The Traveling Metaphor and Politics of Black Lives Matter
From: Rinaldo Walcott
Date: September 30, 2015, 8:21am
Does BLM travel? Of course it does. However let me risk a move here that might help us to think about the difference between a particular and specific politics of BLM traveling, as opposed to BLM traveling as a metaphor. The power of metaphor is both in its elasticity and its contraction — that is, what it allows in and what it cannot. As my colleagues, have pointed out here, in particular Joy James and Che Gossett, BLM has practiced a politics of transnational political identification that is both within the black radical tradition (in relation to Palestine) and simultaneously hampered by empire in black face, as the Obama administration, for example, drones East Africa and the Middle East, and uses Kenya and Ethiopia as proxies for its resource wars in Africa, among other imperial projects globally.
The present and urgent fate of Haitians demands that we see and witness the complicities of empire in our time. My concern here is that Haitians must attempt to make a life in the context of a global order that wishes them to disappear — from everywhere. As Haitians move within the Caribbean region we witness the limits of modernist ideals, the most obvious being that of nation and citizenship. Haitian movement calls our attention to the reigning logics of white supremacist organization of all of our lives. Indeed what travels from BLM is the emphasis on a life, on what a life might be, on how we might achieve our lives. And it is in this endeavour, the one of achieving a life, that Haiti re-joins African most spectacularly.
So let me briefly turn our attention to the African refugee crisis and the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar as a stretching of the metaphor and the politics of BLM. The late Stuart Hall has taught us that migration is the “joker in the globalisation pack,” that planned and unplanned migrations threaten to undo and upend neoliberal regimes of capital movement, while labour is supposed to stand still and often people are discarded when no longer needed.
Indeed, while BLM might have been politically activated by state violence, most spectacularly police violence in the USA, the movement in both its rhetoric and its links and indebtedness to an international black radical tradition, demands that we engage the African refugee crisis as central to all of its concerns.
Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of a life, a life denied them, both in terms of resources and in terms of the logics of white supremacist world orders, contract and stretch BLM. The insistence on life by Africans moving forces us to consider what exactly is a modern life. What exactly does it mean to claim one’s self for a life? It is in fact the insistence on a life that black movement/travel has continually upturned the fictions of modernist ideals. African migration, both planned and unplanned, continually returns us to the demand that we imagine a different world, that we risk putting flesh to ways of being in which a life becomes possible. African migration alerts us to the political demand that we remake the world anew in the aftermath of that other great migratory moment of the post-1492 world. Indeed, BLM travels because the very idea of black and blackness in the modern world cannot be divorced from movement. And it is in recognizing how fundamental movement and or migration is to late modern capital that we might begin to risk intellectually navigating a different present and thus future. African’s crossing that strait remind us that movement actual and otherwise demands notice what actually matters — our lives.