The Unconventional Conventionalism of Pan Africanism

To be Black in the land of the free is to experience conditional visibility and be ever present in a realm which rejects your being. It is to stand along a street corner and be cornered by racism. It is to attend university, be placed in an honors course, and the only discourse is that you should feel honored to be there. To be Black in the land of the free is to desire to be freed from yourself, and to want to be freed from persecution. To be Black in the land of the free is to want to be freed from the land, and Pan-Africanism is the pathway to which this freedom is believed to be achieved. Whether through the widely acclaimed viewpoint of Marcus Garvey or the ideologies of Ayo Langley, the goal of the Pan-African movement is to find solace for the children of the African Diaspora at the hands of colonialism. Ripped from their native land, Pan-Africanism began as a way to reconnect the people of Africa who had been spread globally back to their home continent. Deeply rooted in international nationalism, Pan-Africanism serves to address both the “black radical tradition and the more conservative nuances of black political thought”(Bogues 486). It expands across an array of Black traditions, beliefs, and ideas through the common belief that African descendants deserve not only emancipation from physical oppression, but mental maltreatment as well. With Black Americans falling far behind in the areas of financial literacy, education, and nearly every aspect of achieving under the American Democratic system, Pan-Africanism has proven to be of vital importance to the prosperity of Black people living in these United States. For this reason, throughout this essay I will explore the ideologies which show themselves evident in every definition of the term and expand on its modern significance and impact in the United States of America through the somewhat unconventional tactics used to proliferate such a conventional ideal.     

Among others, one of the most prominent variations of the Pan-Africanist discussion is the viewpoint of Marcus Garvey, in which it is described as a “movement to bring about the industrial and spiritual emancipation of the Negro people” (James 486). One of its most distinguishing elements being the Back to Africa movement, which began when Garvey noted that “African Americans’ quest for social equality was a delusion. They were fated to be a permanent minority who could never assimilate because white Americans would never let them. African Americans, therefore, could not improve their condition or gain autonomy in the United States. Only in Africa was self-emancipation possible.” ( Because many African Americans felt this way, this ideology prompted what soon became the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest mass movement in Black American History drawing more than 2 million members.  Collectively, members of the UNIA began to push for as well as organize a pilgrimage to Liberia as well as establish the Declaration of Rights for the Negro People of the World, a proclamation which explained the need for separatism as well as a self-governed and sustained Black nation in Africa. 

Though the UNIA would come to dissolve around 1930 after Garvey’s removal from the United States, the lasting impact of his influence can be summed up in that “”Despite his obvious limitations as a diplomat and statesman, Marcus Garvey was undoubtedly one of the greatest Negroes since Emancipation, a visionary who inspired his race in its upward struggle from the degradation of centuries of slavery.” (Shepperson 346). This desire for acceptance…nay, this need for liberation created a type of unity in the Black community never before seen. Never before in the history of the United States had African Americans been granted  the opportunity to live free of oppression, and this notion that Black people could actually create their own destiny and live unperturbed began to spread like wildfire. This traditionally unconventional idea of uprooting ones everyday life and starting a new now seemed like the most conventional idea for Black Peoples living during the early 1900s and this very belief began to set the tone or future generations and future crusades like the Black Power movement in the 1960s, the current Black Lives Matter and #ADOS movements. 

According to the Stanford University Center for Poverty and Inequalities’ 2017 State of the union, When the white-black gap in mobility is “measured as the probability of moving up from the bottom half”, White Americans are 25 percent more likely to experience affluence (41).  In other words, Black Americans are less likely to experience continued prosperity in socioeconomic areas compared to their white counterparts.This trend has made Pan Africanism all the more relevant because just as Potekhin proposes in Pan Africanism and the struggle of the two ideologies  “In conditions of the existence of colonial empires, it becomes urgent to refute the ‘theory’ of white racial superiority and show that the Negro [is] a human being and that black-skinned people [are] no worse than white-skinned people.” (38). Pan Africanism plays an intrinsic role in modern society because its goal, whether through literal secession or the renewing of the mind , is to dismantle the slave mentality which has been ingrained into our communities by white society, and rid Black citizens of systemically oppressive policies and practices. 

During Garvey’s time, or even 50 years ago, no one would have believed that technology would play a role in spreading Black Unity, but with 73 percent of Americans participating in social media usage, it is no surprise that modern day Black Americans are using it to spread the Pan African message. The hashtag #ADOS and ADOS  (American Descendants of Slavery) movement on twitter began in order to “ “reclaim/restore the critical national character of the African American Identity and experience” and have since gained hundred of retweets. This, and the creation of #Blacklivesmatter in 2013 have shown how what were once unconventional tools have begun to play an integral role in Pan-African social justice discourse.  

Not only through social media, but through the creation of Historically Black colleges and universities has Pan Africanism been able to gain popularity. For many black students HBCUs have played a key role in developing confidence in Black culture and heritage: “A 2015 Gallup-Purdue poll report[ed] that African American graduates of HBCUs are more likely to have felt supported while in college and to be thriving afterward than their black peers who graduated from primarily white institutions (PWIs).” Across the board, African American HBCU attendees are more likely to feel supported and to thrive after graduation. Historically Black colleges and Universities connect Black people through allowing their lineage to be an integral part of education versus a hindrance to it. 

Because community can affect childhood development and likelihood of future success, Pan Africanism is all the more important. In fact, according to the National Library of medicine, there are “direct and indirect benefits of a strong heritage ethnic identity, including increased self-esteem and subjective well-being as well as reduced depression”  and “it also protects ethnic minorities against negative psychological consequences of adverse experiences such as daily stress and discrimination” ( By connecting African Americans to their lineage, Pan Africanism is able to help Black citizens to thrive both physically and mentally, and over a variety of Black customs, convictions, and thoughts, Pan Africanism has spread itself across the United States. With Black Americans falling a long way behind in nearly every aspect of the “American Dream”, Pan-Africanism has demonstrated  itself to be of imperative significance to the success of Black individuals. A connection to one’s roots, and confidence in a person’s heritage has proven to be vital to success. Through the once unlikely and unconventional ideas of Black Americans being able to attend academic institutions, and digital technology, the conventional idea of Black unity has been able to spread across the United States of America. 

Bogues, A. (2011). C.L.R. James, Pan-Africanism and the black radical tradition. Critical Arts, 25(4), 484–499. doi: 10.1080/02560046.2011.639957

Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Seymour, S., & Ray, J. (2019, June 6). Grads of Historically Black Colleges Have Well-Being Edge. Retrieved from

Reflections on the ADOS Movement. (2019, March 3). Retrieved from

(2017) . Retrieved from

PAN-AFRICANISM and thestruggle ofthe TWO IDEOLOGIES. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Zhang, R., Noels, K. A., & Lalonde, R. N. (2018, November 5). Know Your Heritage: Exploring the Effects of Fit in Cultural Knowledge on Chinese Canadians’ Heritage Identification. Retrieved from


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