RIP Chadwick Boseman: Message to the King


On Tuesday, I rolled over groggily to the sound of chirping from my phone. I actually set like five alarms because I’m always tired and sleep through the first three without fail. The phone, on the opposite end of the dresser charging, might as well be across a chasm. 

So in an awkward rolling, inchworm, no-hands motion, I try to wiggle towards the device without waking up or even shaking off a blanket that’s stuck to my skin. Fall is on the horizon with cooler nights as August winds down, but it’s still stifling once the sun has risen. It’s almost back-to-school with COVID time in the city.

“Hey Queen,” someone has sent in a text. I blink and then smirk to myself.

I wonder about the arbitrary regal titles Black people tend to give one another. Out in the street, on a bus, as a greeting, it’s the casual ‘queen’ or ‘sis’ directed at me from brown-skinned men and women that tend to make me smile. There’s almost no effort to it. Of course, we all get that with the degradation of slavery and displacement for those us with African ancestors there’s no chance all of us come from monarchies. Wakanda and Zamunda may not be real, but they inspire us.

I’m of the mind that my people were a lot closer to John Henry and his unbeatable hammer than Sundiata the Lion King of Old Mali in ancient Africa.

Still the title lingers in the air like a perfumed scent. The ‘kings and queens’ and ‘brothas and sistas’ coyly create their own category outside of forced labels. It brings comfort and elevation to a race that sees every other morning darkened with more Black bodies in the streets. 

They are either cut down by police unarmed– a few hours after waking up, I read about Jacob Blake. Or they are shot up by their own– a few hours after getting ready, I’m after another rally against senseless gun violence in the community. Or they are murdered by militia with a hard-on for “common sense” justice– a few days later, a gang member and his clearly brandished rifle are unscathed.

I’m underselling it. It might be every day that death comes, so I cherish the small moments of comradery in which someone else feels it necessary to point out a regality that I don’t see and clearly don’t possess through lineage. 

Chadwick Boseman By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0,

On Friday, I wake up to a news alert about Chadwick Boseman’s death and the silent, crushing wail of millions mourning the loss of a ‘King.’ The astonishing and unanimous decision to honor the passing of Boseman as if he were an–honest to God and Defender of the Faith Elizabeth II–natural born King, and superhero, warmed my heart to the point of breaking.  

He poured his life into shattering stereotypes, bearing pain and ridicule, and bringing galvanized Black heroes and superheroes to the big screen. I can remember almost down to the day, years ago, having a raucous conversation with my college friends insisting that Hollywood would never let a Black Panther movie be because it was too powerful an image of Blackness that would scare people. 

Pops and my sisters watch the movie on repeat in the living room while I spend Friday morning sitting with my fears of being a queen and falling from grace, of being too Black and not Black enough, of being too Brooklyn and not Brooklyn enough, of failure and greatness. At best, I’m allowed a life that leaves behind a literary legacy and dies surrounded by loved ones. At worst, I can hope to not die violently like my brothas and sistas whose Blackness was weaponized. 

On Sunday morning, I get up early to twist my hair, a crown of kinks. I go shopping to stockpile the fridge. I listen in on the family prayer call and giggle at how Jesus caught up on some sleep while a whole boat of believers flipped shit at the prospect of drowning in the storm. Come evening, I get ready to go back out to work.   

Hey queen, I think, not bad odds for a comics nerd that used to daydream of being a writer on her grandma’s front porch.