Mapping 21st Century Black Student Movements

An interview with Brian Kamanzi, by maya finoh.

“As long as we think that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you’ll never get Mississippi straightened out. Not until you start realizing your connection with the Congo.”
– Abdias do Nascimento speaking at Columbia University, 1977

“…why not, from the start, take advantage of using Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook to broaden and continue the conversation? What about mobile technology, which is one of the primary ways youth of color in the U.S. (and I believe globally) connect online?”
– Jessica Marie Johnson, “#FemFuture, History & Loving Each Other Harder”, 2013

In the 21st century, new methods of communicating with others are created frequently: the social media platforms we use today are less than twenty years old, but are already embedded in our global culture. One particularly noteworthy outlet is digital storytelling, a form of media that uses audio for public spread of knowledge or creative expression. Digital storytelling is able to transgress spatiality: when published to a digital media platform, audio stories become available for public access beyond the time and place that they are initially posted. Though people of African descent have been using intangible methods for centuries to develop new conceptions of Black identity, the role of digital storytelling as a new platform for Black transnational knowledge production and assertion is a significant one. The methods through which Black ideas are transmitted across social landscapes are constantly changing. As systemic oppression has adapted to fit a globalized capitalist world, so must practices of Black expressive resistance and self-identification. Claiming digital audio storytelling as a vehicle for transnational Black identity is an assertion that is rooted the digital labor of activists. Social media and tools allow activists to express new ideologies and concepts to each other, without even owning a passport. Digital technology is the means through which Black sociopolitical notions can travel.

In examining these new digital opportunities, focusing on the transmission of concepts like ‘Pan-Africanism’ and ‘Black Transnationalism’ is important. Brian Kamanzi articulates some of the positive aspects of digital media platforms in the article “#BlackLivesMatter and the Role of Africa.” Kamanzi contends with ‘Imperial Blackness’ – the privilege that Black Americans have in regards to visibility, social capital, and positionality within U.S. Empire. Kamanzi notes the support of #BlackLivesMatter by continental Africans, but that Black solidarity is generally not reciprocated by Black Americans. With this particular assertion in mind, the purpose of Mapping 21st Century Black Student Movements is to even out the current political landscape that gives Black Americans a more privileged voice to speak about Black activism than continental Africans. An interview with digital media tools allows direct dialogue with another Black person thousands of miles away, generating new conceptions of self-determination with an ease we’ve never seen before.

I chose to interview Brian Kamanzi due to his work with anti-colonial Black student organizing in Cape Town. Last fall, in South Africa, student protests were sparked by a national increase in student tuition fees and, in the case of the University of Cape Town, the outsourcing of university staff workers: protests were organized and mobilized under the hashtag #FeesMustFall. At the same time, Black students across the United States mobilized against acts of racism and lack of proportional representation on campus under hashtags such as #ConcernedStudent1950 and #BlackLivesMatter. As stated in the interview, “Present-day Black student movements are in similar positions; waking up to the realization that the popularly celebrated civil rights movements led by their elders weren’t enough.” In tracking the similar histories of anti-racist struggle between South Africa and the United States, and the missions of current movements pushing back against contemporary “post-racial” claims, the digital interview examines of what the current sociopolitical moment of Black student organizing can tell us about new forms of Black Liberation.

Edited by Kristine Mar.

Transcript below:

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