Black Lives Matter Chicago

People First, Nation Last

I’m not usually into labels, but there’s one that truly fits. You can call me a postnationalist. 

Sure, I’ve been hating and disrespecting borders for a while now, because they’re false prisons that prevent us from moving freely through the world. And that’s not what the gods or airplanes intended. 

But now, I’m reading up and dusting off my postnationalist identity. Because we’re about to reach a breaking point in our global movement to save Black lives. And these national identities are standing in our way.

First, let’s cover a few basic observations. Black people are being killed and denied justice everywhere. In every part of the world, from the Americas to Europe and Asia, and all the way back to Africa, we’re being killed at disproportionate and undeniable rates – just for being Black. It’s what they call a global pandemic. And, despite the other global pandemic, people have shown up in massive numbers to protest and rally in support of Black lives in so many cities and countries around the world. 

Since the #BlackLivesMatter movement originated in the US, and frankly the statistics feel more dire coming out of that country, it makes sense that some people perceive this as an American problem. But, let’s be careful before we start turning the US into the default location for the Black power struggle. Because, since the days of slavery and colonialism, this has been a global fight. So, for goodness sake, Black folks outside the US shouldn’t have to remind the world, including Black Americans, that their lives also matter, with unique hashtags emerging to represent every national identity, such as #BlackLivesMatterNL, #BlackLivesMatterFR, and #BlackLivesMatterUK.

When the recent protests started popping up across the world, many Black folks in the US said things like, “See, everyone can see that Black Americans are dying;” and “Oh, it’s so great to see people supporting Black Americans all over the world.” Yes, all that’s true. But, no! Black people are all over the world, facing oppression and racially driven violence. Folks aren’t showing up only to support Black Americans. They’re also fighting for their own lives. 

This fight we’re in right now was never an American fight. And we need to stop the madness that divides us based on citizenship.

“Nationalism is an infantile thing. It is the measles of mankind.” – Albert Einstein

Throughout the world, countries began to firmly establish their national identities in the 18th century, coinciding with European revolutions and colonialism. To encourage loyalty and a sense of kinship among their citizens, nations established themselves as the unifying force. By speaking the same language, carrying the same flag, and singing the same anthem, citizens could understand and perpetuate their similarities to each other and their differences from outsiders. 

Today, every country approaches its national identity differently. As an American who has lived in several countries, I can say with some confidence that the American national identity is more arrogant than most. From an early age, we’re led to believe the US is the best country in the world, and everything we do and say and believe is just the best. We’re strongly encouraged to pledge allegiance to the American flag. And we’re strongly discouraged from looking for a better life beyond American borders. Basically, it’s national brainwashing. 

From a political perspective, I understand why a country and its citizens want to maintain a strong and proud national identity. What doesn’t make sense to me is why so many Black Americans, in particular – but not uniquely – adopt a strong sense of national pride when we have been systematically denied political, economic and social equality since the very beginning. If the political powers refuse to share their equal rights, why do so many of us hold firmly to their shared national identity?

It’s usually the strength of the American identity that wrecks my flow whenever I attempt to stage a mass exodus from the country. Occasionally, I’ll reach out to family and friends to suggest we start fresh and free in a new place. While most people agree the US has its challenges and limitations, I’m often met with hesitation. Common themes include, “this is my home, I’ll be damned if they force me out;” and “the US has its faults, but I’m most comfortable here;” or a tough one for me to argue, “my ancestors built this country, I can’t walk away from it.” Though they’re disguised as personal preferences and ancestral pride, each of these excuses is wrapped in nationalism.

And this brings me back to my preference for postnationalism. For Black people to survive – no, thrive in this world, we cannot continue to see ourselves in these isolated silos. While we’re so busy defending our right to remain in one country, we’re forgetting that there are many more people with whom we share another identity in plenty of other countries that our ancestors also built. And it’s within this global Black community that Black lives matter is an assumption and not a dispute. If we continue to place nationalities on our battle cries and highlight the differences between our struggles, we may never gain sight of our shared experiences and the unifying forces that could save our lives.

“In the black world of tomorrow, there will be true freedom, justice and equality for all. And that day is coming—sooner than you think.” – Malcolm X

So, I have a proposal for the next family meeting. Let’s ditch the national pride, or at least ease up on it. Let’s revisit the global movements that united Black people worldwide, including anti-colonialism, the US Civil Rights movement, Pan-Africanism, and the anti-apartheid movement. Let’s reconsider Black nationalism as an opportunity to gain economic and political power outside of these artificial national borders. And let’s enjoy a sigh of relief among our Black and brown siblings in all parts of the world.

I’m not saying everyone must leave your home country to gain freedom. Because if that’s where you feel safe and comfortable, that’s where you should remain. I’m just saying it’s a big ‘ole world, and as Black people, we should claim our rights to live and thrive in all of it.

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