Stolen Ideas and Intellectual Subjugation in Black Panther 3

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Slavery is an indescribably cruel, evil, downright sadistic practice that robs its victims of so much, down to their very humanity. Issue one of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ and Daniel Acuña’s Black Panther used T’Challa’s capture at the hands of the intergalactic Wakandan Empire to explore how slavery strips its victims of their names, gods, homes, and heritage, and now issue three uses this same concept to explore a totally different side of the atrocity that is slavery: how it robs its victims of their intellectual property and potential.

I only recently learned about this, but it turns out that there were quite a few talented black inventors throughout America’s early history, but since slaves weren’t eligible to file for patents, very few of them received any credit or profit for their work. Often their “owners” attempted to take all the credit for their inventions, and even if they were denied patents themselves, would still find a way to profit from their slaves’ ideas. The Confederacy made it standard practice for masters to receive patents for inventions created by their slaves. As it’s done throughout this volume, Black Panther 3 takes this appalling concept and applies it on a cosmic scale.

The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda doesn’t just steal their slaves’ ideas, they rip them straight from their head, stealing their memories and mining them for inventions that can help them prosper. This tidbit immediately comes across as a Chekov’s Gun, priming readers to figure out what ideas the Empire have stolen from T’Challa, even though he’s unable to recognize them even if they’re staring him right in the face.

Once the Empire attacks, Acuña fills the rest of the issue with familiar imagery and colors that any Black Panther or even Avengers reader might be able to recognize, but which, again, T’Challa is completely oblivious to, all leading up to the reveal of their new “weapon,” ripped straight from T’Challa’s memories.

This feels particularly blasphemous, as the Empire isn’t just stealing the memory of one of T’Challa’s closest friends, but the abilities of yet another black man as well. They weren’t chosen to wield the power of the Manifold as Eden Fesi was, nor do they have the intellectual capacity to reverse engineer those abilities as T’Challa might; instead they steal ideas and power from others and claim them as their own, building an entire Empire on these stolen ideas all while oppressing and degrading those who came up with these brilliant ideas in the first place.

As a country built on the back of slavery, the United States has much in common with the Wakandan Empire, and both nations need to come to terms with what they’ve done and who they’ve hurt if they’re ever going to survive, grow, and thrive. If the Wakandan Empire is anything like America they may never reach that point, but T’Challa could be just the man to help them try — unless he’d rather just tear their entire inhuman structure to the ground, and honestly, the Empire would deserve every last iota of his rage.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

One comment on “Stolen Ideas and Intellectual Subjugation in Black Panther 3

  1. Damn, you said nearly everything I wanted to say.

    Though I think Nakia’s use of the word appropriate is important. Which is to say, it isn’t just about how Colonial era America stole knowledge from Africa. But also about how such theft still exists today, in what we now call Cultural Appropriation.

    The problem with America isn’t that it hasn’t come to terms with the horrors it perpetrated in the past. The problem is that it is still happening now. Thanks to the loophole in the 13th Amendment and the crisis of mass incarceration of African-Americans, slavery essentially still exists in America (the California wildfires are a fantastic example of this fact). And cultural appropriation is still a major problem that needs to be addressed.

    In issue one, Coates made a fantastic metaphor to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. In issue 3, Coates reminds us that the very same features of the slave trade he is discussing are happening right now, in 2018

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