Black Geographies: Mapping Political Movements By Malaika Laing-Grant

In my previous article, I briefly touched on the evolution of Black Geographies, as well as some of the prominent thematic areas within the Black Geographies scholarship, including space‐making, and the Black geographic imagination. Here, I investigate the relationship between geographic regions and black political movements as a core and inextricable element of the Black Geographies scholarship. The first approach I take examines the social tactics employed by Black individuals and communities in the face of systemic racism and social injustice. The second, focusses on the ideas of Black thinkers and movements that were active in seeking political alternatives to the racist options offered by mainstream politics. Lastly, I reflect upon the transcendent nature of the emancipatory efforts exercised in the global fight against imperialism. 

Social Movements as an Act of Resistance?

Some scholars of Black Geographies would argue that black social movements emerged as a response to systemic racism, social injustice and efforts to maintain and reproduce the power of the elite. In the face of these daunting realities, critiques of regional power and culture based on the black imaginary manifested in the form of music, Black literature, the arts, and more. Essentially, this emerging discourse moves away from trivial debates on race by a society’s elite. Rather, scholars including Claudia Jones, Stuart Hall, Katherine McKittrick, Bell Hooks, among others, have challenged the mainstream narratives that continue to perpetuate problematic stereotypes and paved the way for a system of explanation that informs daily life, organisational activity, culture, religion, and social movements.

Political Movements in the face of Imperialism?

The second approach, which frames activism against the development of black communities, illustrates how the geographies of white imperialism informs political movements and how these groups perceive themselves. Falling in line with this theory are movements such as the Black Liberation Front, the Mangrove Nine and the British Black Panthers, which had a significant impact on the Black British political landscape and played a key role in the black community in London and elsewhere. The Black Liberation Front in particular, was born out of the historical liberation struggles in Africa and throughout the African diaspora. By establishing supplementary schools, community bookshops, affordable housing for black families and support for black prisoners, the movement focused on developing Pan-African consciousness, consolidating black political identity and challenging the impact of racism in Britain. In essence, the movement reflected the main geographical challenges faced by black communities in the UK at the time; such as the lack of racial integration of black and white families with similar class affiliations, disproportionate incarceration of Black people and the challenges concerning identity. 

Transcending Boundaries

Not only did organisations such as the Black Liberation Front respond to the geographical challenges faced by their communities at home, they also advocated as part of a collective struggle for the liberation of the African continent and throughout the Black/African diaspora. At the heart of this argument lies African/Black Internationalism, the emerging body of intellectual practice and political culture forged in response to slavery, racial oppression and colonialism. Since the emergence of black internationalism during the revolutions of the 1960s and 70s, black political movements in the UK, among the many other influential actors at the time, have been at its forefront.  Their writings and activism espoused a Pan-African, global consciousness and an overarching notion of black liberation. According to Black Geographers, these Pan-African anti-racist works, which connected the African continent with the African Diaspora and black radical movements active at the time, are geographic in nature and provided concrete organisational and institutional structures to facilitate Pan Africanism, liberation and freedom from imperialism in all of its forms and manifestations across the globe.

Importantly, the relevance of Black Geographies is not only limited to the diaspora. In 1896, following years of tense relations with the British, Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of the Asante confederacy, stood firm and mobilised troops to fight against the threat of British imperialism in the Asante nation, located in what is modern-day Ghana. Whilst the Asante ultimately lost to the hands of British imperialists, Yaa Asantewaa remains a powerful reminder of the African resistance against colonialism and the inspirational fight to maintain and reproduce African space due to her impactful actions in empowering her people against the British army. 

Looking Forward.

While Black Geographies has done well in providing an alternative discourse to the Black spatial experience, scholars have been careful not to credit the production of Black geography alone as the sole influence over the formation of black political movements. More recently, we now begin to see the start of a political awakening which has seen the explicit rise of opposing political and academic ideologies within Black/African communities across the globe,  effectively challenging the notion of communalism as a core element of Black spatial agency. This transformation has reared its head as an emerging separation from the perceived black imaginary, often associated with communalism, to the individuality and exclusivity of the modern era.

As academia evolves, it is interesting to see how scholars have established and developed political theory out of the struggles in Africa and throughout the African diaspora to provide us with an opportunity to tear down backwards notions that limit the involvement of our people. However, it is always important to contextualise, given the historical revolutions that have taken place in our diverse societies over the course of the last 500 years. For authors such as the likes of Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, “the types of communalism that are on offer do not appear to take this fact of radical change with the necessary urgency” (O.Táíwò, 2016). It is, therefore, alongside other work in the field of African Studies that I believe that Black Geographies is and can be put to work alongside other disciplines and approaches that have so far been absent in the mainstream narrative.

(Written by Malaika Laing-Grant)

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