THINK TWICEThe Official Blog of Dr. Jeremy Levitt
February 20, 2018
The Disney-Marvel movie “Black Panther” is an iconic black cultural revolution, revival and renaissance that intelligently interrogates nativism, privilege and influence that fortifies global apathy toward poor and disenfranchised people.
“Black Panther” had an epic debut weekend, grossing $201.8 million and $426.6 million in global ticket sales. It is the fifth highest-grossing movie opening in history, and the most profitable “black” movie ever.
As a youth in Los Angeles in the 1970s, I dreamed of Hollywood birthing a black-conscious superhero movie. I imagined one with superhuman strength, futuristic technology and deadly fighting skills — a master of African martial arts like Laamb and Nubawresting, Dambe and Musangwe boxing, Engolgo kicking, Nguniand Istunka stick fighting and modern Angolan capoeira. Nearly five decades later, “Black Panther” delivers.
This is the first major superhero movie with a black director, black executive producer, black writers, black costume and production designers and, most important, a nearly all black cast. Its two talented African-American stars, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, deliver stellar performances. If that weren’t enough, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker illuminate the stage along with other actors of African descent, including Lupita Nyongo (Kenyan origin) of “Star Wars,” Danai Gurira (Zimbabwe) of “The Walking Dead” and Daniel Kaluuya (an African-American of Ugandan origin) of “Get Out.” “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, executive producer Nate Moore, and music curator Kendrick Lamar deliver a masterpiece.
Boseman plays King T’Challa, the sovereign leader of Wakanda, a humane, democratic, wealthy and technologically advanced society of black people. The king of Wakanda also doubles as the Black Panther, a sophisticated black African warrior with panther-like superpowers he uses to protect Wakanda and fight evil.
Wakanda is not simply a fictitious African nation; it’s an ideal embedded in the imagination and souls of black folk and liberation-orientated discourses on black power and Pan-Africanism. Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner imagined Wakanda. A predominant theme that contextualizes the counter-nativist message of “Black Panther” is the tension between using Wakanda’s extraordinary wealth, technology and power for Wakanda or employing it to help other African nations and disenfranchised blacks in, for example, the United States. The secret source of Wakanda’s power is vibranium – an inestimable celestial metal found only in Wakanda.
The movie brilliantly reinvigorates this tension by unearthing two classical Pan-Africanist questions that shape black history and form a vital part of the black international tradition:
- To what extent, if any, should violence be used as a tactic in black liberation?
- What role, if any, should African nations play in liberating blacks in Africa and in the diaspora?
These questions have preoccupied black intellectuals, warriors and leaders for centuries including, among others, Yaa Asantewa, Queen Nzinga, C.L.R. James, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Padmore, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Winnie Mandela, Assata Shakur, Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré and Jomo Kenyatta.
The nativist “Wakanda First” and continentalist “Africa First” approaches represent two flawed ideologies that have undermined Pan-Africanism and Africa’s ability to empower itself, and be empowered by the Black Diaspora. Pan-Africanism is the internationalization of African liberation philosophy, which seeks to unify and empower black people all over the world to demand and attain freedom, equality, and justice from the domestic and global forces of white domination, and maximize their human potential.
These ideological schisms are boldly illuminated by Jordan’s character Killmonger, T’Challa’s abandoned royal cousin and nemesis — a minted Navy SEAL black-ops executioner, who grew up as an African-American in Oakland’s projects. Killmonger’s pro-black persona resonates with most black Americans. He is a dark hero, an uncomfortable combination of Marcus Garvey and Joseph Stalin, seeking to use Wakanda’s great resources and advanced weaponry to reverse the balance of power between blacks and whites because, in his words, “[w]here I’m from, when black folks started revolutions, they never had the firepower or the resources to fight their oppressors.” Killmonger sought to arm black people worldwide, to “rise up and kill those in power.”
While King T’Challa disagrees with Killmonger’s bloodthirsty scheme, he ultimately declares that Wakanda must empower poor and disenfranchised blacks and others through STEM education beginning in Oakland, thereby, raising a vital question: What if African states actually utilized their sovereignty, ingenuity and vast resources to empower black Americans to predominate America’s political and economic landscape?
Jeremy Levitt is the distinguished professor of international law at the Florida A&M University College of Law. @drjeremylevitt
January 12, 2018
President Trump’s atomic comments Thursday during a White House meeting with congressional lawmakers about immigration trampled the red line of racism, bigotry and prejudice — from which there is no return. Until now, I have been reluctant to label Trump a racist, noting the important differences between racism, bigotry and prejudice.
Isn’t it ironic that on the eve of two monumental anniversaries — the mega-earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed at least 300,000 on Jan. 12, 2010, and the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, 1929 — Trump asked why the U.S. accepts immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America rather than people from places like Norway?
Neither the White House nor Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American who was at the meeting, disputed the president’s remarks nor condemned them. Why not? Sen. Marco Rubio, who resides in Miami-Dade County, with one of the largest concentrations of Haitians in the nation, has been stunningly silent. Finally, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an ardent supporter of Trump and would-be candidate for U.S. senator, distanced himself from Trump’s comments, but only conditionally: “If this report is true.”
American values like liberty, equality, self-government, individualism, diversity and unity do not derive from the benefactors and heirlooms of enslavement, racial segregation and white privilege; they descend from the emigrants from the countries Trump disparages: These are the courageous people who have defended this nation in every war since its inception, even against the benefactors and heirlooms of white nationalism. I don’t get it: Perhaps Trump believes that pandering racialized vulgarities to white Nordic folk will inspire the Norwegian Nobel Committee to create a “Nobel Chaos Prize.” Not.
Let’s agree that the president’s comments do not represent Americans or American values and ideals. Let’s also agree that we are a nation of immigrants and that black and brown Americans from countries dissed by Trump built and defended America in enslaved and segregated circumstances. America was not built by Nordic Vikings nor their progeny, yet Trump seems to want to limit immigration to whites who believe in Valhalla and “The Song of the Hooded One,” not in Jesus and our national anthem.
I have lived all over the world. I spent the bulk of my time in countries Trump finds so odious. Let me assert that Americans can learn a great deal from people in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. In these regions, people are filled with faith, hope, and courage. They are cultured, well-traveled and often trilingual. Despite centuries of European and American colonial rule and exploitation, these folk maintain strong family and community values. In fact, they cherish the unit of the family over the individual. They work hard for pennies on the dollar. Some families in the most underdeveloped nations live on less than a $1 a day, yet they will feed, clothe and house a foreigner or stranger before themselves. Americans? Many of us walk past homeless people every day without a care.
Immigrants from the developing world highly value education, family and faith in God, and they don’t throw away their sick and elderly. In fact, they are the very backbone of health-care professionals in the United States who care for aging Americans — those mothers and fathers we have forsaken to hospices and nursing homes. Know this: Immigrants continue to fortify traditional American values that are decaying, values we are quick to forget: liberty, equality, diversity and justice. These good people are also integral to our economy. Immigrants toil in the fields to harvest fruits and vegetables; their muscle and sinew build our roads and bridges; they tend to our sick; they treat our illnesses. Immigrants innovate science and technology and, perhaps most important, they create jobs. America without immigrants would be like mayonnaise without bread. Then again, maybe that’s what Trump wants: not “America First” but “Mayonnaise First.”
A recent Harvard Business Review noted that immigrants are more entrepreneurial than Americans. Why? They have extensive cross-cultural experience — that is, a higher ability to “identify promising business ideas” and generate diverse ideas and solutions based on the different cultures they encounter and navigate. In fact, immigrants are almost twice as likely as native-born U.S. citizens to become entrepreneurs; they represent nearly 30 percent of America’s entrepreneurs.
What Trump and Trumpians don’t understand is that America embraces immigrants from the developing world because the majority of us descend from it. And without that, we would be a shithole.
Jeremy Levitt is the distinguished professor of international law at the Florida A&M University College of Law. @drjeremylevitt
John Adams said that “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Yet the administration and media are sadly reducing the tragedy in Niger into rap-style beef between President Donald Trump and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. In doing so, they are dishonoring our fallen troops, miseducating the American public; thereby raising more questions than the known facts or media pundits can answer.
“Think Somalia, not Benghazi.”
— Jeremy Levitt
Let’s begin with the basics: Niger and Nigeria are two different countries located in West Africa. Niger is a former French colony, and Nigeria a former British colony. Niger is about the size of Texas. A person from Niger is Nigerien; whereas a person from Nigeria is Nigerian. Niger is a key U.S. ally. The four slain sergeants were among about 800 military personnel in Niger and 6,000 throughout Africa. The small nation of Djibouti, which hosts America’s Camp Lemonnier and about 4,000 troops, is the only permanent American military base in Africa.
I believe that the Oct. 4 ambush and killing of four U.S. Special Forces and four U.S.-trained Nigerien soldiers was a paramount intelligence failure. I believe that the ambush was carried out by radicalized village elements in Tongo-Tongo (Tondikiwindi district) near the Niger-Mali border, under the direction of known terrorist-jihadist Abu Adnan al-Saharaoui. Al-Saharaoui, a North African Arab, is the self-appointed Islamic Emir of the Great Sahara and affiliated with various terrorist movements, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State. Again, think Somalia, not Benghazi.
Rather than squabbling, our elected representatives should focus on one vital question: How and why were U.S. Special Forces ambushed in a nation where we operate several drone bases and have sophisticated intelligence assets?
Published in the Orlando Sentinel – August 22, 2017
I love America and greatly disagree with the dangerously false opinions, observations and prognostications that are proliferating about this country and President Donald Trump. America is not descending into a bloody race war, and Trump is not a racist.
Trump is a chaotic megalomaniac with associated prejudices, not a racist. While his impulsive, unpredictable and unproductive behavior often smacks of bigotry, liberals should stop stereotyping and magnifying his behavior through frenzied racialized lenses because they are visionless.
If we are going to have any meaningful discussion on race, we must differentiate between racists, bigots and prejudiced people. These terms and labels are not synonyms and should not be used interchangeably because doing so blurs history, obscures the truth, bloodies discourses and confuses the American public.
We cannot successfully address historical and contemporary forms of racial inequality and its antecedents without fighting fair. Since “Black Lives Matter,” so do the labels we place on those who are antithetical to them.
Racists believe in their biological and moral superiority over other racial groups. Like most U.S. presidents, Trump believes that he is superior over everyone, irrespective of race. He is too much of a charlatan to be racist, and too narcissistic, pragmatic and unimaginative to buy into fantastical white supremacist ideology.
Bigots are intolerant and odious toward those holding different opinions, particularly members of different racial, ethnic, religious and gendered groups. Trump is intolerant and loathsome toward nearly everyone equally, and too strong of a megalomaniac to be controlled by racist or bigoted ideology and politics. Exit Steve Bannon!
Prejudice expresses itself as preconceived, irrational and often hostile opinions and stereotypes based on inferior or insufficient knowledge. Trump’s alleged moral-equivalency uttering about Charlottesville, Va., his tweets objecting to the removal of Confederate statues, and his comments about Mexicans and other minorities are cases in point. Like many Americans, Trump can be intellectually inflexible, willfully ignorant, insecure and hostile, demonstrating his prejudice on a wide array of issues foremost among them — race politics.
For example, why was President Trump willing and able to condemn “radical Islamic extremists” responsible for the horrid international terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain, but reluctant to condemn white supremacist extremists responsible for ISIS-style domestic terrorism in Charlottesville? In a recent tweet, Trump openly endorsed torture and extra-judicial killings to deter terrorism in Spain. Would he also support using torture and summary executions to combat violent white-extremist terrorists in the U.S.? These are troubling paradoxes.
Perhaps the president’s offering an intelligent plan for racial unity would bring about needed healing in a nation struggling with a legacy of racial, ethnic and religious division. According to recent FBI hate crimes statistics, blacks and Jewish people are the greatest victims of racial and religious violence, respectively. Hate crimes against Muslims are skyrocketing. More than 60 percent of reported victims of hate crimes were targeted because of their race and about 50 percent of all hate crimes are committed by whites.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security determined that white supremacist extremists are responsible for more deadly attacks than any other domestic extremist group, with racial minorities being primary victims. Trump needs to reflect on these realities and address them.
Trump should forthrightly seek to reconcile his zealous advocacy for the deaths of black teenagers in the Central Park Five scandal who were later exonerated; his late and self-promoting tweets after the 2015 white supremacist murders of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.; and his outward discomfort in condemning white supremacist groups and violence in Charlottesville last week. Trump’s open support for Confederate statues and bumbling defense of violent white extremist history complicates matters further.
For better or worse, Trump’s opinions, values and virtues are shared by millions of Americans, not a fringe element. White supremacist speech is protected under the First Amendment. White supremacists can lawfully celebrate a violent losing and treasonous tradition as long as they don’t employ fighting words, commit crimes involving speech or make threats.
While white supremacist extremists spew hate, we must advance new institutions and enterprises comprised of white anti-racist activists. We need White Millennials with an Attitude — WMWA — focused on tracking, monitoring and combating violent white extremism. The NAACP and Urban League must evolve.
We need newer and braver civil-rights organizations determined to lawfully disrupt, dismantle and destroy white supremacist extremist groups intent on violently upending our Constitution and the laws, values, virtues and principles of these United States.
Jeremy Levitt is the distinguished professor of international law at the Florida A&M University College of Law
ORLANDO SENTINEL – November 16, 2016
African-Americans should give Donald Trump a chance
I’m an ardent critic of Donald J. Trump, but I realize that he will be the 45th president of the United States. He won; get over it. If you don’t like him, do something about it: Join the anti-Trump protests around the country, help establish a “third way,” or move to Canada. I’ve lived in Canada, and if “Jacques Frost” doesn’t pinch you, Canada’s ridiculously high income and sales taxes — together with a cruel currency-exchange rate and nice-nasty culture — may have you running south for the wall-free border.
Take a deep breath. I encourage every African-American to register as an Independent or join the Republican Party for the next four years. What do we have to lose? Our dignity? The Democrats arguably stripped that away some time ago. What has the Democratic National Committee done to earn our blind undivided loyalty? For decades, Democrats have governed nearly every inner-city community in the country. What do we have to show for it but empty hope, joblessness, poverty, decaying schools, poor infrastructure, environmental degradation and high crime? You can’t even buy a fresh tomato in the hood!
African-Americans must demand a measurable return for our loyalty. We are the most powerful minority-voting bloc. We need to become strategic opportunists. The Democratic Party must be taught to earn our votes, and the Republican Party required to deliver on President-elect Trump’s “inner-city” and inclusiveness plan — among others. Trump should appoint an “Urban Renewal and Development” czar with a dedicated staff to lead an interdepartmental task force of senior officials from across federal agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban development, Labor, Energy, Justice, Homeland Security, Transportation and Commerce. The primary purpose of the task force should be to formulate and implement urban-renewal and development pilot programs in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. The program should aim to substantially increase vocational and technical educational opportunities, jobs training, jobs, affordable health care, small businesses, infrastructure development, Christian-based charter schools, and safety and security through community policing.
The president-elect extended an olive branch to all Americans, especially African-Americans. In his Nov. 8 victory speech, he asked his detractors for guidance and help to unify our great country. Trump pledged to represent all Americans, even those who decry him. In an apparent signal to African-Americans and other minorities, Trump promised to represent the downtrodden and help them maximize their full potential. He claimed that the “forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” He firmly stated that one of his top priorities was to “fix” and rebuild our inner cities. Time is ultimately the best teller of stories, but I don’t remember a time when any other leader — Democrat nor Republican — made a similar promise. Democrats have governed America’s predominantly black urban centers for the past 60 years. Have things improved? Are the lives and well-being of urban blacks improving?
The Bible states, “There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1). Many believe that President Barack Obama’s two election victories were God-ordained and that President-elect Trump’s victory a work of Satan. Unless one argues that Trump’s improbable ascendancy is akin to the rise of the “man of sin,” a skillful deceiver empowered by Satan to pretend to be God in the last days (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12), maybe he deserves a chance.
I am not suggesting that we overlook the deplorable things that Trump has said about Latinos, blacks, women, prisoners of war, and disabled Americans. Don’t ignore his apparent embrace of civic and white nationalists. Don’t discount the chilling accusation that he may be Russia’s “Manchurian Candidate.”
However, I am suggesting that we must be the change that we desire, which is not possible unless we rise from our couches of indignation, run from Clintonian plantations and break our addiction from the Democratic Party’s crack pipe. For once let’s try single-malt scotch atop the elephant over crack on a jackass.
African-Americans and others should answer President-elect Trump’s call to action, and if he does not respond or deliver on his promises, bloc vote and run the Republicans out of power in 2020. Until then, we should register as Independents or Republicans, accept his olive branch and apply for non-career presidential appointments in the Trump administration. Let’s immediately start writing letters to Trump and our congressional representatives, demanding action on his African-American pledges.
Jeremy I. Levitt, J.D., Ph.D. is the distinguished professor of international law at Florida A&M University. @drjeremylevitt Learn more about Dr. Levitt at drjeremylevitt.com.
This article originally appeared at The Orlando Sentinel
I prefer standing and placing my right hand on my heart during the national anthem, but I support Colin Kaepernick‘s decision not to do so.
To argue otherwise would be to deny one of our most sacred democratic and constitutional principles: freedom of expression. It is a fundamental right.
Kaepernick, the 28-year-old San Francisco 49ers quarterback, is highly intelligent. He also is courageous, deeply patriotic and charitable. Kaepernick regularly engages in significant work for disadvantaged kids. He is passionate about helping medically challenged children with heart disease. How charitable are his critics?
Kaepernick has drawn national attention because he decided not to stand during the national anthem before football games. Is he breaking any rules? The National Football League does not require players to stand during the national anthem; nor can it, and nothing in his contract with the 49ers can compel him to do so.
So what’s the hullabaloo about? Standing for the anthem is a sociocultural norm like racism that Americans can freely choose to associate or not. So why is Kaepernick being treated like a rebellious slave in need of plantation-style discipline?
At nearly every sporting event, there are a wide range of behaviors on display during the national anthem. Fans sit, talk, eat, belch, spit, wear hats, and place their hands in their pockets during the anthem. Kaepernick’s “rebellion,” as such, is good for America. It forces us to discuss uncomfortable American-made problems such as racism, bigotry and xenophobia. Those evils come wrapped in a malaise of inequality, injustice and apathetic denial.
Kaepernick is not anti-American. He is a patriotic anti-inequality, anti-racist and anti-injustice human-rights activist. Unlike many Americans, he actually believes in William Tyler Page’s “The American’s Creed,” which was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 13, 1918.
The American’s Creed embraces a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” as consented to by the people and based on “freedom, equality, justice, and humanity.” While many Americans lack empathy toward the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised, Kaepernick feels deeply compelled to advocate for them. What if more NFL players shared his moral fabric?
In the wake of the tragic Dallas massacre, whose response to police brutality and structural racism would you want disgruntled African-American men and youth to follow: Kaepernick’s or Micah Xavier’s, the gunman?
Kaepernick was born to a 19-year-old unwed white woman and a seemingly uninterested African-American father. When he was five weeks old, he was adopted by two loving parents, Rick and Theresa Kaepernick, who happened to be white,
I wonder whether Kaepernick’s mulatto heritage, wealth, good looks, status and intimate understanding of white culture are what really bother the self-professed protectors of “The Star-Spangled Banner”?
I wonder whether Kaepernick’s close proximity to whiteness makes some feel betrayed by his ardent pro-black stance for nonviolence, freedom, equality, justice and humanity?
I wonder if he were two shades darker and raised by a single black mother, what might his critics say? The intoxicatingly toxic debates about President Barack Obama’s racial heritage and patriotism echo here.
Kaepernick continues the black sports tradition of nonviolent human-rights activism, which represents the sentiments of millions of Americans.
The hateful reactions to his peaceful civil disobedience are the best evidence that we must continue the long walk to freedom. Need I remind you that former NBA sensation Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended in 1996 for refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Or what about the expulsions of Tommie Smith and John Carlos after giving the black power salute while receiving medals in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City?
I wonder: Would Kaepernick’s critics be happier if he stood quietly and gave the black-power salute, as Smith and Carlos did, during the national anthem?
History dictates that it is easier to vilify human-rights messengers than constructively engage their messages. No one has accused Kaepernick of making erroneous or false claims.
At its core, Kaepernick’s message is one of racial unity, peace, justice and equality for all. If we demonize nonviolent and peaceful messengers because we disagree with them, what value does The American’s Creed hold?
Jeremy I. Levitt is the distinguished professor of international law at Florida A&M University College of Law and author of “Black Women and International Law” (Cambridge University Press, 2015).