My Blackness Travels: Some Thoughts on The Imperative of Global Black Solidarity

The title of this post signifies on the statement, “On the Imperative of Transnational Black Solidarity,” written by a group of U.S. Black women academics after the assassination of Marielle Franco in Brazil in 2018. The statement was inspired in form, by the Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)

A protester holds a placard in Kingston, Jamaica on June 6, 2020

I was born and grew up in Jamaica and have lived in the United States for almost a decade. As a Black woman, an Africana studies scholar and a Pan-Africanist I believe in global Black/African solidarity; and I write this column in strong support of the 2020 U.S. uprising against racism and all of the global protests that this uprising spurred. Conversations in the international media about race primarily focus on the U.S. — mostly because the U.S. media is so widely disseminated and the country has very powerful racialized institutions overseen by its majority White population. Therefore, we need to consistently push for a transnational understanding of the breadth of structural inequalities faced by Black people. In March to May, 2020, Susan Bogle in Jamaica,  João Pedro Matos Pinto in Brazil and Breonna Taylor in the U.S. were shot in their homes by law enforcers seeking to catch alleged criminals. The circumstances of their deaths, races of the people who killed them, and nationalities were different, but their lives matter equally. While we emphasize the common humanity of Black people we should recognize the significant national differences in our daily existence. In the U.S., anti-Blackness operates in racially explicit and often lethal ways, in combination with structural inequalities that privilege Whiteness.

Race is an overwhelming factor in daily interactions with the police in the United States. Many of us experience the fear of abuse at a routine traffic stop and Black parents often worry that their children might be arrested for misbehaving at school. Besides the police, there is a threat that you could be harassed or killed by an armed White civilian who thinks that you are intruding on their space; and it is possible that person would not be held accountable in the aftermath. These threats cut across class, notwithstanding the comparative clout of wealthy Black people.  At the college where I teach in Ohio, several Black and Brown students have been physically and verbally attacked on the street by White men. Armed nazis and other racists don’t hesitate to march when they feel like it on the streets of the U.S.; and individual racists routinely send death threats to outspoken Black activists and academics. Moreover, there are drastic differences between how Blacks and Whites as racial groups experience COVID-19 in the U.S., which is now the center of the pandemic. APM Research Lab reported in May 2020 that 50.2 percent of the deaths from COVID-19 are of Black people, though we are only approximately 13 percent of the population.

A protester in Kingston, Jamaica on June 6, 2020

The 2020 uprising is driven by more than the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Most abuses by police officers are scarcely featured in the national media, much less the international ones. For instance, Tanisha Anderson, a Cleveland woman, died on an icy sidewalk after police slammed her onto the pavement and handcuffed her from behind, stifling her. The mainstream media focused more on  Tamir Rice’s murder, 10 days later in the same city. [1] One victim was an unarmed mentally ill woman in a nightgown, the other, a 12-year old boy with a toy gun. The website, Mapping Police Violence states that Black people killed by the police (mostly male, but also female) are more likely to be unarmed than White people killed by the police, and the level of violent crime in a community does not determine its rate of police killings. Added to these abuses are systemic racial inequities in healthcare, the prison industrial complex, voting rights and education. The argument that class determines racial outcomes is reasonable, but has limits. For example, the CDC reports that the pregnancy related mortality risk of a college-educated Black woman is 5.2 times that of a college-educated White woman. All of these structures exist in the most powerful capitalist country on earth.

This post is not engaging in a debate about which nation of Black people is most oppressed. Rather, I am assessing why there is a weeks-long uprising in the U.S. at this time. It is not radical to say we are mistreated globally. Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the leaders who influenced him, realized this fact centuries ago. The Universal Negro Improvement Association which began in Jamaica in 1914,[2] became the largest Black organization in history after he moved to the U.S. in the midst of protests around lynching and other racist acts. Before he was forced out of that country, the UNIA built over 1052 divisions on almost every continent. The U.S. still is the main center of African/Black migration from around the world, and critical to transnational Black consciousness. Similarly, Britain was a critical site in the birth of Pan-Africanism, because numerous African and Caribbean intellectuals and activists lived there in the 19th to early 20th centuries — an indication of the wide reach of the British empire. Many Black intellectuals and activists of that era who lived both in the U.S. and Britain were Caribbean-born, or had Caribbean parents. The list includes, Harry Belafonte; Amy Ashwood Garvey; Stokely Carmichael; Amy Jacques Garvey; Claudia Jones; Malcolm X’s mother, Louise Little; Claude McKay; and Audre Lorde.

Our fates are joined. The ongoing use of military tactics for crime control and space control throughout the Americas, are connected to a network of militarism and gun violence in the world, with poor Black people as the main targets/collateral damage. Many police officers and soldiers are themselves poor Black people who are vulnerable to violence. There are also economic vulnerabilities at the international level. In Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean we feel our precarity in relation to wealthy White majority countries, particularly as we go about reopening our tourism industries following COVID-19 lockdowns. With a global understanding of racial power structures, we all must support the U.S. uprising. Concurrently we must continue to bolster the reparations movements in the Caribbean, Africa, North America and elsewhere; and support the many grassroots groups who have been doing anti-violence organizing for decades, human rights organizations, and investigative bodies, like Jamaicans for Justice and INDECOM in Jamaica. We must collectively demand government support for pro-peace organizations like the Peace Management Initiative, whose  government funding was recently cut. The protests that erupted globally following the U.S. uprisings were not just organized in solidarity with Black people in America. After half a millennium of White supremacy and its attendant structures, it seems we have reached the tipping point. This tipping point was further sharpened by the socio-medical disruptions of COVID-19. Already existing movements against colonialism, racism, and systemic inequities have mobilized in more public ways over the past three weeks. These movements involve a diverse set of activists who do not necessarily speak in a European language, or march under an explicit banner of racial equality, but their work is vital to how we understand social justice advocacy in our respective countries. We have to join and/or support them. As we prop up our activists, we should support small Black businesses when we can afford to, read scholarship about African/Black people, follow African/Black owned media, and build Black children’s self-esteem with toys and books about them. We must also apply forms of self-care rooted in Africana and decolonial ways of knowing in order to re-energize and heal.

In 2015, the Fees Must Fall movement in South Africa was sparked by a reaction to an announced hike in university fees, but more broadly by the failure of the post-apartheid state to address social inequities.[3] I was heartened by the way that FMF and Black-led student movements in the U.S. and other countries inspired each other. The Movement for Black Lives gained momentum in the U.S. and transnationally from 2013 to 2015. Before that, in 2011 in England, nationwide anti-racist protests (commonly called the “London Riots”) were spurred by the police killing of a Black man, Mark Duggan. These uprisings resonated internationally. Our activisms are inextricably linked, just as the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), the Emancipation War in Jamaica (1831-32) and the Demerara Rebellion (1823) were linked to other resistances to slavery that didn’t make it to the forefront of history. If ever there are weeks-long sustained protests in the Caribbean around IMF imperialism, land grabs and socio-economic injustice, I would expect international solidarity. And if asked why they support African/Black movements in other parts of the world, I expect Black Americans to say, “I’m Black ain’t I?” like one exchange student in Jamaica during the 1999 nationwide protests against gas price increases. We can put our energies behind uprisings when they happen, while advocating for justice globally. 

Love.

I am grateful to Mr. Marlon Moore, Dr. Keisha-Khan Perry and Mr. Edward Shakes for reading, commenting and making suggestions on earlier versions of this blog.

Header image: Protests in London, June 2020| ABC News. https://abc7ny.com/thousands-gather-in-london-as-george-floyd-inspired-protests-sweep-the-world/6229236/



[1] The major reason for the discrepancy in reporting is that Black males are the main victims of police killings. Another is the prevalence of the notion that racist violence is mostly driven by the fear of Black men. I am convinced that another major reason is that the killing and assaults of Black females appear more brutal and irrational than the killing of males and force White people to reckon with the depth of racist violence; even while Black women and girls are often stereotyped as aggressive.  #SayHerName began as a corrective to this tendency.

[2] Garvey with the help of some associates, including his first wife, Amy Ashwood founded the Universal Negro Improvement (and Conservation) Association and African Communities League in Kingston, Jamaica in 1914. Garvey had the idea to form the UNIA-ACL after living in Panama, Costa Rica, and Britain, becoming involved in protests, and learning from Pan-African intellectuals in Britain like the Sudanese-Egyptian African nationalist, Dusé Mohammed Ali.  He went to the U.S. in 1916 with plans to raise money for the UNIA-ACL but stayed there for over a decade after the movement grew. He was wrongfully convicted for mail fraud in 1925 and deported to Jamaica in 1927. In addition to surveilling him, the U.S. government capitalized on the conflicts between Garvey and his Black detractors, some of whom were xenophobic. At its height in the late-1920s the UNIA-ACL had over 1052 registered divisions in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, Europe, North America and Australasia. See Robert Hill ed. The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Vol. VII, appendix X (Berkeley and LA: University of California Press, 1990)

[3] Fees Must Fall was preceded and influenced by the Rhodes Must Fall movement, which began with the removal from the University of Cape Town, of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British colonizer, who is often called the father of apartheid.

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