Everywhere I turn, I see people fucking up N’Jadaka’s/Killmonger’s narrative.
He isn’t a hero. He isn’t a villain. He is the physical embodiment of my complicated Black American rage.
He is the sensitive child forced to hide his sensitivity because it was exploited. He is the intelligent child whose questions are seen as insubordination. He is the human whose value is only seen in how he can be used by others. He is the lonely child who learned that he cannot trust anyone, even, maybe especially those who say they love him.
N’Jadaka is the child before America forged Erik Killmonger. And Erik isn’t survival — he is the Black rage that white people fear.
Seeing him on that screen was seeing my rage fantasy play out in high definition. It was all my imaginary confrontations with the people in my life who tell me to be silent, patient, to pick my battles. It’s the rage I feel towards my husband’s whiteness. It’s the rage I feel towards my mom for telling me to try to get along with my husband’s racist-ass parents. It’s the rage I feel towards the Black people in my life who keep giving racists the benefit of the doubt without checking their bullshit. It’s the rage I feel every time a friend, relative, or any Black person in my life tells me that I need to stop sharing my experiences, stop calling out misogynoiristic behaviors, stop showing the scars I’ve earned just for being born who I am. It is a rage that takes no prisoners and I got to watch its flames spread — unsuppressed, unhampered, and unfettered by social niceties and “can’t we all just get along” bullshit. I see a manifestation of my Black as fuck American rage remove every obstacle that tried to suppress it for their comfort.
I see my pain on full display and it’s simultaneously painful and beautiful.
Because I can’t go unchecked. I can’t tell people how deep my rage goes. The mere hint of it makes people uncomfortable enough to leave the room. Any acknowledgment of it has folks popping from the woodwork to tell me how damaging and unhealthy my rage is. I am advised on all sides that my rage and pain have no place in this world and that if it seeps out, I will be labeled a threat and disposed of, immediately.
So, I stay silent and survive. And I secretly hate myself for being too weak and too afraid to risk my life to free myself from these emotional, political, and social chains.
But inside…inside I burn and let the fire consume me because at least this way, only I suffer.
I grew up a sensitive Black girl in a culture where sensitivity meant weakness and weakness meant death. I grew up in a culture that told me my brown skin and my gender made me inferior and vulnerable.
I wasn’t celebrated. I was endured. I was loved but always knew I was a burden. I spent my childhood learning to be less of one.
My environment taught me creative ways to hate myself and those who looked like me. I learned from people who loved me, hated me, and everything in between. My emotions were twisted, ridiculed, minimized, and ignored until I couldn’t figure out what I felt and for a long time believed that my emotions were not to be trusted. That mistrust was routinely beaten into me, sometimes literally. I grew up learning that everyone was an enemy — especially those closest to me; and because we all learned the same lessons, this lie became a shared truth.
The kids I thought were my friends stole my toys and lied about it. The boys I thought were my friends lied about having sex with me or assaulted me. The girls I thought were my friends would lie to extort money from me or to embarrass me. And the adults constantly told me that my truth was lies and that I was too young to understand what was happening around me. Everything was dangerous. I was always at risk of some horror. Trust no one.
And when I thought everything was shit and I had nothing worth living for, my rage kept me alive.
There was a price for my survival. I was vilified for my anger. Mocked. Chastised. Penalized. Threatened. Fired. My anger wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t good for me. It was dangerous.
And it was the only thing keeping me alive.
I remember my 20s… I didn’t want to live in this world. I didn’t want to live my life. And while sometimes I could numb myself to the constant influx of toxic feedback and I could find some joy in the escapes I developed (sex, cigarettes, thrill-seeking), it was…is a constant uphill battle that I still cannot figure out how to fix. And even though I have no idea how to fix it, I’ve become better at enduring it. I’ve developed better coping mechanisms for times when everything feels hopeless. And I channel my anger into things like my writing so that I no longer swing between overwhelming anger and paralyzing depression. It took years and some medication to learn that balance, and even with that balance I still have the right to be angry…and I’m willing to fight for it.
Seeing Erik Killmonger was seeing the full range of my rage expressed beautifully, destructively, uncomfortably, and tragically. Because there is truly a part of me that wants to burn it all down and me with it. There is a part of me that wants to ruthlessly rip this world apart in hopes that those after can make it better. That part of me doesn’t care about your suffering. It doesn’t care whether you live or die. It doesn’t care about whether what I want is fair for everyone. Fair is an illusion.
Fair is the lie we tell ourselves to survive. It lives with Hope and metabolizes Delusion. We consume them all and wonder why we’re always hungry. Why nothing feels like enough.
I don’t lie to myself about my rage. I don’t lie to myself about my frustration, impotence, hopelessness, fear, complacency, complicity, and sadness. I have a swirl of emotions that do not always work for the greater good and I’m not going to lie about feeling them. The fact that I am telling you about them is for the greater good.
Because if I let my rage go. If I let my anger fly free and unchecked…
“Every moment you breathe is an act of mercy from me.” — Black Panther to Klaue
TaLynn Kel is a writer, cosplayer, and podcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. She writes about racism, cosplay, interracial relationships, and pop culture fandom through the lens of social justice. To learn more about her, visit her website at talynnkel.com.