October 19, 2016

Not Your Father’s Black Panthers: On Election ’16 and the Youngs


Yes, America has more than its share of issues, but the perception of the country as broken or “on the critical list” has been too easily exploited in this U.S. presidential election. Each day, in fact, you see counters to the pessimism and the portrait of doom. In the news stream this week, for example, consider Obama editing WIRED’s new Frontier issue and his deep grasp of our technological paradigm shift. Or, Tim Kaine’s radical optimism. Or, the refreshing and sobering Canadian #TellAmericaItsGreat campaign.

Ruddy Roye’s insightful backstory to his Instagram photo is one more reminder that the culture is shifting all the time. It’s a reminder, also, that America is working through attitudes and hang ups that are actually less political than they are generational.  His focus, of course, is on black America, but it applies to a shift in perception across a generation of youth. He writes:

October 18, 2016

For many this might not mean much but for me, seeing this signals a new age in black consciousness or black awareness.
I will admit, black panther on a school bag is nothing new. The marvel character has been around since 1966, and was the first black super hero to make it to mainstream America. The character is usually depicted as the king and protector of Wakanda, a fictional African nation. However this is the first time I have seen the marvel hero on anything since I migrated to the States some twenty six years ago.
I saw 13 year old Kevin walking on his way to school this morning and immediately started to take pictures of him walking away from me. I was happy and giddy at the same time, but I was concerned that he thought me a weirdo, a photographer chasing behind him snapping away. In fact he was more than delighted to say,
“Maan he is my favourite super hero. I got this bag because I wanted to rep him.
He really is the only black super hero out there right now and that is important to me.”
I feel like everything that is happening right now in America around “Black Lives Matter speaks to a paradigm shift in black consciousness especially from the viewpoint of this younger generation.
I believe they are waking up to a “blacker,” more accepting America — or I would like to think so.

Ruddy’s comment made me thing of this, a photo we posted the other day on Twitter:

Perhaps the greatest irony of this election is that the two candidates are as old as they are. If Clinton goes on to win, is it possible — with everything she’ll be facing — that this girl’s role models, and Kevin’s ready identification with his own super hero, not to mention his sense of enterprise, frames her ultimate challenge?

Anyway, it’s wonderful to be reminded how much less of our old baggage Kevin, and other young people, are carrying around. And it’s refreshing, too, to be reminded that optimism isn’t dead, and that consciousness — beyond the political and the culture wars — continues to evolve.

Photo: Ruddy Roye/Instagram.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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