The issue of the centring of the Black resistance struggle, through the Black Lives Matter movement around Black America has raised a heated debate on twitter. The debate is that Black Lives Matter effectively focuses on Black (hetero-male) lives, which erases not only the lives of Black women, LBGTQ and so forth, in America, but also the Black diaspora; in the UK, France,(rest of Europe) etc, Brazil (South America), and so forth. This debate began as a result of a discussion around police brutality, and the statistics of deaths in police custody (I’m not here to clear up the who said whats, I want to discuss Black solidarity).
This centring of Black America in the Black liberation movement is not new. What have to do is to understand why Black America, historically, has been centred, and no is not through the wishes or desires of Black Americans themselves. The centring of the Black Americans happens mainly as a result of two factors. The first reason is globalisation and U.S. cultural imperialism. Black America is a sub-group of the American society and has had an overwhelming cultural influence in the U.S; in music – Hip Hop, Rock and Roll, Blues etc – literature, drama, theatre, movies and television, and sports, which has had a global impact due to American hegemonic imperialism, and the fact that the United States were able to make so much money from Black America.
The second reason is distraction. Here in the UK, and in a lot other western countries; particularly those in Europe, we mainly learn about the Black civil rights struggle in our education system, as opposed to the domestic struggle, which has a two-fold effect; primarily it provides a single narrative and disconnects it from the rest of the Black diaspora. For example, they’ll teach you about Martin Luther King, and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts (which we should all deservedly know), but they won’t teach about how King went to Ghana for the independence and inauguration of Kwame Nkrumah as the first President of Ghana, in order to organise politically (which we should all deservedly know too). The other effect is that often case America is used as a comparison to highlight, seemingly, how much worse Black people are treated in America, because their oppression was legislated and more tangible; Jim Crow, police brutality, etc, and how we should not complain if we are Black in the UK, France, or any other diaspora outside of America.
Another point to make is how sometimes we, the Black diaspora outside of America, internalise this centring of Black America, and re-perpetuate American exceptionalism, through no demand of their own. We too often use AAVE/Black American slang, we used to rap in American accents, and even dress similarly. Much of this is due to global representation of a singular Blackness – those of Black America – and how it has impacted us both on a positive and negative.
The question of Black American solidarity with the rest of the Black diaspora is one that is very quickly and easily answered. There are countless examples where historically Black America has shown solidarity with the global Black diaspora and the continent of Africa, and this relationship has been reciprocal. Here are some examples:
Malcolm X: In 1964 Malcolm X visited Nigeria where he was initiated in the Yoruba tradition, and given the named “Omowale” meaning “the child (who) has come home”. In a letter written whilst he was in Nigeria, X says “here in Africa, the 22 million American blacks are looked upon as the long-lost brothers of Africa. Our people here are interested in every aspect of our plight, and they study our struggle for freedom from every angle. Despite Western propaganda to the contrary, our African brothers and sisters love us, and are happy to learn that we also are awakening from our long "sleep" and are developing strong love for them”.
Furthermore, in another speech to the youth in Mississipi youth in December of 1964 (when Malcolm returned from his African Sankofa journey) he made the following statement: “in my opinion, the greatest accomplishment that was made in the struggle of the black (wo)man in America in 1964 toward some kind of real progress was the successful linking together of our problem with the African problem, or making our problem a world problem”.
Malcolm X also came to Smethwick, UK (not London!), to organise and fight against the racism and oppression experience by Black people here.
Namdi Azikwe and Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria and first President of Ghana, respectively, both studied at Lincoln University, which is a Historically Black College/University (HBCU).
W.E.B Du Bois, Phd, Writer Educator, Scholar, founder of the NAACP, spent the remaining years of his life in Ghana, working as a special advisor to Kwame Nkrumah. Du Bois also organise the first Pan-African Congress in London, 1919.
Kwame Toure, formerly known as Stokely Carmichaeal, originally from Trinidad in the Caribbean, was a revolutionary civil rights (Black Panther Party) and pan-African activist (AAPRP – All Afrikan Peoples Revolutionary Party) married South African singer Miriam Makeba in 1968 and relocated to Guinea where he became an aide to Guinean President Ahmed Sekou Toure.
In 1935, a number of African Americans volunteered to fight in the Ethiopian resistance war against Italian colonialism, many of whom would later re-settle there or eventually pass away.
And to finish with another poignant example, a persona favourite of mine: Jean Grae’s (African American rapper/MC) verse in Black Girl Pain –
“This is for Beatrice Bertha Benjamin who gave birth to Tsidi Azeeda
For Lavender Hill, for Khayelitsha
Athlone Mitchell's Plain, Swazi girls I'm repping for thee
Manenberg, Gugulethu; where you'd just be blessed to get through
For beauty shining through like the sun at the highest noon
From the top of the cable car at Table Mountain; I am you
Girls with the skyest blue of eyes and the darkest skin
For Cape Coloured for realizing we're African
For all my cousins back home, the strength of Mommy's backbone
The length of which she went for raising, sacrificing her own
The pain of not reflecting the range of our complexions
For rubber pellet scars on Auntie Elna's back, I march
Fist raised, caramel shining, in all our glory
For Mauritius, St. Helena; my blood is a million stories
Winnie for Joan and for Eadie, for Norma, Leslie, Ndidi
For Auntie Betty, for Melanie; all the same family
Fiona, Jo Burg, complex of mixed girls
For surviving through every lie they put into us now
This worlds yours', and I swear I will stand focused
Black girls, raise up your hands; the world should clap for us”.
These are examples that easily accessible and researched, which shows us the strength of solidarity. And that historically, Black America has not centred itself in the struggle by choice, but when we have been most successful is when we have been connected and unified. Also, it is important to critique each other, as well as ourselves. I strongly believe we must self-critique if we are to move forward. Hence, if we are to question Black America and the centring of the struggle – via BLM – to domestic Black American issues, we have to also ask ourselves in the remaining Black diaspora, how much we centre ourselves and place our own issues above that of our brothers and sisters on the African continent. We protest about Black deaths in the U.S., and in the U.K, but what about Brazil, where the biggest Black diaspora is found, approximately 120 million, and where on average, a Black person is killed by police every 7 hours? Or Congo, where earlier this year, over 400 bodies were found in a mass grave outside Kinshasa believed to be the bodies of protesters who went missing from protests earlier in the year?
The point I am making, and I hope that this is the message that is left with whoever reads this post, is that the same system that oppresses and allows the indiscriminate murder of Black people in police custody in the U.S., Brazil, U.K, France, and the rest of the diaspora, is the same system that oppressors our brothers and sisters on the continent. And that we have always had greater success in self-determining our existence when we have connected the issues that we face, rather than divided them.
If we are to be successful once more, which is inevitable, we must critique each other, yes, but in love, and organise to connect with each other, which is so much easier to do given the facility that is provide with modern technology.