note: In our continuing goal of providing multiple viewpoints on the Black Panther movie we present the following op-ed piece by guest contributor LindoYes.
There is an ongoing debate about whether Killmonger is the villain or being vilified. This conversation is happening amongst black people who consider themselves to be for black liberation. Black liberation is a popular sentiment that black people need to be fiercely independent while gaining more resources in American society to overcome years of oppression and trauma. Within the black liberation movement, there is a small group of people that exhibit toxic behaviors in their pursuit of black liberation. Much of their rhetoric is to esteem their position by invoking fear and constant trauma to the people they state they want to uplift. They are often mockingly called “Noteps” for being divisive in their limited ideas of black identity and employing tactics that oppress other black people that do not support their ideas.
Noteps seek black liberation by preserving toxic masculinity and being fear mongers. They hold no importance in recognizing and celebrating black joy or success outside of what they agree is mutually beneficial for themselves, and a good majority of them have trite ideas of black identity. They will condemn anything they consider to not fit their ideas of blackness, which often includes queer blacks, black feminists, afrofuturists, blerds, and a list of other black groups they believe do not support a strong image of the “black man”.
The themes of the Black Panther movie have prompted many Noteps to attack it in order to create a fear of the movie and criticize it’s portrayal of the antagonist Erik Killmonger. Most Noteps identify with Killmonger, which is understandable, because most black people can too. His story and grievances resonate heavily with the Black identity. Out of all the Marvel villains, Erik Killmonger is fully developed and given real motives, compared to other villains that just want to be greedy and obtain power. Killmonger wants to liberate black people with the resources of Wakanda. However, as Jamilah Jones stated, “Killmonger…offers… “freedom” that still preserves toxic masculinity,” which is why Noteps are advocating for him. Let’s unpack Erik Killmonger and why Noteps love him so much.
Killmonger & PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock. Everyone has experienced some type of trauma in their life, and because of that we seek ways to recover. However, there are some individuals that live out years or the rest of their lives mentally trapped in a traumatic moment, and when familiar events arise they become triggered, causing them to act out in order to avoid what they perceive as harm. People that experience PTSD can relive these experiences in dreams and flashbacks, often caused by events that remind them of the traumatic event(s) of their past.
I believe Killmonger has PTSD. He has experienced the trauma of being abandoned by Wakanda and of finding his father lifeless in their apartment after he was killed by T’Chaka, the former king of Wakanda, the former Black Panther, and Killmonger’s Uncle. He also grows up in a world where people like him are oppressed, while the nation of Wakanda deals with none of these oppressions despite having the resources to help people survive and retaliate.
Killmonger is traumatized by the loss of his father, Wakanda abandoning him, and from lacking the resources that come with living in Wakanda and the oppressive state he and other black people experience in America. All of these experiences create triggers for him that he learns how to cope with by using violence, always being seen as the aggressor, and not allowing himself to show emotions outside of anger. In fact, the moment he does cry about the loss of his father, he wants to destroy the heart-shaped herbs that allowed him to grieve. In that moment he chose not to let himself feel. He has chosen to be emotionless and violent. His grievances are one that many black people have experienced, but he has learned to cope through violence and apathy. He has rationalized being violent to hurt not only his oppressors, but his community as well.
Killmonger’s violence toward women, destroyed connection to history, religious elder and more PSTD
I have heard over and over again that Killmonger is not a villain, but has been vilified. I think this is true only if you do not look at him hurting women, killing a religious leader Zuri (a Wakandan shaman), his rationalization of violence toward his community, and destroying the heart-shaped herbs that allow Wakandans to connect to their ancestry. Let’s really do a deep dive!
Killmonger kills his girlfriend without hesitation or remorse. He kills a white man to put himself in an esteemed position with Wakandans that have been hurt by Klaue (the white man), by sacrificing his girlfriend who has been supportive to him. Watching this scene is so chilling when you hear her say, “I’m sorry,” followed by him saying, “it’s going to be okay,” followed by him killing her so he could kill Klaue. He states it is okay, because in his mind, him murdering her is for the greater good. This reads too true of the sacrifice of the Black women so that Black men can be celebrated.
Once he is able to get an audience with T’Challa, we witness his PTSD when he recognizes Black Panther as the son of a murderer and it triggers his anger. This is all understandable, as Black Panther knowingly doesn’t acknowledge him as a Wakandan and dismisses the hurt that T’Challa’s father inflicted. In this moment T’Challa shows willingness to hurt Killmonger more and trigger his PTSD. He walks in handcuffed instead of embraced. Killmonger wanted closure and acceptance, which could have started his healing. Instead, he receives a cold welcome from Wakandans. This shows flaws in Black Panther’s judgment even when he sympathizes with Killmonger. All of this leads to Killmonger challenging him for the crown. As they fight for the crown, Zuri, a Wakandan shaman, admits that he is truly at fault for the death of Killmonger’s father; N’Jobu. In that moment, he kills Zuri instinctually, and then Black Panther.
Zuri showed no immediate threat to him or others and was holding himself accountable, even though T’Challa’s father was more at fault. Zuri’s death shows Killmonger’s need to resolve everything with violence and how his PTSD affects him.
Shortly after he wins the crown, Erik Killmonger goes through the ceremony of becoming both King and Black Panther. He meets his father and relives the day of his passing. It invokes tears which he admits are the first time he cried about losing his father. He never did before because he was so used to death; a sad realization that we as the audience experience, and it speaks to a part of the black experience that is all too familiar. When he is awoken, he immediately wants to destroy the heart-shaped herbs that allowed him that moment to cry and be with his father. Even when the elder woman shaman states how much that would break tradition, hurt the connection with ancestors, and destroy years of gardening. He picks her up by her throat and instructs her to basically do as she is told. Killmonger uses violence to will his way, because he doesn’t want to deal with the fact that he is hurt. His willingness to hurt women to get his way is alarming throughout the movie.
“I am loyal to the throne. No matter who sits on it.”- Okoye
There are two more instances I would like to bring up to further my point. The first is the final battle scene when T’Challa reveals he is still alive. Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje, states that since T’Challa did not yield or die, Killmonger must honor the challenge. Okoye has been loyal to him out of respect for Wakandan law and her own value of serving her country and king, and she even chooses not to revolt because of these values. So, when Killmonger tells her he doesn’t care about Wakandan law, not only is he dismissing this woman, but he is also dismissing the same laws he used to get in power because it doesn’t benefit him anymore. This causes an immediate divide between women warriors of Wakanda, the Dora Milaje, and male warriors, the Border Tribe of Wakanda. Erik Killmonger is attacked by two women warriors of the Dora Milaje, lead by Okoye. Throughout the battle, the women don’t fight to kill Killmonger but instead try to force him to yield by taking Killmonger’s Black Panther necklace off. However, he gets the upper hand and kills one of the woman warriors. Time after time he is violent towards women, even when they show support towards him, showing how he doesn’t care about he values of Wakanda or women.
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” — Killmonger
Killmonger doesn’t want to be accountable because of his pride
In the final scene, Killmonger says, “bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage,” as he is dying. T’Challa offers to save him, but Killmonger refuses, because he will be held accountable for all the people he hurt within his community under his rule and rise to power. He hides behind the idea that being held accountable is too much like slavery, but committing a crime against your community and being captured are not the same. Killmonger’s pride and toxic behaviors do not allow him to see that.
Erik Killmonger wanted his idea of liberation at the cost of hurting his own people in the process. He justified this by convincing himself that he was doing the work for black liberation and shouldn’t be questioned. Time and time again, he justifies his acts of violence, even when he is hurting his own people by convincing himself that putting himself in a better position would help everyone. Even when given that power, he still hurt more black people in the community he wanted to uplift. There are no limits to the people he will hurt in order to obtain what he wants. There’s always more he wants, he only knows how to obtain it by hurting others, and he always justifies hurting people that oppose his ideas of liberation as people choosing to defy the will of black liberation.
Noteps are Killmonger, because they are hurt individuals that we all identify with. We all have in some way experienced that same type of pain. Just like them, we want to empower ourselves to overcome oppression and to help others like us. Killmonger, just like many Noteps, uses fear to will that liberation while disregarding anyone that is not identified as having a strong black identity or is opposed to their idea of black liberation, even when it’s as minor as having a different approach to achieve black liberation. Noteps tend to only want to listen to others that reaffirm their position and dismiss anything that challenges it. This is why the shamans and other women of the community were killed by Killmonger. He learned the colonizers tools: to only show hatred and an oppressive nature towards things that were Black but weren’t his idea of Blackness. As he stated, “I took the life of my own brothers and sisters right here on this continent, and all this death, just so I could kill you!” That “you” is Black people he doesn’t identify with, Black people that challenge him or the oppressor. Killmonger is well intended and understandably hurt, but just like most Noteps, he uses tactics and has a hatred that hurts the people he tries to uplift.
Now that we understand why Noteps are like Killmonger, I want to take some time to address the Noteps’ attack on the Black Panther movie. Noteps have always been a part of black culture. They look for ways to diminish Black joy, because it doesn’t provide the fear they need to esteem their platform. This is because if Blacks achieve a better day, or don’t stay naïve to the fact that you can be happy and know there’s still a lot to strive for, it makes their position lose the attention they want. In the case of the Black Panther movie, they are both ignorant to Black sci-fi and are being fear mongers. This movie doesn’t fit their idea of Black identity and isn’t mutually beneficial for them, so they try to create fear of it so they can look highly esteemed for knowing. However, they are showing more of their own faults and insecurities while hiding behind toxic behaviors.
The sad part about these Noteps criticizing Black Panther is that it really hurts those that do understand Black sci-fi and who have informed opinions, because we have been advocating for Black representation in sci-fi and fantasy for the longest time. So, even if we are in agreement and presenting alternatives in Black sci-fi we think are better than Black Panther, we are getting ignored because of the ignorance that people have already internalized.
Lastly, they don’t want you to realize that someone can be happy and celebrate while taking strides towards their betterment. Their stance on anything that presents Black joy is like your friend seeing you get a raise but then saying you are not the boss. You get a promotion to being the boss, then they say that you don’t own the company. You become part of the board and own a good stake of the company, then they say that you don’t own enough. They only allow you to celebrate when you give them the benefit of the position you are in.
They continue to hold these positions that promote your suffering and show their lack understanding, and ignorance to your well being, when really they are hurt that they are not being uplifted or holding such significant parts of that joy. They can’t be happy for Black joy unless it is them being celebrated directly, so they want you to fear it. You can be happy and continue to work towards bigger and better goals that allow for the betterment of yourself and others.
If you enjoyed Black Panther, cool, and if you didn’t, cool. There are other great black sci-fi creations out there for you, no matter what your reason is. Either way, let’s keep supporting Black sci-if so that we continue to have increasingly more ownership and representation. Watch and read other Black sci-fi work as well. Hit me up if you need recommendations.
LindoYes is a spoken word artist from Philadelphia, PA. Lindo uses the world as a canvas and paint images with words. His poetry is strongly influence by the comic books he reads and other fantasy and sci-fi he enjoy.
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