When the film Black Panther was released in Brazil in 2018, Afro-Brazilians garbed in bright African prints gathered to watch the film in the Shopping Leblon Mall in Rio de Janeiro. Calling themselves the “Colevtio Preto” (The Black Collective), they had come to create a “rolezinho pretoi” (black stroll) in a very white setting (Goncalves 2018). They sought to take up space in a place where most of the workers were Black and most of the customers were white. The point was to show Black bodies in the role of consumer and bon vivant; bodies in a non-subordinate role. The Black Panther screening served as a way to create “place” for Black bodies not only within the Marvel universe but within the city itself.
Digital anthropology can help guide our attention to the powerful ways in which “place” and “place making” matter including both the possibilities and limits of place. What I want to highlight, first, are some of the ways the Rio screening of Black Panther reverberates in the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 including ways that BLM imagery, identity, and organizing travel and do not travel in Afro-Latino and other African diasporic contexts. Second, I want to offer a more theoretical point about place making; that it is not merely an historical act (in the sense of settling or memorializing things or people) but should be understood as transformative, and anticipative on what’s to come. Place and place-making create visibility, allowing for oppressive world orders to get fractured, demythologized, even dismantled.
Without place, precarity sets in. For good and for bad. As Hinkson explains, “though it may start in one place, precarity soon slips into other dimensions of life; it registers as a sense of being out of place, out of sorts, disconnected” (2017). Through this un-placemaking, anti-Black oppression can go on and on, unlocated, dismissed. Or it can lead to the cracking of hegemonic whiteness, as happened in summer 2020 with the demolition of Confederate statues and in 2018 with the screening of Black Panther.
Police brutality towards African Americans in the US has a long history but I want to focus on the most recent decade of violence. In 2013 Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, and though the case went to trial, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges. In response to that outcome, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was started by three women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. BLM gathered like a wave across BIPOC communities in the US and the African diaspora, as hundreds of BLM chapters were created across the world.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis. His death and the protest marches that followed sparked the attention of people across the diaspora. They could not sit by and remain silent. Throughout May and June, solidarity marches took place across the world, but these actions were also a way of speaking up about anti-Black racism in many places and countries outside the United States
The Civil Rights Movement in the US was a catalyst for Pan-Africanist organizing and the mobilization of new forms of shared global struggle in the 1950s-70s. What about the Black Lives Matter movement today? What does Pan-Africanism look like or feel like in that context? Is there room for particularities of history, identity, or modes of organizing? How do people in the African diaspora (like the Black Panther viewers in Rio) take part in actions largely focused against police brutality and other forms of anti-Blackness in the US?
While the US movement has ignited a collective sense of urgency, it has sparked debate. Currently, for example, there is renewed debate around the term Black, and whether African Americans should be referred to as “black” or “Black” or “African American.” While many journalists and scholars advocate the use of “Black,” others believe this could lead to an undermining of African American struggle. “We built the country through the African slave trade. ‘African American’ acknowledges that. Any terms that emphasizes the color and not the heritage separates us from our heritage” (Elijon, 2020).
But this thinking also ignores the collective experience of “Black.” In “We have no Harlem in Sudan,” Manoeli (2020) discusses in her article "We have no Harlem in Sudan” that the United States BLM movement has reached members of the diaspora, yet the movement has also had the unintended consequence of making those of us who are not from the US feel isolated. I, myself, identify with several Black diasporic communities including Blatino, Afro-Latino, Black Brazilian, and Black Canadian.
If BLM is transitioning to an encompassing movement that is representative of the African diaspora, it has failed to address the things that other Black populations experience outside the United States. As such, I think the move to using “Black” should be embraced. Using “Black” creates “place” and by creating “place” it allows more “space” and more ideas and more room for debate and transformation.
When folks reject the “Black” crown they are inadvertently subscribing to hegemonic thoughts of place. “[P]lace as the relatively bounded ground of culture and social life to place as produced in unequal, colonial relations” (Hinkson, 2017). While African Americans are the first creators of the Black Lives Matter movement, some have also become gatekeepers to a movement that is already global, taken up by displaced Black people of the African diaspora everywhere.
Dismissing the term “Black” denies access to the those in the diaspora who crave “place” within the movement. Gatekeeping fixes “place” into something based solely on cultural and physical proximity, lining up with hegemonic markers like reified whiteness. Systemic whiteness does violence because it is a barrier that blocks Black bodies from accessing the collective strength of the movement. Though many of us in the African diaspora wholly support Black Lives Matter, when African Americans reject the term Black or seek to claim BLM as a space only or first for African Americans it allows for the continued displacement and erasure of other Black bodies in the global action of Black Lives Matter, thereby reaffirming the insidious nature of whiteness.
Image: standing at the corner of E 188th Street in Fordham Heights (the Bronx) the heart of the little Dominican Republic
Eligon, John. (2020). A Debate Over Identity and Race Asks, Are African Americans ‘Black’ or ‘black’. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/us/black-african-american- style-debate.html Goncalves, J. (2020). “Black Panther” is inspiring Black Brazilians to occupy elite, White Shopping Malls. The Intercept. https://africasacountry.com/2020/06/we-have-no-harlem-in- sudan Hinkson, M. (2017). Precarious Placemaking. Annual Review of Anthropology. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102116-041624 Manoeli, S.C. (2020). We have no Harlem in Sudan. Africa Is a Country. https://africasacountry.com/2020/06/we-have-no-harlem-in-sudan