In a recent interview, Michael B. Jordan said “We don’t have any mythology, black mythology, or folklore. Creating our own mythology is very important because it helps dream. You help people dream.” While the intentions behind the statement were likely good, there is a big problem with what he said. Black people absolutely have our own mythology and folklore, just as rich as any other culture.
Throughout the African diaspora, there are so many different stories of creatures and gods that have been passed down for generations. Jordan’s comments reveal an ignorance which many people have about black mythology. Since it is not taught as much as other mythologies, like Greek and Norse, there is generally a lack of knowledge surrounding it. However, that does not mean that black mythology does not exist. It’s possible to defend Jordan’s lack of knowledge on African culture on him being disconnected from Africa as African American. However, black Americans have our own folklore too. We have many heroes who have been shining examples of bravery and courage, like John Henry.
John Henry’s story has been passed down for centuries through films, books, songs, and poems. Sometimes, John is in Virginia in the tales and other times he’s in Alabama. However, the core plot of his story always stays the same. John Henry was a black railroad worker somewhere in the south during the 19th century. He was the strongest and fastest worker that there was. One day, a salesman comes along with a steam-powered machine that was supposedly able to outwork any man. John Henry decided to test that theory. A race between the John and machine on who could drill faster was set up. John won the race but died due to the stress that it put on his body.
Though John Henry was just a railroad worker, he is a hero to African American. John is an example of how strong and resilient we are. John’s determination to not let the machine replace him is the same as black people who have refused to simply die under white supremacy for over 400 years. Even though he died, John Henry was not afraid of fighting back. He shows the black people that they do not have sit and take whatever is being thrown at them. He fought back and continue to fight back until he died. John Henry, a black man in the south during the Jim Crow era, declared that he would not back down. That powerful message to African Americans shows us that we have the power to push back against our oppression.
There is a reason that John Henry’s story has been constantly told. His strength inspires us to be our strongest selves. African Americans are constantly being reminded of our history of slavery and being the victims of white supremacy. Our history has been stained by the harm that came to our ancestors. Seeing a black man stand strong when everything is against him shows us that there is more to our lives than suffering from racism. John Henry shows us how strong we can be. He shows us how much power we truly have.
A black person might not have the muscles that John Henry had. However, they have something that they do well. Based on that John Henry’s example, they can do whatever they want, powerfully, despite what is against them. John Henry is truly an inspiration to black people everywhere. His story deserves to be told much more frequently than it is. Black kids deserve to have a hero who makes them powerful. They should know that they have their own folklore and mythology and it is beautiful.