Everyone is talking about Black Panther and it’s not just because it’s another great action movie. Everyone is talking about Black Panther because of the way it portrays Black beauty, power, love, and excellence. It captures our diversity and our strength while leaving room for our humanity. There is nuance and social commentary on everything from colonization, to slavery, to Black fathers being murdered. It portrays the strength and beauty of Black women, of dark skinned Black women. It shows healthy Black love and relationships. It does all of this without falling into tropes and stereotypes, without hypersexuality. We love Black Panther because it portrays everything we know about ourselves and it is powerful to see that reflected back to us on screen. We love Black Panther because it connects us to why we are so proud to be Black.
As Black people, we tend to take pride in our racial and cultural identities. Most of us were raised to feel proud of our Blackness. We were taught that we came from a long line of strong, resilient people who persevered through colonialism, slavery, poverty, and all kinds of oppression and are still standing. During Black History Month, we take time out to honor our ancestors, the named and unnamed heroes who paved a way for us. We remember that their blood flows through our veins. We are reminded that we must ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain. Black History Month and taking pride in our Blackness not only pushes back against white supremacy and racism, it also provides important mental health benefits.
Having a strong racial identity serves as an emotional buffer and promotes positive mental health. Research has shown that when our racial identity is important to us, we are more likely to experience well-being and positive mental health. Racial identity has also been linked to lower levels of perceived stress, drug use and depressive symptoms among African American youth and young adults. Additionally, strong identification with a racial group is related to high self-esteem, confidence and feelings of having a purpose in life. Ethnic identity has also been linked to perceived self-efficacy, prosocial attitudes, academic efficacy, and career efficacy.
Our parents knew what they were doing when they worked to instill racial pride in us, when they wrestled with the task of racial socialization. Racial socialization involves teaching Black children to love themselves while navigating a racist society. We have been buffered by the wisdom of our elders and it is important for us to continue this tradition of connecting to racial pride in the service of our mental well-being. In addition to watching Black Panther repeatedly I’ve suggested some other ways to do this below.
Remember Your Ancestors
Our ancestors were miracle workers. They managed to make something out of nothing again and again. Quilts out of scraps of cloth; delicious, nourishing meals out of scraps of food. We come from a long line of people who made a way out of no way. Remembering this can help to inspire us to apply this legacy of resourcefulness and mastery of problem solving to our own lives. When you feel stuck or frustrated, when you worry that you don’t have enough money, time, and resources to move forward, remember your ancestors and be inspired by their perseverance.
Put Your Life In Context
Even beyond the context of Black History Month, it is important to remember those who came before us. Contextualizing our current struggles in the history of what our people have gone through helps us to remember that if our ancestors made it through the Middle Passage and slavery, we can make it through whatever challenges we face now. It is also important to remember how far we’ve come. It is so easy to get caught up in the problems of the world today to focus on how much farther there is to go. Sometimes hope comes from looking backward. We can draw strength and inspiration from those who came before us, from those who fought and sacrificed to get us to where we are as Black people in the world today. Their fight may not have been perfect and we may disagree with the strategies they used but we cannot deny their efforts. Let us remember that we are living the dreams of our ancestors. Let us embrace the weight of this challenge and work to live full lives in honor of those who came before us.
Celebrate Your Culture
Black culture was forged in low places; in the Middle Passage, on plantations, on the underground railroad, in churches, in housing projects. Black culture is rich and nuanced and full of pride. Black culture is empowering and life giving; celebrate it. Maybe after you’re feeling worn down from a hard day at work, surrounded by people who don’t look like you, bring your friends and family together for a meal and celebrate the communalism (connection and depending on one another) of our culture. Maybe you go to a concert by a Black artist whose music touches your soul. Maybe you go to church and participate in the collective practice of lamenting and rejoicing with other Black people. Maybe you dress up in African-print clothing and go see Black Panther again. Actively celebrating and connecting to your culture is good for your wellbeing and essential for your soul.