Abidjan Postcard: Black Lives Matter, But They're Different Here
The movement rising up in the wake of George Floyd's death is built on a question of identity and shared history, not a unified community of interests and experiences.
ABIDJAN — From Paris to Dakar, black populations have risen up against the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman. The global outrage over this umpteenth racial crime by U.S. police has given some activists ideas, and they are now calling for a coordinated political response from the black community around the world.
Still, at the same time, others are questioning this appropriation of a problem they would like to see as exclusively American. There have been strong reactions and incomprehension from French political leaders surprised by the scale of the demonstration in memory of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old man who died during his arrest by the French military police in July 2016. The search for the exact cause of his death has given rise to an endless forensic battle over the past four years.
The George Floyd case resonates with Adama Traoré. That's a fact. But in a world dominated by the concept of the nation-state, can there be a politically active transnational black community?
A community is a social group of people who share the same characteristics, culture and way of life, a shared language and shared interests. According to these criteria, such a black community that some dream of bringing together does not exist. It is only a fantasy. Although black people undeniably share the same skin color, this is their only common characteristic. They have no language, no culture, no common interests.
While African-American and Afro-European struggles are mainly directed against a state racism that ostracizes them, Black Africans' struggles are aimed more at satisfying their basic needs (security, health, etc.). Thus, the different interests and objectives of the various black populations remain major obstacles to a unified global movement.
Identity is based on a common social experience shared by black populations.
The absence of a black community has not, however, prevented the development of a black identity. As historian Pap Ndiaye points out, this identity is based on a common social experience shared by black populations is first and foremost the fruit of a common history. Moreover, whether they are African American, West Indian or African, they have their origins on the same continent and share a past marked by slavery and/or colonial systems. Similarly, musically, although the sounds differ, bridges exist between the Lagos ambience and the Bronx rappers.
It is this shared foundation that allows for the development of a sense of identity that makes black populations united and actors in what has begun as an African-American struggle. It is in this sense that the official condemnation of Floyd's murder by Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, is a call for action: It gives a political voice to a group that until now had been deprived of one.
While it is unlikely that an African initiative will be able to impose itself in the U.S. racial debate, this indignation at the highest political level on our continent gives a significant echo to the notion of black identity and accentuates the media pressure on American decision-makers. In the absence of a sustainable political community, it is a sense of identity that has become the vector of solidarity for the struggles of black populations around the world.
*Jean-Hugues Chérif N'doli is an Ivory Coast financial analyst and blogger.
*This article was translated with permission of the author.