There seems to be some confusion about Pan Africanism and how it relates to Black American identity. The purpose of grounding the Black identity in an understanding of ourselves as African people is not just for us to have an over-romanticized vision or perspective of ourselves.
The purpose is for us to center ourselves in who we are. Understanding our position in the world, on the global stage helps us to understand our condition better and strategize better to improve it. “Dr. John Henrik Clarke reminded us that Black tells you what you look like, but it doesn’t tell you who you are.”
This is why every serious Pan Africanist understands that locally, nationally, and globally speaking – African peoples gain better insight, perspectives, and strategies when confronting oppression through a collaborative effort. That is why Malcolm X told us, “You can’t understand what is going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what is going on in the Congo. And you can’t really be interested in what’s going on in Mississippi if you’re not also interested in what’s going on in the Congo. They’re both the same. The same interests are at stake. The same sides are drawn up, the same schemes are at work in the Congo that are at work in Mississippi..”
The most recent example of this is the coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic. The western medical industry has historically implemented forced medical testing on people of African descent. Recently, French doctors openly suggested that vaccines and medications be tested on African populations first.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., The Trump Administration is starting medical testing in Detroit, a city with a majority Black population. This is not a coincidence. It’s another example of how no matter where we live, Black bodies are considered as testing grounds for medical experimentation – often forced, painful, or deadly.
Globally, African people and people of African descent experience this harm as a collective. Thus, it is within our best interest to counter them collectively.
These collaborative efforts don’t mean that everything will be easy, and there will be no issues. And I think that’s where most of the confusion comes in. Some people believe that by advocating for Pan Africanism, we’re saying that instantly everything is going to be all sunshine and roses. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that globally, African people share common bonds, struggles, and cultural linkages. We also share common threats that are connected to global systems of oppression so much so that it is highly beneficial to combine our efforts and work with each other in some capacity.
This is a much better strategy than isolationism or xenophobia. In essence, all of these things have been tried before, and none of it has helped the masses of any African nation or community of African descendants throughout the Diaspora.
Anti-Black xenophobia or isolationism has only made things worse.
Additionally, a grounding in Black identity with an understanding of ourselves as African people helps us to better tap into cultural awareness that centers our worldview. It helps to uplift African self-determination and provides the wisdom that guides effective strategies and tools that come from within our communities and cultural understandings. And still a recognition of African identity as Black Americans or wherever you are as an African descendant on the planet – is not an attempt to erase our cultural differences. Yes, Pan Africanism emphasizes similarities, but it also celebrates our differences because we’re able to build from various viewpoints and perspectives to strategize to make our collective conditions better.
That’s not erasure, that’s just called being smart. That is why when we look at the forefathers and foremothers of Pan Africanism, we see Trinidadians, Haitians, Jamaicans, African Americans, continental Africans, Puerto Ricans, the list goes on – eagerly learning from each other, inspiring each other, building liberation movements, and engaging in mutual aid. They worked in support of Pan African freedom, respect, and unity across the world.
Pan African unity is why Martin Luther King Jr. went to Ghana, met with Kwame Nkrumah, attended the Ghanian Independence ceremonies, and returned to the United States with a refreshed perspective on civil rights and Black freedom that was directly inspired by African movements for independence.
Pan African unity is why Malcolm X met with African leaders, pushed for African Americans to reconnect with our African heritage, advocated for Pan Africanism, and actively organized to connect African Americans with African communities. (Please read his 1964 speech at the University of Ghana for additional context.)
Pan African unity is why the mother of the reparations movement – Audley “Queen Mother” Moore was a member of the UNIA (founded by Marcus Garvey and Amy Ashwood Garvey). She went on to found the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, the Committee for Reparations for Descendants of U.S. Slaves, and the Republic of New Afrika.
And it’s saddening that there are currently some people claiming to advocate for reparations, using the work of Queen Mother Moore, while also seeking to disconnect us from our African heritage. This anti-African sentiment is a direct contradiction to Queen Mother Moore’s life’s work.
She advocated for reparations AND Pan Africanism. She viewed herself, a Black American woman, as an African in America.
When asked about her work, she said,” I have done everything I could to promote the cause of African freedom and to keep alive the teaching of Garvey and the work of the UNIA.“
Our ancestors, that have been doing the work to keep us alive and create a better future, knew who they were – Africans in America.
There are so many examples to pull from, but I’ll keep it short for now.
There is also a false narrative floating around that Pan Africanism is an old ideology that came, went, and withered away – when nothing could be further from the truth.
Pan Africanism is alive and well. It is my firm belief that as long as Black people are alive on this planet, Pan Africanism will endure because it has to.
The only people that believe this false narrative of the death of Pan Africanism are people that are not themselves involved in Pan Africanist movements. I’m reminded by an Ashanti proverb that states, “By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.”
They don’t know what they are talking about because they are not involved in the process. In 2015, Africans and African descendants from across the continent and Diaspora gathered for the 8th Pan African Congress in Ghana. I was there along with my colleagues from the North American delegation. The Pan African Congress is part of the Global Pan African Movement that consists of activists, scholars, artists, and organizations locally and internationally across many different fields working in coalition with each other to improve the lives of African and African descendants across the world.
Also, Pan Africanism is why the Global Reparations Movement continues to move forward. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) has advocated for reparations for people of African descent in America since 1987 with national and international supporters. Then, Caribbean activists and leaders created the CARICOM Reparations Commission, which directly inspired the creation of the National African American Reparations Commission and European Reparations Commission. These initiatives consist of Pan Africanists from around the world that work in coalition with each other.
So, this false narrative of the death of Pan Africanism derives from not only ignorance, but also laziness, and anti-Blackness from a myopic worldview that would only put our communities further behind.
We can have and should encourage various perspectives on how to best uplift our communities.
But what we can’t do is allow ourselves to become so downtrodden and short-sighted that we succumb to anti-Black ideologies that continuously promote divisions instead of unity.
In the same speech I referenced earlier by Malcolm X, he emphasized our need for Pan African Unity. He stated,“When you see that the African nations at the international level comprise the largest representative body and the largest force of any continent, why, you and I would be out of our minds not to identify with that power bloc. We would be out of our minds, we would actually be traitors to ourselves, to be reluctant or fearful to identify with people with whom we have so much in common.”
Malcolm’s statements remind me of a Nigerian proverb, “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges, and the foolish build dams.”
And right now, there are far too many of us advocating foolishness.
At this point in our journey, none of us can afford isolationism and unnecessary divisiveness. For Black Americans, we need to remember that we are still Africans connected to the global Pan African world. It is perfectly fine for us to advocate for ourselves, but we should never lose sight of working in coalition with the Pan African world. We should always remember the importance of Pan African unity.
Because Pan Africanism is how we have survived and will continue to survive.
Any ideology that says otherwise is to our detriment.
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor
Mothers of Pan-Africanism: Audley Moore and Dara Abubakari by Ashley D. Farmer
Audley Moore (1898-1997) BlackPast.org by Dwayne Mack
Audley Moore and the Modern Reparations Movement by Ashley Farmer
Audley Moore, Black Women’s Activism, and Nationalist Politics by Keisha N. Blain
The African Roots of MLK’s Vision by Mohammed Elnaiem
National Coalition of Black for Reparations in America
CARICOM Reparations Commission
Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom
Dr. John Henrick Clarke vs Cornell West: “Debate” on Afrikan Nationalism
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Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector by Elinor Des Verney Sinnette
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