Monday, March 5, 2018

Chocolate City

http://www.citylab.com; February 16, 2018


Hello Everyone:

Who watched The Oscars yesterday?  Blogger sat down to watch the annual Hollywood pat on the back festival.  One of Yours Truly's favorite moments was Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph walking out, heels in hand, wearing a pair of Uggs slippers.  Totally relatable.  Blogger wants the slippers.  Blogger is happy to report that she guessed accurately in all of the main categories, except Best Picture.  Yours Truly said Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would win the big prize, The Shape of Water walked away with the big prize.

That said, Blogger is still feeling in a cinematic mood and decided to dip her pedicured toes into the Marvel universe.  Marvel as in the comics, in this case the Marvel mega-hit Black Panther.  There is no denying that Black Panther is not only a box office success but has become a global cultural phenomena.  The timing of the movie is auspicious because, as Brentin Mock writes in his CityLab article "Wakanda: The Chocolatest City," "Marvel Studios' Black Panther lands amid an intense discussion around what it means for African Americans to have their own safe space [theatlantic.com; Nov. 19, 2015; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018] or sanctuary [citylab.com; Feb. 16, 2017; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018], in a country built on their exploitation, during a time of nativist influenza.  Further, the movie comes at a point in time when the phenom called "Chocolate City"--"a city where African Americans constitute the majority of residents and are its political and economic leaders--may be in its last days."  The nation's capital, Washington D.C. was once the model (citylab.com; Sept. 7, 2016; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018), dubbed the "capital" of every Chocolate City by funk legends George Clinton and Bernie Worrell, who coined the phrase in a song in 1975 (rollingstone.com; June 24, 2016; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018).  However, by 2011 Washington lost its African American majority (Ibid) and was losing its hold on the Chocolate title.

In her 2012 book (amazon.com; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018) Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City, Nathalie Hopkinson wrote:

When you happen to be born black in a world designed for white people, to live a Chocolate City is to taste an unquantifiable richness.  It gives a unique angle of vision, an alternative lens to see world power.

Mr. Mock writes, "This would describe Wakanda [vulture.com; Feb. 15, 2018; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018] , the fictional African nation that is the homeland of Marvel superhero Black Panther, in spades." Wakanda is featured front and centered in the movie (theatlantic.com; Feb. 14, 2018;; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018), which is based on the studio's first black superhero, introduced in 1966.  Most of the movie's action takes place in the capital city of Birnin Zana, The Golden City, which is hidden away from the rest of the world, "buried inside a mountain n the country's otherwise rural topography."  The cloaked city is the pinnacle of a Chocolate City--a "black Xanadu that looks plucked out of the wildest, trippiest dreams of Marion Berry,...," the controversial former mayor of Washington.

Recent demographic and policy shifts in cities like Washington have led to some to pronounce that Chocolate City has melted (nytimes.com; June 23, 20132; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018).  Derek Hyra wrote that Washington D.C. has become cappuccino city (citylab.com; May 15, 2017; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018) while the Brookings Institution's Andre Perry have been shouting long live the Chocolate City (Ibid; Oct. 24, 2017).  Mr. Mock writes, "The critical questions for those in the school of Chocolate City preservation are: What does it mean to maintain a Chocolate City in an age of globalization?  What is the leadership model for growing a Chocolate City?  Can Chocolate Cities sufficiently provide sanctuary for their black inhabitants?  And even: Why does it matter [citylab.com; Dec. 8, 2017; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018] whether we have Chocolate Cities in the first place?"

Black Panther makes an effort to answer all of these questions.  Spoilers ahead, stop reading if you have not seen the movie.  The movie is centered around the main character, King T'Challa (Black Panther) who is tasked with ruling and safeguarding Wakanda, which is considered the most technologically advanced nation.  Its reputation largely stems from the development of its native resource vibranuium, which can alter sound and energy, is stronger than steel, and in nearly infinite supply--only in Wakanda.  This vital resources has provided Wakanda with immense source of prosperity and security, "as it is used to fortify its architecture and the weapons and armour of its military."

Also, Wakanda maintains its security by remaining completely sovereign, accountable to its own rulers, Ned is entirely self-sufficient.  Wakanda is not anxious to open its doors to foreigners.

Brentin Mock warns, "That kind of protectionism should not be conflated with the extreme nativism [Ibid; Jan. 25, 2018] seen today from the Trump camp."  Although Wakanda is a fictional place, the story is founded in the real world of the audience.  Mr. Mock points out, "...Wakanda's closed borders are a response to the colonialism and white supremacism that plundered and destroyed the wealth and abundance of natural resources found throughout the rest of the continent of Africa.  Wakanda is also aware of the enslavement and terrorization of Africans in the Americans.  Its foreign policy is formulated around avoiding similar fates."

Thus, for these reasons, Wakanda has fashioned itself as the "ultimate Chocolate City, or Chocolate Country, if you will--a place where black people can live free of racial humiliation and exploitation, and prosper in the process."  Unsullied by colonialism and free of anti-black racism, the Wakandans are free to dream and aspire, hence its technological superiority.  Since its resources has not been feasted upon by outside forces, Wakandans can be self sustaining and reap the benefits of its gross domestic product, mainly power by vibranuium.  Never ones to pass up a chance to inject some humour, comedians took to Twitter to come up with a few of the amenities of Wakanda with the #InWakanda meme.

Wakanda is not an ordinary technocracy, or a glorified concrete jungle.  It's leadership is democratically determined as well as skill and might.  In a flyover scene, "Wakanda is designed as a place where silicon and metals are woven into the natural landscape of trees and mountains for its buildings."  Pedestrians populate the streets of Wakanda's urban centers.  Shuttles glide through the urban streets on advanced maglev tracks, and elegantly designed dragonfly shaped spaceships fly through the skyline.

Brentin Mock speculates, "Perhaps some form of e-commerce exists, but merchants still sell their goods and wares in the streets, hand-to-hand."  Its customs and traditions have been preserved, out of the Caucasian gaze.  He asks, "If you've ever wondered what kind of innovation and wealth black people could produce had they never been subjected to the decimating forces of colonialism, slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, second-class citizenship, and segregation, Wakanda is it."

The problem is Wakanda IS segregated by race and geography, from the rest of the world, and this situation does have its drawbacks.  Since it is isolated from its global neighbors, it is oblivious of how nations have come together, evolved, and learned to respond to threats.  More to the point, Wakandans are also isolated from how their counterparts are suffering without their borders.

The most idealist view about what a Chocolate City means tends to be situated on the advantages of self-sufficiency, less on the perils of isolation.  Black Panther's Wakanda presents the case for and against this kind of exclusivity; asking the audience to draw their own conclusion.  For those who follow the pro-argument, Wakanda provides the template for "What means to maintain and protect that kind of chocolate enterprise."

Comparing Wakanda to a real life Chocolate City is pointless because Wakanda is a fictional place.  However, if a Chocolate City leader wants to use the Wakanda blueprint, he or she would have to determine what is their city's vibranuium and how it can be leveraged.  Said leader would have to figure out how to engage with with individuals outside the Chocolate City border--a problem that T'Challa wrestles with throughout the movie.

T'Challa is encourage to engage in international trade talks and provide assistance to other struggling countries, something he is hesitant to break tradition to do.  At one point in the movie, T'Challa says,

If we let the outside world in, they will find out who we really are, and we will lose our way of life.

Real life Chocolate Cities do not have the luxury of wrestling with this conundrum.  They, like every city across the United States, exist at the caprice of the state.  Mr. Mock reports, "In 1969, civil rights activist Floyd McKissick tried building a Chocolate City called Soul City in North Carolina [Ibid; Nov. 6, 2015], which he planned as a municipality that out would be owned,operated, and inhabited mostly African Americans."  Mr. McKissick was motivated by visions of black power based on black capitalism, also he envisioned Soul City "as a place where black people could live, work , and play free of racism."  Yet, he needed federal start-up funds, as well as investment capital and firm commitments from employers to operate it.  His plans smoothly hummed along until the political winds shifted changed directions (Ibid; Nov. 13, 2015) and the federal government withdrew funding, leading to its cancellation.   Sorry, vibranuium could not protect it.

Brentin Mock points out, "This is one of the toughest challenges of the black city: They can't live on black bread alone.  There is no grand demiurge that can create and fortify a city on the soul and sounds of blackness."  Be that as it may, Andre Perry of the Brookings Institution argues that "...black cities can succeed with the right kind of investment,"

Building upon assets in majority-black cities is an approach that we have yet significantly try...There are valuable assets in black communities that developers, economists, and urbanists genuinely don't consider--ew just need to locate and forge a better understanding of what those assets are,... (brookings.edu; Oct. 6, 2017; date accessed Mar. 5, 2018)

In short, find and mine the gold--i.e.vibranium.  Not a simple task in the United States where whatever assets African Americans have accumulated have been stolen and stripped away, beginning with the Reconstruction to the current housing current.  Which is why if African Americans did consider polling their resources to build their own sanctuary city and wall it off from the outside world, Wakanda-style, you cannot really blame them.