African History and Black Liberation

The Case of #BHM2022 on Instagram

by Deborah Nyangulu

In the lecture “African History in the Service of Black Liberation,” Walter Rodney sees the mobilization of African history and Black revolution as intertwined but cautions on the contradictions that arise when the revival of history is done on the ‘oppressor’s’ terms and is divorced from praxis. My project takes Rodney’s lecture as its starting point and analyses public Instagram posts generated during the Black History Month commemorations of 2022. I collect and analyse posts that use the tag #BHM2022 in combination with the tag #AfricanHistory to determine if they are framed to avoid promoting passive consumption of the content but encourage user engagement beyond the Instagram platform itself with the goal of utilizing African history not only to educate but also as a step towards mobilizing for Black liberation. As such, my analysis also focuses on how the posts navigate the tensions that arise from using the corporate-owned Instagram platform for activism namely; the negotiation of multiple audiences, simplifying complex histories for social media consumption, the blurring of brand and nonbrand, and virtue signalling. I conclude by showing how Rodney as a transnational scholar-activist who linked Black liberation struggles across continents still holds important lessons that remain relevant in the contemporary digital age. This project that I am working on in the context of the Bridging Black Liberation Struggles Network draws on theories and methods that I am developing in my broader Habilitation (Postdoc) project: Contradiction, Hashtag Activism and Pluriversal Knowledge Production.