At the moment of its birth, Pan-Africanism was seen as a means to unify Africa by means of self-governance.
Over time and through well-known scholars and activists such as W.E.B Dubois, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X, the definition has shifted into a moral global perspective.
“Pan-Africanism (is) a movement to encourage mutual assistance and understanding among the peoples of Africa and peoples of African descent,” said Dr. Charles Watson. Watson teaches philosophy at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC).
Watson framed the origins of pan-Africanism as the period between 1900 and 1945.
“Pan-Africanism was the most important philosophy and movement to fight against apartheid and colonialism in South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s,” said Dr. Matthew Palombo, who also teaches philosophy at MCTC. Palombo also completed his doctoral study in South Africa.
In relation to Malcolm X, Watson categorizes the activist and Pan-Africanism into two different approaches – racial nativist and color-blind universalist.
“Racial nativist approach is going to ground in origin; inheritance; in blood and in skin color. To be Black if you will,” said Watson. “What makes someone Black is that we share blood. I would suggest the way to situate Malcolm X in the relation to this distinction is the Malcolm that we find writing from abroad and the Malcolm that returns after his pilgrimage (to Mecca) lines up with a color-blind universalist Pan-Africanism.”
In 1964, Malcolm X traveled abroad to Mecca, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, and Algeria. During his trip to these countries and his pilgrimage to Mecca, Watson said Malcolm X created a movement called The Organization of Afro-American Unity, designed to fight for Black freedom.
“We have to think of Malcolm as being a version of this color-blind Pan-Africanism,” said Watson. “An Interest in freedom, equality and justice for all and willing to work with any who are willing to work and any who are overturning the system of exploitation.”
Dr. Nadia Mohamed describes this universalist view of Malcolm X as “pan-humanity.”
“His life was a journey for pan-humanity,” said Mohamed. “It is very important for all of us to unite and invest in our unity.” Mohamed earned a Ph.D. in Islamic studies and is co-advisor of MCTC Muslim Student Association.
Mohamed describes herself as “the embodiment of many “pans.”
“Above all that I am pan-humanity by purpose,” said Mohamed.
Mohamed said European colonialism affects her pans.
“They tried to strip them of everything,” said Mohamed. When combining her African heritage, cultural and religious background, Mohamed said more than one billion people have been oppressed by European colonialism. “There was a need for a united work against the slavery and deprivation of resources and humanity by the European colonizers.”
MCTC student Lauren Feiersinger described how European colonizers affected her home country of Botswana and her experience moving to the United States.
“Pan-Africanism is about fighting the fact that colonialism is very much alive,” said Feiersinger, who is also the assistant program director of MCTC’s African American Education Empowerment Program. “It wasn’t until I came to America I really understood how Black I was. “It wasn’t until I came to America I learned the struggle of being a minority. I never knew I was a ‘minority’ until I came here. But I knew I was African.”
She also identifies with the “color-blind perspective” of Pan-Africanism.
“Pan-Africanism, for me, is acknowledging who I am and acknowledging the struggles that come with being in this type of body,” said Feiersinger. “It is the struggles that we share. Oppression makes us brothers. Being on the receiving end of racism gives us something in common. Pan Africanism is about fighting the fact that colonialism is very much alive.”
Feiersinger emphasized the “inter-connectedness” of oppressed people and specifically African people.
“I come from a place where we really emphasize ‘Ubuntu,’” said Feiersinger. “Ubuntu is the belief that I cannot exist without you. My humanity is tied to yours.”
Watson, Palombo, Mohamed, and Feiersinger were speaking on a panel discussing Pan-Africanism as a part of the Sixth Annual Malcolm X Justice and Peace Lecture Series held at MCTC.