The UNC African Studies Center Statement on Anti-Black Violence and Systemic Racism
The African Studies Center condemns the ongoing violence against Black communities in the United States, highlighted most recently in vivid detail through the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. We stand in solidarity with the families who mourn and those engaged in the struggle against anti-Black racism today and every day.
The connections between the United States and Africa, forged during the era of slaving, are foundational to the U.S. Such linkages are critical both to the U.S.’s persistent, insidious white supremacy and to the opportunities to be “a more perfect union.” Nikole Hannah-Jones (UNC-CH ’03, M.A.) underscores these connections in the New York Times’ award-winning 1619 Project. Yet, the associations do not end there: the American Colonization Society’s involvement in the founding of Liberia in the early nineteenth century, the long history of American religious missions to African communities, the U.S.’s covert involvement in African state politics during the Cold War are but examples of the United States’ troubled history with African countries. Conversely, the United States has also been a site of new beginnings for African refugees and immigrants who contribute to the rich tapestry of the U.S., just as Africa serves as a beacon and a refuge for many African-Americans, most especially through Pan-Africanism and in the context of the U.S. Civil Rights struggle. The Atlantic Ocean is the ligament that binds us to one another.
As scholars of African Studies based in the United States, we see this enduring structural and racial violence as part of the persistent legacy of settler colonialism and post-slavery society in North America. Comparatively, we see parallels between the escalation of militarized policing in the United States in the past few years and the militarized police forces in apartheid South Africa; in both countries, tactics honed in wars abroad were (and have been) deployed to stifle domestic dissent. Through the historic examples of places such as Algeria, Kenya, and Zimbabwe we understand that settler colonialism endures through long histories of land appropriation, and the formation of racial and gender hierarchies within law and society. The United States continues to struggle with the legacies of Jim Crow segregation laws; we see this in a number of arenas that overlap with settler and slavery legacies, including unequal access to finance and property and the persistence of health care disparities – made that much more glaring in the context of a global pandemic which has taken the lives of so many members of the BIPOC community.
These events remind us yet again of how local and global contexts are woven together across space and time. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in reflecting upon his experiences in the American South, Gold Coast (Ghana), and Indochina (Vietnam), “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” Regrettably, it continues into the twenty-first. There are African and North American models of protest and calls to action against white supremacy that inspire, instruct, and humble us. Owerri Province, Grand Bassam, Soweto, Algiers, Birmingham, Greensboro, Ferguson, Minneapolis – the list goes on. Today, protests decrying anti-Black violence in the United States have taken on a global dimension. Black Lives Matter, started by Black women in the United States, has become a global movement. We support Black Lives Matter as a collective response to affirm the value and dignity of Black lives against the reprehensible legacies of colonialism, slavery, and capitalism. We stand in solidarity with African women and men who also face police violence and repressive regimes. We see anti-black violence as a nested public health, civil rights, and human rights crisis. We acknowledge the role that white African Studies scholars in North America and Europe have played in making race a divisive social construct through racist scholarship and the galvanization of institutional inequalities that defunded historically Black colleges and universities in the United States. We are committed to learning more and listening more, but also fighting to resolve this crisis.
We affirm the collective responsibility of all of us to reflect upon and rectify bias within ourselves and others, and to love one another. We are committed to hear and amplify the voices of the marginalized, interrogate and challenge white supremacy in all its manifestations, and work, as the UNC mission statement declares, “to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.”
The African Studies Center’s mission is to serve as a resource hub supporting our diverse community not only at UNC-Chapel Hill, but at our partner Minority Serving Institutions, K-12 North Carolina schools, and institutions on the African continent. To that end, we share the following resources with you in an effort to continue the conversation and our collective learning.
To learn more and read the statements by other UNC departments, centers, and institutes, visit the Carolina Seminars website: https://carolinaseminars.unc.edu/statement-by-carolina-seminars-director-regarding-race-justice-and-recent-acts-of-police-violence/
African Feminist Initiative at Pennsylvania State University: https://afi.la.psu.edu
Bueckert, Michael. “The Post-Trump Fortunes of South Africa’s White Nationalists,” Africa is a Country, Sept. 10, 2018. https://africasacountry.com/2018/09/the-fortunes-of-south-africas-white-nationalists
Larson, Zeb. “The Globalization of White Supremacy: Countering the Spread of South African Apartheid Rhetoric,” Public Seminar, April 1, 2019. https://publicseminar.org/2019/04/the-globalization-of-white-supremacy/
Osei-Opare, Nana. “Around the world, the U.S. has long been a symbol of anti-black racism,” Washington Post, June 5, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/05/around-world-us-has-long-been-symbol-anti-black-racism
Ricks, Thomas. “Annals of Wars We Don’t Know About: The South African Border War of 1966-1989.” Foreign Policy, March 12, 2015. https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/12/annals-of-wars-we-dont-know-about-the-south-african-border-war-of-1966-1989/
The 1619 Project, New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html
Novels, non-fiction, and scholarly writing:
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah. New York: Anchor Books, 2014.
Allman, Jean. “#HerskovitsMustFall? A Meditation on Whiteness, African Studies, and the Unfinished Business of 1968.” African Studies Review 62 (3) 2019: 6-39.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Carmichael, Stokely/Kwame Ture, Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism. New York and Chicago: Lawrance Hill Books, 2007.
Cell, John. The Highest Stage of White Supremacy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Clegg, Claude. The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Frederickson, George. Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Gaines, Kevin. African Americans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing. New York: Vintage Books, 2017.
Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008.
Hill, Shannen. Biko’s Ghost: The Iconography of Black Consciousness. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
King, Tiffany Lethabo. The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019.
Lindsay, Lisa. Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth Century Odyssey from America to Africa. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.
Obama, Barack. Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. New York: Crown, 2007.
Rhodes Must Fall Movement. Rhodes Must Fall: The Struggle to Decolonize the Racist Heart of Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.
Schmidt, Elizabeth. Foreign Intervention in Africa After the Cold War: Sovereignty, Responsibility and the War on Terror. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2018.
Talton, Benjamin. In this Land of Plenty: Mickey Leland and Africa in American Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019.