Guest Post: Racial Violence and Black Nationalist Politics

Guest poster Keisha N. Blain (@KeishaBlain) is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa. She is a regular blogger for the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is currently completing her first book entitled, Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism. This post shares some additional insights into the racial violence Benjamin Park discussed following the Charleston shooting.

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Someone recently asked me why the black women activists I study were so determined to leave the United States. It was a question I had been asked many times before. As I often do, I explained the complex history of black emigration, highlighting how these women’s ideas were reflective of a long tradition of black nationalist and internationalist thought. I acknowledged the romantic utopian nature of these women’s ideas. However, I also addressed the socioeconomic challenges that many of these women endured and explained how the prospect of life in West Africa appeared to be far more appealing—especially during the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and World War II. I spoke about black women’s ties to Africa and the feelings of displacement many of them felt as they longed for a place to truly call home. It was the same feeling of displacement to which the poet Countee Cullen alluded when he asked a simple yet profound question: “What is Africa to me?”

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