I was having a conversation with a friend after watching “Black Panther” when we both reached the topic of Erik Killmonger and his violent agenda to arm oppressed peoples around the world using the same Vibranium that catapulted Wakanda to its elite status as a technological marvel.
While both of us agreed that such an approach would have led to nothing more than death and destruction on a near-unprecedented scale, I remember pausing in shocked realization when I heard my friend’s final analysis regarding the idea:
“What if Killmonger was right about Wakanda?”
Despite the illusion of nobility and grandeur that Wakanda gave us all throughout the entirety of "Black Panther," we were forced to witness its great failure as a nation (prompted by the politics of isolationism upheld by its rulers from its origins) to use its considerable resources and potential influence to stand up for those whose rights had been taken from them.
Instead, it stood idly by and allowed its fellow sister countries to be plundered and stripped of their dignity, their peoples enslaved and dehumanized to build the glorious empires of the various European powers.
The shackles that bound these early slaves held firm throughout generations, culminating in the environment that produced the man who would one day go by the name Killmonger.
His pain and raw anger at the injustices that people of color suffered in his hometown of Oakland (incidentally, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party) reflected a kind of trauma brought about by the realization that despite all the progress of the so-called “civilized” world, the simple distinction of pigmentation determined one’s worth in society. While his methods bordered on unhinged aggression and would have eventually resulted in catastrophic devastation with streets paved in the blood of the innocent, Killmonger was justified to feel betrayed by his father’s people, the highly touted Wakandan empire that left him and their fellow brothers to suffer.
T'challa saw Erik Killmonger’s pain as his own and finally understood the futility of isolationism in the face of apartheid when he faced his father’s spirit on the ancestral plain—the sins of his ancestors quite literally left him on the verge of death, and it was there that he confronted them about the errors of their ways.
At that moment, he chose to let go of the past and move forward to help those who had been forgotten.
Even after defeating Killmonger, T’challa chose to stick by his newfound principles and revealed the secrets of Vibranium to the rest of the world, forever altering the landscape of international relations in Wakanda.
His devotion to utilizing Vibranium as a peaceful method of settling centuries of prejudice (as opposed to Killmonger’s insurgency) comes as a welcome message that Wakanda will no longer stand by whilst tyrant nations deliver unfair judgment upon the oppressed.
Where does that leave us, however? The common human being does not have the supplies of a highly technological society, nor do we all have mounds of Vibranium underneath our pillowcases or the influence that T’challa had as the king of Wakanda. But we all have our own voices, our own ability to contribute to stamping out injustices when and where we see them being committed—by exposing them and standing up for the oppressed however we possibly can.