Black movements must allow fluidity of identity

Loyce Gayo

From Bobby Seale to Stokely Carmichael, the ’60s Black Power movement gave American society Black men so militant even their Afro picks were a testament to their resistance. Draped in dashikis and black leather, the faces of the different activist organizations led a movement rooted in Afrocentricity — the cultural ideology that rejects European cultural influences and accentuates African achievement. Ultimately, this married the tenacious fight for civil rights, central to the Black Power movement, with defining boundaries of Black identity.

Today’s Black Lives Matter movement has managed to foster a different relationship between Black identity and struggle. This new, leaderless generation of activism has been more effective because it has managed to capture the experience and validate all spectrums of Black lives.

“This movement has been insistent of all Black lives matter in a way that trans Black lives and even Black women who are victimized are also seen as important,” said Lisa Thompson, African and African Diaspora Studies professor. “In the past, perceptions of Black issues have been really about heterosexual, Black males. What is refreshing now is there seems to not be a desire to police Blackness.”

According to Thompson, who teaches a class on rethinking Blackness, one of the most reviving aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement has been its lack of desire to restrict Black identity. Years of intersectional politics have influenced this movement to embrace all aspects of Blackness. 

“Part of what people are having a hard time with when looking at Black Lives Matter is trying to use the old lens of movement itself and finding it does not apply,” Thompson said. 

Despite decades of attempting to understand it, Blackness remains a very perplexing notion within American society. The importance of constantly investigating Black identity, especially through the perspective of Black struggle, lies in part with the fact that Black heritage and culture have historically been oppressed, disrupted and unpreserved.

“I think it is important to investigate Blackness in the realm of Black struggle, particularly against the forms of racism that continue to shape our everyday lives,” said anthropology grad student Chelsi West-Ohueri, who researches race and identity in southeastern Europe. 

Carving inclusive spaces to freely discuss Blackness and Black struggle is essential for advancing a liberatory narrative. A fluid relationship with Black identity empowers a number of incredibly useful and powerful voices. With these voices, we collectively work toward dismantling barriers for the next generation and allow for young Black lives born into this era to have an opportunity to grow into their own stories without reluctancy.

Gayo is an African and African Diaspora Studies senior from Houston. Follow her on Twitter @loycegayo.