The International Dimensions of Everyday Black Political Participation

Abstract

The extent to which everyday African American political participation operates across US borders is rarely examined. This article explores this phenomenon by asking if there is a relationship between the characteristics of black social movements outside the USA and how African American institutions encourage their constituencies inside the USA to participate politically. Through background research, the authors developed hypotheses about how independent variables relating to the ideology, tactics, and membership of the African independence movement relate to the dependent variable, participation encouragement, by African American institutions. In order to operationalize these measures, data were gathered through the African American Press Internationalism Study—a content analysis of 451 articles and editorials about the African independence movement that appeared in African American newspapers between 1957 and 1971.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Examples of these institutions include: Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Howard University in Washington, DC and the popular blog The Root.

  2. 2.

    Similar to pan-ethnic group consciousness formation in Asian American and Latino communities (Masuoka 2006); black group consciousness involves a specific awareness that African Americans share experiences of racial degradation and marginalization and that this degradation and marginalization are unjust (Verba et al. 1971; Verba and Nie 1972).

  3. 3.

    The content of black newspapers also provided the basis for “race-related” stories that appeared in mainstream news outlets. According to James Booker (Amsterdam News writer), until the mid-1960s, African American press journalists, who were excluded from working for dominant media organizations solely because of race, often worked as uncredited consultants for white journalists working on news stories about African Americans (Hayes 2007).

  4. 4.

    According to often-cited research, these high cost forms of political participation involve well-known repertoires of nonviolent direct action, including boycotts, sit-ins, and mass demonstrations, employed by social movements such as the Civil Rights Movement or the anti-apartheid movement (Morris 1984; McAdam 1988; Nesbitt 2004). The everyday political participation of African Americans can also involve developing and belonging to communication networks, supporting community-based indigenous institutions, creating and sharing cultural forms and partaking in political discussions (Dawson 1994; Harris-Lacewell 2006, McAdam 1982; Morris and Braine 2001).

  5. 5.

    There is a lack of quantitative information available about African American interest and participation in African politics and international black social movements. Large-N surveys, such as the General Social Survey (GSS) and the American National Election Study (ANES), have not inquired respondents about their knowledge or attitudes about political actors and issues in majority black countries outside the USA. Keyword searches of the National Black Election Study (NBES), GSS, and ANES revealed the following terms are not included in these surveys: Africa, independence, colonialism, transnationalism, the Caribbean and apartheid. The absence of these keywords is striking because the sustained participation of African Americans in anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements is well documented (Walters 1993; Meriwether 2002; Nesbitt 2004; Tillery 2011).

  6. 6.

    Scholars agree that content analysis is an effective technique for examining the meanings of messages that are distributed through mass media outlets (Altheide 1996).

  7. 7.

    The marginalization of African American women and LGBTQ members of the community was challenged by anti-racist activists during this period. See Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee 2000 (1964) and Newton 1970.

  8. 8.

    The time period of this study overlaps with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, which is acknowledged by American historians as a watershed moment in the American social movement for LGBT rights. However, background research reveals that discussions about the fluidity of gender were not sufficiently widespread in the USA during this period to warrant a separate transgender subcategory.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to Alvin Tillery and Joseph Bafumi for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this work. They also thank the Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for funding the research upon which this article is based. Bryan Carter also assisted this research. In addition, the authors appreciate the commentators and discussants at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association (SPSA) for their feedback.

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Appendix

Appendix

African American Press Internationalism Study (AAPIS) Variables and Measures

Dependent Variable Category: Participation (parthree)

Discourage Participation: discourages readers’ everyday political participation.

Neither: Neither discourages or encourages readers’ everyday political participation.

Encourage Participation (=1): encourages readers’ everyday political participation.

Independent Variable Categories

Ideology (newideo) [definitions from Dawson 2001]

Black Liberalism (Base category): argues that American liberalism is best hope for the exercising of full citizenship rights by African Americans and that a strong central government is essential to building a radically egalitarian society.

Black Marxism: criticizes communist arguments that racist practices are solely the result of capitalist exploitation and argues that capitalism works in conjunction with racism to subordinate people of African descent.

Pan-Africanism: asserts the allegiance and support of other black communities are essential to the effectiveness of any anti-racist and anti-colonial movement.

Separatism: asserts complete economic, political and/or territorial autonomy for people of African descent is necessary to address racism.

None of the above

Action (newindivid)

Collective (Base category): represents organizations and activists engaging in group activities, working collectively and/or focuses on planned group action.

Neither.

Individual: represents organizations and activists acting individually and/or focuses on the actions of individuals.

Violence (newviol)

Nonviolent (Base category): advocates against the use of force to achieve socio-political change.

Neither nonviolent nor violent.

Violent: advocates against the use of force and/or engaging nonviolent actions to achieve socio-political change.

Gender (newgen) Footnote 8

Male (Base category): shows primarily male participants, activists, and/or supporters.

Female: shows primarily female participants, activists and/or supporters.

Both male and female: shows both male and female participants and/or supporters.

Neither male nor female: does not show gender of participants, activists and/or supporters.

Sexuality (newhet)

None: does not show sexuality of subjects discussed.

Heterosexual (=1): portrays mixed-sex relationships.

Success (newsuc).

Successful: shows organizations or activists completing or describing the completion of actions that fulfill their short-term political goals.

Neither: does not show organizations or activists completing or failing to complete actions that fulfill their short-term political goals.

Unsuccessful: shows organizations or activists failing to complete actions that fulfill their short-term political goals.

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Hayes, R.J., Greer, C.M. The International Dimensions of Everyday Black Political Participation. J Afr Am St 18, 353–371 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-013-9275-0

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Keywords

  • Race and politics
  • African Americans
  • African independence
  • Diaspora
  • Political participation
  • Institutions