Black Panther breaks my brown heart.

Mansi Goel
3 min readFeb 14, 2018

While waiting to meet a friend, I came across this wonderful essay on the new Black Panther movie. Even the abstract cut into me and immediately brought tears to my eyes:

Ryan Coogler’s film is a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries — Africa as a dream of our wholeness, greatness and self-realization.

Embedded early on the page was a photo of the cast on set that gave me another deep pang. I had read the actors had been told to let their natural hair grow out for the filming. It was a radical invitation often denied to Black Americans: just be yourself.

When my friend arrived, I was too choked up to greet him in a casual ritual. My heart felt full and tender. Why? Why does this movie and what it means to Black Americans move me so much as an Indian-American woman?

I was nine years old when I first came to America and met my parents: my Indian mother, who had left me in India to be raised by her parents while she built a life to bring me to, and my American ‘stepfather’, a gentle giant of a White man. Our first years together were difficult as they adjusted to becoming parents and I adjusted to becoming American. This isn’t the story of that adjustment, but that adjustment is the backdrop of my understanding Blackness in America.

It was 1985 and if I wasn’t the only Indian girl in San Francisco during that decade, you couldn’t prove it to me. On the playground, kids wondered whether Indian meant Filipino or Mexican. They told me I certainly wasn’t Asian, which surprised me since I had studied geography in India and learned it as a part of Asia. But being Asian in San Francisco didn’t mean looking like I did. I didn’t know what it meant in America to look like I did.

Sometime after our first year together, my dad invited his sister and her two daughters, who were near my age, over for dinner. He hadn’t been in touch with his family for many years and had never met his nieces. As we waited for their arrival, I was nervous not only about meeting my dad’s relatives, but even more so about his meeting his White nieces.

What would it mean for my dad to meet other little girls who were ‘really’ related to him? I pictured them in the blonde-haired green-eyed whiteness on Sweet Valley High book covers. I knew my Brown foreignness couldn’t compete with that. What if he liked them better?

I remember the knot in my stomach as I braced for their arrival. Even now, thirty years later, I can recall the joyful burst of it unclenching when I first caught sight of them. They were Black! Their skin was lighter than mine but they were unmistakably not just White. I’ll never forget the childhood relief that I wouldn’t have to compete with them for my dad’s affection: they were Black, we were at least on an even footing.

How to explain that moment? Was I a ten-year-old racist? Well, yes. I hungrily consumed cues of what it meant to be American and, even as a child, I could quickly imbibe the core of its social hierarchy: even if one couldn’t be White, it helped at least not to be Black.

In the decades since, I’ve been in that ancient human inquiry of what it means to be deeply alive and truly myself. I’ve probed the scope of freedom allowed for this quest. It’s impossible to be in that struggle without appreciating the pain of those who undertake it within America’s most brutal context. To really understand how deeply alive and uniquely human one can be in America, one must incorporate the Black experience. My ten-year-old heart understood that. I’m angry at how many of my Indian-American compatriots attach themselves to the power of Whiteness.

Now, this movie’s celebration of Blackness, not only as a race, but also as a culture, and, most of all, as “a dream of wholeness, greatness and self-realization”, breaks my heart with joy.

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Mansi Goel

Insight addict. Liberation enthusiast. EQ gymnast.