In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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I visited Gorée Island in 2003, with a group of black academics, just days after George W. Bush had come to the island and offered platitudes about the cruelties of human history but stopped short of apologizing for the United States’ role in the transatlantic slave trade. Residents of the island greeted us in the markets like long-lost kin. We repeatedly heard some version of “Welcome home, my black brothers and sisters!” But, later, over dinner, a Senegalese guide casually informed us that we were neither their siblings nor even distant kin to Africa, implying that the greetings in the market had been merely a clever sales tactic directed at gullible black Americans who travel to the continent in search of roots, as if they were abused foster kids futilely seeking their birth parents. “You are Americans. That is all,” she said. This exchange took place fifteen years ago, but I can still recall the way her words hung in the air, like a guilty verdict. The policy of “No Return,” she suggested, applied to distant descendants, too.
Africa—or, rather, “Africa”—is a creation of a white world and the literary, academic, cinematic, and political mechanisms that it used to give mythology the credibility of truth. No such nation as Wakanda exists on the map of the continent, but that is entirely beside the point. Wakanda is no more or less imaginary than the Africa conjured by Hume or Trevor-Roper, or the one canonized in such Hollywood offerings as “Tarzan.” It is a redemptive counter-mythology.
Sydney Bradley, Editorial Intern
Excerpt from “ ‘Black Panther’ and the Invention of ‘Africa,’” The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, February 18, 2018
I think back to the conversation my father and I had earlier in our booth at Ricardo’s. Ricardo’s is the only Mexican restaurant I have been to at this point in my life, Mexican restaurants being nowhere near as commonplace then as they are now, so I have no point of comparison, but decades later, living in California, I will come to understand that Ricardo’s was a Mexican restaurant of the old school: half-elegant, red Naugahyde and dark wood trimmed in wrought iron, a throwback even then to an era when white people thought of Mexico as an exotic land inhabited by cacti, burros, men in sombreros, and Lupe Vélez. For my father, a Brooklyn boy, there was still something romantic in 1967 about tacos and tamales. To me, there was a solemnity in the iron-and-wood interior, the chill, the shadowed booths. Meals there took on an adult air of significance. At the front of the restaurant, the cashier sat behind a glass display case, well stocked with candy, gum, cigarettes, and, especially, cigars, laid out in ornate and colorful boxes that depicted great generals and queens, gods of ancient Egypt, Indians in full regalia.
Paul Reyes, Editor
Excerpt from “The Recipe for Life,” The New Yorker, Michael Chabon, February 5, 2018
Shuri (played by Letitia Wright2) is the sister of T’Challa, the king of Wakanda and the film’s titular character. She oversees the technological operations of the superscientific nation. If you’re comparing T’Challa to James Bond, she’s Q.
She’s also the funniest character in the movie, steals every scene she’s in and — for my money — the most important character.
Here’s why: The volume of evidence shows that when audiences see on-screen representations of themselves, particularly aspirational ones, that experience can fundamentally change how they perceive their own place in the world. Black people have been historically underrepresented on screen, and black women in strong roles even more so. Shuri provides a science-y role model for black women, a group distinctly underrepresented in STEM fields.
Jenn Boggs, Graphic Designer
Excerpt from “ ‘Black Panther’ Is Groundbreaking, But It’s Shuri Who Could Change The World,” FiveThirtyEight, Walt Hickey, February 16, 2018