On day two of the World Social Forum, we were excited to attend a discussion called “Building PanAfrican Unity in the 21st Century” hosted by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. This event was of particular interest to us because even though the forum is being held in Africa, there are only a few programs that directly discuss race, PanAfricanism and the African diaspora – including a program on the ideas of Thomas Sankara and a workshop for Black Tunisians.
The lively group had a meaningful discussion that included representatives from New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Brazil and the Republic of New Afrika. During the two-hour session, we thought about ways in which communities of Africans in the diaspora can work together to break down walls of communication. The Brazilians — who were part of the Coordenação Nacional de Entidades Negras (CONEN) delegation — discussed how language barriers make it difficult for Black people from around the world to talk about their experiences with each other. They observed how in Salvador, Bahia some African Americans who visit or go there to work refuse to learn Portuguese and expect everyone to speak English. By not attempting to reach out and communicate, some of us are giving off the impression that we look down on Black people from other countries. We can build a more effective PanAfrican coalition by working together across our language differences and finding common ground.
Another aspect of the conversation focused around building infrastructures of engagement to foster activism grounded in the experiences of Black people in the diaspora. In particular, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is interested in dismantling structures of inequalities that continue to exist both at home and abroad — like ending police brutality and the occupation of Palestine. By supporting the work of people fighting racial injustice around the world, PanAfricanism can establish a framework of progressive action.
As we discussed these heady concepts, it became clear that a PanAfrican movement must be comfortable with the diversity of people of African descent. This diversity is evident in our different colors, religions, locations, cultural expressions, histories, classes, genders and sexualities. For PanAfricanism to be a truly empowering and effective movement, we must remember that our community is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds. We acknowledged that the challenges of this piece of puzzle are because of the psychological systems of oppression that have manifested in self-hate — the phenomenon of skin bleaching and Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill are examples. We felt that perhaps one way to move forward would be to construct a 21st century “Black is Beautiful” campaign that promoted self-love and communal appreciation. Through respectful and sincere inclusion of all difference, PanAfricanism is strengthened.
Last, the group agreed that above all, it is important that PanAfricanism maintains clarity about its goals of ending the oppression of all people while strengthening and gaining independence and freedom for African people around the world. Many issues discussed at the World Social Forum are not only Black issues — such as human trafficking, immigration and debt — but disproportionately lower the life chances of people of African descent.
How do you think PanAfricanism should define itself in the 21st century? What are the biggest challenges to building a unified PanAfrican movement? How do you think communities can overcome those obstacles? Join the conversation the comments or on Facebook and Twitter!