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"Go Back to Africa": Afrocentrism, the 2016 NFL Protests, and Ryan Coogler's 2018 Black

Wright, Laura

The concept of an imagined homogenizing shared cultural heritage worked
to further the 19th Century “back to Africa” movement, which urged members
of the African American diaspora to return to ancestral homelands in
Africa (to which, because of their ancestral forced removal during slavery,
they had no access), even as that narrative flattened conceptions of African
identity to a mythical ideal. Further, the production of mythic fictional Africas
– whether negative, as those recently constructed by Donald Trump’s
assertion that African nations are “shithole” countries, or positive, as posited
in Stan Lee’s graphic novel Black Panther in 1966, at the height of the
Civil Rights movement and reimagined by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the age of
Trump – have worked to revisit and interrogate the way that citizens of the
United States both imagine and often uncritically investigate our mediated
understanding of Africa as inaccessible, mythical utopian homeland of the
past and an enigmatic and often negatively connotated “third-world” of the
present. In this essay, I discuss how the “back to Africa” mandate as manifest
in the current political moment – as either an admonishment by racist white
people (as against NFL players who protest) or embraced by African Americans
as a strategy for reconnection with an ancestral homeland (as in Black
Panther) – depends upon the acceptance of a bifurcated identity that negates
the liminal space of hyphenated “African-American” identity.

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