A black global conversation

To: Focus
From: Rinaldo Walcott
September 9, 2015, 10:21 AM

So I have been thinking that one way to conceive of Black Lives Matter as both slogan and organizing principle is to think of it as shock and trauma. Behind my claim is an assumption. The assumption is that black people both on the USA and elsewhere have been shocked and traumatized by forms of naked racist violence that many had perceived to be behind us. In the post-Obama era many of us wanted to believe that more naked forms of racist violence would recede but the reverse has been shockingly clear. Indeed, the trauma of the moment is one conceived by the central contradiction of how does one reconciled that the most powerful man in the world (symbolically) is a black man and that black people everywhere appear to be the scourge of the earth? It is the starkness of the contradiction, one that otherwise might be demobilizing that has been energetically mobilizing. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting the BLM the movement exists because Obama is in the White House. Rather I am suggesting that his presence there bears down heavily on the moment and the movement and how we might think it and think about it.

Anyone who cares to know, knows that three black, queer women coined the term BLM in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin. The still lingering collective trauma of his death, followed by so many others, in what appeared to be a quick succession, added an important and necessary impetus and energy to mobilizing against state violence in this moment. Significantly, in the era of social media and its multiple intimacies, noticing those same state practices in other national spaces has been a significant boost for transnational black political identification and action. BLM is a significant symbolic rally cry that achieves a certain kind of diasporic intimacy. Nonetheless it is fraught with many complications and complexities as it is extended into other national spaces.

In the Canadian context, the dire conditions of black life makes BLM as both slogan and movement a not surprising political identification for black people here. However, black Canadians do not have access to the levers of political power in the same way that African Americans have political institutions that broker black voters and their concerns into the mainstream political process. Indeed, one might argue that black Canadian political life and thus political desires, aspirations — and not even policy — is far removed from the Canadian political process and scene. I write this as a federal election is taking place in Canada. The Liberal Party of Canada has as one of its star candidate the former police chief of Toronto. The chief has been a stalwart of our stop and frisk policy called “carding.” None of the leaders of the political parties have felt pressure of any kind to speak to a practice like carding that disproportionately affects black Canadians. In fact, the leader to the left party has promise to fund another 2,500 police. So in some ways the urgency of BLM holds important resonance for black Canadians. Canadian institutions all of them render black life invisible and tangential to the nation as a whole.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

The importance then of BLM as transnational, as diasporic in identification and sensibility is crucially important. And yet one gets a strange and uncomfortable feeling that its diasporic desires, too, will wane. One feels a certain time-sensitive and thinly narrow national desire that limits its political potential. The power of BLM has been in its call to notice what is immediately around you and therefore to notice the local and the national. It is at the international that it’s complications reveal themselves. How do we account for the USA imperial project in black face? How do we think about global black dispossession when nation-states remain still sturdy in the face of fluid capital? How might we think the black global as more than the immediacy of our local and or national condition? Such questions find themselves being bitterly debated now, especially on social media as the complications of BLM. The power of BLM is the black global conversation it has in part rekindled, how it is resolved remains to be seen. We still nonetheless have to pose the question what might freedom be in this moment.

Rinaldo

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