The World Stage: Engaging in Transnational Liberation and Peace Work

  • Chalmer E. F. ThompsonEmail author
Part of the Pan-African Psychologies book series (PAAFPS)


In their definition of liberation psychology, Montero and Sonn (2009) stressed the need for psychologists to transform both people and environments by rupturing social processes buoyed by social identities. Adding further to the peace implications of Montero and Sonn’s work, Mayengo et al. (2018) stated that “practices of liberation yield to peace-building with the understanding that violence in all forms diminishes the capacity for people to live together harmoniously” and therefore, attention to peace is essential to strivings for liberation. Mayengo and his colleagues are a research team that consists primarily of faculty from different ethnic groups in Uganda.

In their definition of liberation psychology, Montero and Sonn (2009) stressed the need for psychologists to transform both people and environments by rupturing social processes buoyed by social identities. Adding further to the peace implications of Montero and Sonn’s work, Mayengo et al. (2018) stated that “practices of liberation yield to peace-building with the understanding that violence in all forms diminishes the capacity for people to live together harmoniously” and therefore, attention to peace is essential to strivings for liberation. Mayengo and his colleagues are a research team that consists primarily of faculty from different ethnic groups in Uganda.

Resolving racialized violence by focusing on efforts to “repair” relationships between Whites and Blacks misses the point entirely on how this violence operates. The lofty goals of peaceful accord and justice-for-all can be realized concretely when a psychologically colonized and enslaved people who, as liberation and peace-wagers, are fiercely dedicated to ending the racialized violence leveled against them and re-building a sense of community among themselves. This fierce dedication occurs when Black people have a high regard for their own humanity as an African-descended people and do not see the humanity of Whites as better or more worthy by comparison. They ascend to healthier identities when they recognize the need to overcome the oppressor-within. White identities too are strengthened when they see White people with the potential to achieve (and indeed, there are White people who have achieved) the capacity to act against racialized violence against Black people or other people of color. Whites combat racialized violence in all forms by breaking from racial convention to address the relative power they hold in its perpetuation. It is to insist on reparations, as one example, and to make demands to heads of large corporations who pollute Black communities to end the destruction, and urging neo-imperialists to relinquish the stolen land. Although all racial groups involve themselves in these actions, the solidarity that can occur across groups can increase the likelihood of eventual change. Yet for Black people psychologically, building or re-building community among Black people is also to restore histories and cultural identities, honor indigenous languages, and reach the young and most needy in our communities to correct the lies embedded in mainstream education and in media that aim to promulgate ideologies of Black inferiority-White superiority. Advanced status schemata serve as a lens Black people can use to deliberately travel a path of making sense of the world and developing into new humans. The new human is one who commits his or her life to the eradication of all forces—like racialized violence, sexism and men’s violence against women, economic exploitation, heterosexism—that adversely affect growth, relationship, community building, and life.

Building peace and fomenting revolutionary action translates into building connections with other Black people locally but also with African-descended people affected by the Maafa in other regions of the world. According to activist and author Linda Burnham (1990)

Malcolm taught us Ghana. He taught us Kenya. He taught us Algeria and northern and southern Rhodesia, so called. He taught us the Congo. He insisted that the psychology of liberation require that we understand that Whites (and imperialists) were minority peoples in the world context, and the strategy of liberation required cultivating a base of support beyond the borders of the U.S. (p. 25)

Historian Gerald Horne (2009) illustrates the relevance of Malcolm X’s advice in his book Mau Mau in Harlem?: The U.S. and the Liberation of Kenya. Horne concentrated his work on a period of heightened racialized violence for both Kenyans and Americans, but particularly for the Kenyan Mau Mau. For Black Americans, the period between 1952 and 1960 was one that began only a few years before the launch of the civil rights movement. This period also extends into the movement and the break-out riots in the North involving White aggressors and the growing masses of Black migrants from the South. For Kenyans, this same period marked a state of emergency that began with the British marginalizing the Kikuyu people and stealing their land despite efforts by politicians to end the years of oppression from British rule. As a result of this White aggression, a militant subgroup of the Kikuyu, the Mau Mau, began violent insurgency against the colonists. In retaliation, and in efforts far more extensive than the attacks of the insurgents, the British issued a state of emergency and imposed a police state on Kenyan society in which Whites killed suspected Mau Mau by the thousands. The official estimate of deaths of the Mau Mau and other rebel groups was 11,000. According to D. Anderson (2005), the Kenya African Union (AU) estimates that 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured, or maimed, while an additional 160,000 were detained under horrendous conditions.

Horne’s accounts and analyses begin with how Whites in the United States and Europe held similar worldviews about their superiority as Whites in comparison to people of African descent. White Americans also were able to move freely to Kenya and get jobs as police where they could act violently toward Kenyans. Horne tells the story of a White citizen from the United States who quickly joined the Kenya police and was pleased to discover that his immigrating to Kenya was of small concern to the U.S. Consulate, “a reflection of the sympathy at the highest levels in Washington for the plight faced by a tiny band of European colonialists who had begun arriving in Kenya roughly a half-century earlier in a successful effort to construct a racist settler state” (p. 1). The White American visitor-turned Kenyan police officer reportedly slaughtered prisoners with delight as gleaned from his letters, bragging that he had killed more than a dozen “native terrorists.”

Horne also noted that White people in the United States and Britain communicated to other Whites how the environment in Kenya was conducive to living and playing out freedom to be overtly racist they could not enjoy living in other settings (at least not without the same level of restraints). In a letter written in 1961, one Ford Foundation official wrote about the pleasantness of the environment, to include not only the warm temperature, cool evenings, ample food, and accessibility of excellent medical, dental and hospital facilities, but also the relative safety for Whites (and without explicit mention of Whiteness). He further stated that

Most of the incidents will be between African tribes or between Africans and Asians. The Kenya police are mostly from the Wakamba tribe… which broke the Mau Mau a few years ago, [thus, he concluded with relief] I would have no hesitation to bring my family here. (p. 6)

This environment of terror for Kenyans in tandem with the freedoms for Whites proved tantalizing to Whites in other ways. Nairobi, Kenya was a place where White literary author Ernest Hemingway would revel in his life where he had love affairs with African women, and where Hollywood celebrities could freely humiliate Kenyans.

Notably, Horne also showed that Kenyans and Black Americans were galvanized to fight together against White domination in the east African country during this period. Records were being kept by Washington officials and other Whites of these collaborations. White Americans and European elites were attuned to keeping watch on what they referred to as Black militancy across the two settings. In Washington, DC, this watchful eye also related to the collaboration of Communist Party adherents with the civil rights and Black Power movements. Horne’s historical accounts address the global “watch” on any organized efforts to end racialized violence and alongside that, tracking the commitment of African-descended people to pursue changes in both contexts to the best of their abilities.


History has shown that when the threat of the illusion of White superiority over Black people is breached—for example, by dint of economic independence and self-sufficiency as in the creation of Black towns, in the revolution of an enslaved people as with Haiti, or in vying for jobs—racialized violence is invoked to sustain the racial-social status quo. Blacks have exacted no attacks even remotely as massive on Europeans or Whites for the sake of imperialism and racial domination. In the cases of U.S. revolts in which Black people harmed or killed Whites (see Aptheker, 1943) and in other regions of the Diaspora, most notably the Haitian revolution, the purposes of these uprisings were to end the violence Blacks had endured from Whites and to regain their freedom.

Beginning as early as 1780 with the Sons of Africa which was started by abolitionists Otobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano, African-descended people from different nations have collaborated to work against the evils of colonialism and slavery. According to Esedebe (1994), pan-Africanism is composed of the following elements: (1) agreement that Africa is the homeland of Africans and persons of African origins; (2) the need for solidarity among people of African descent; (3) belief in a distinct African personality; (4) rehabilitation of Africa’s past; (5) pride in African culture; (6) Africa for Africans in church and state; and (7) the hope for a united and glorious future Africa. The names commonly associated with pan-Africanism are George Padmore, Walter Rodney, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Stephen Bantu Biko, Frantz Fanon, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey. Abbas and Mama (2014) point out that the history of pan-Africanism has not only involved the work of men throughout the Diaspora, but women as well. They name the following women who have contributed to the global cause of African unity and racialized justice: Mable Dove Danquah, Adelaide Caseley-Hayford, Bibi Titi Mohamed, Funmilary Ransome Kuti, Gambo Sawaba, Muthoni Likimai, Tenjiwe Mtintso, Djamila Bouired, Charlott Axede, and Alberta Susuli (Abbas & Mama, 2014).

Consistent with Abbas and Mama’s (2014) treatise concerning the need to acknowledge women’s role in pan-Africanism, Murithi (2006) wrote that peace-advancing efforts (which overlap with liberation-advancing efforts) that extend across African nations can profit when they grow with the times. With an eye to the progressive inclusion of formerly marginalized voices in reconstructing Africa, Murithi writes that “it will be necessary to establish education and training programmes based on progressive African cultural values for officials, civil society actors and citizens — keeping in mind that not all traditions are empowering, particularly on issues with regard to gender equality” (p. 2). Murithi stated further that promoting social solidarity in practice means confronting corruption and addressing the need to ensure democratic governance, power sharing, and the equitable distribution of resources among all members of society. In addition, Murithi warns against romanticism of indigenous approaches to peace-building primarily because they have historically excluded women.

These words resonate with the earlier formulations about the creation of “new humans” and of transforming structures, not merely individuals. A maturing of societies, as with the maturing of racial identity, theoretically runs parallel to racial identity development at individual levels.

Pan-Africanism in Action

Psychologically, healthy identities unfold and develop when people approach rather than avoid reality. Learning about all aspects of tarnished history and the conditions of the “least of these” in their local environment is impossible, but the parts of this learning that become most relevant give shape to a personal transformation. The person (re)ignites a sense of self as worthy, necessarily vulnerable and imperfect, and as one who does not have to rely on the approval of White people as White people (and non-White elites as “favored” members within the racial caste system) to feel complete and more human. He or she comes to know that life is relished more deeply with the enlightenment that accompanies the transformation.

With the transformation, they are positioned to experience the confidence of taking more risks in seeing the world in its entirety. They ripen as agents in a world in need of whole-hearted people (Brown, 2010) who can contribute meaningfully to the welfare of their communities and societies (Thompson, 1997). Healthy racial identities are bolstered when the person approaches reality with an emphasis on complex thinking and the proclivity to make moral judgments based on authentic relating. These identities are also bolstered by the ability to be free from the hidden violence that they behold and that negatively influences their own lives and the lives of others. They may decide to extend their knowledge and the onus to act outside of their local communities. In becoming aware that the material conditions of people in the Global South are comparably worse than the conditions of people in the Global North, they may begin to ask, why are things different and similar, and for what reasons? This learning can deepen their understanding of the pervasiveness of racialized violence and spread to knowledge of the malignancy of imperialist greed, sex trafficking and violence toward women and gay people worldwide, and genocidal violence as exacted by one ethnic group toward another. This advanced learning is consistent with the final status of racial identity theory.

At micro- and macro-levels they come to learn that race is a cultural invention that is embedded in sinister arrangements of the undeserved power of the oppressor-imperialist and the practice of succumbing to aggression on the part of the oppressed. Yet, in its complexity, what also emerges is a restoration of the destructions of the past, but not in a sense of making claims purely to artifacts and insertions of history long suppressed and denied as legitimate or even real. The real restoration is borne of a maturity in which the individual comes to understand that the rightful place of every human is to be included as part of a circle of humanity, not outside of it. In the next section, we examine the efforts by those who do this work that spans regions across the Diaspora.

The Frantz Fanon University

People who live in the Horn of Africa are all too familiar with ethnic conflict. After a series of efforts by the people of Somalia to break away from the British protectorate, the Somalia Independence Movement decided to break away to form its own territory, which still is under the rule of Somalia but is recognized by other African nations and non-African nations. The country is not recognized as a sovereignty by Somalia, the AU, or the United Nations, purportedly because the leaders fear that the breakaway would encourage other countries to create their own states and thus increase the likelihood for violence based on territory. Psychologist-scholar Hussein Bulhan founded the Frantz Fanon University in Somaliland to meet the needs of a people who have long experienced war and violence.

The motto of Frantz Fanon University is “Breaking all chains, visible or invisible – building up from ruins, personal or social” ( It was founded by Dr. Hussein Bulhan, a Somali-born psychologist who received his doctorate from Boston University and whose dissertation study is published in one of the most cited books on the psychology of oppression. Conveyed in the title, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression (1985), Bulhan dedicated part of his book to writing a biography of Frantz Fanon, after whom the university is named. The other portion of his book is an extraordinary interweaving of Fanonian thought and Bulhan’s own treatise on the violence that has been exacted on African-descended people throughout the Diaspora for generations, and why the violence continues. Bulhan also proposes how Black people should proceed to behave and act in view of the violence. Bulhan has prepared other works, one notable one published in 2015 where he elaborates on metacolonialism, and the need for psychology to move forward by moving away from conventional topics as such topics appear to preoccupy the work of mainstream psychologists, and move toward strategies that emphasize the communalism that is vital to mental health.

Bulhan, who also serves as the president of FFU, named the university after Fanon because he believed that Fanon aptly expressed insights not only into the problems besieging oppressed people, but also because Fanon acted as a relentless freedom fighter whose behaviors were consistent with his beliefs. Fanon was a psychiatrist who was also a leading contributor to the liberation of colonial Algeria from France. The university, as is presented on the website, seeks to “not only preserve Fanon’s revolutionary legacy but also advance his commitment to social justice by teaching, writing, and serving communities in action.” The university, through a variety of programs, intends to instill in its students Dr. Fanon’s, as well as Dr. Bulhan’s commitment to social justice for the poor, and to focus on the urgent priorities of the population it services. The university is open to qualified students in the Horn of Africa and abroad, and to qualified international students regardless of nationality, race, or creed.

The academic programs are selected on the needs of the people in the Horn of Africa and with the goal of equipping students to provide optimal care in view of colonialism and metacolonialism. For example, their clinical psychology graduate programs provide different modalities of therapy, including psychopharmacology and is an area for which there is a particularly high demand in African societies. Intent on examinations that look at the panoply of problems that occur with metacolonialism, this program stresses the need to examine treatment that questions, rather than avoids, the problems that can occur with fraudulent practices in traditional healing. Their postgraduate programs in psychology include Forensic Psychology with a focus on high-need areas like civil litigation (personal injury, civil commitment, worker compensation, etc.) and behavioral medicine.

The Champions Against Empire Building

In commemoration of his 83rd birthday, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote In Battle for Peace, a book published in 1952. His intent in writing Battle was to increase attention to the need for people across the globe to unite against the violence exacted on Black and other people of color throughout the world and thus, invoke transnational activism. Du Bois’s book charted his many years of fierce, prophetic activism and his firm contention that the assault on people in any region influences the assault of people everywhere (Du Bois, 2007 [1952]). Empire building is a form of imperialist assault and violence has been at its core beginning with the Western European rape and pillaging of African land and people. Empire building refers to the aggressive take-over of other people’s land to have it “count” as one’s own and thus, involves political and economic control over new territories and its people. This form of exploitation is reminiscent of the practices employed in the past, like the institution of slavery, and in current practices of human rights violations by governments that enslave African immigrants. The callousness of these practices and the current sustaining of poverty in the country of Zambia set alongside the immense wealth of a small Swiss community is aptly captured in the film Stealing Africa (Guldbrandsen, 2012). The wealth of this European community comes from a Swiss-based corporation whose executives mine minerals in the African country.

Empire building is also a goal that is achieved under the guise of supposedly needed military occupation of various regions in the world by the Western governments like the United States (AFRICOM Spearheads Escalation of US “Scramble for Africa” (Transcend Media Services—TMS, March 20, 2017), and often with multinational corporate partners (Burgis, 2015; Hedges, 2015; Johnson, 2004). In addition to military occupation, empire building can also entail the supply of arms and other weaponry, and training resources to Third World “partners,” as well as efforts to establish and continuing establishing collaborations with leaders in the said regions with financial and other material rewards. To the majority of Americans, and even to the peoples in the respective regions in which U.S. military operations are based, the reasons for this presence are attributed to settling regional unrest (Hedges, 2016; West & Buschendorf, 2014). However, that their placement over the years has coincided with acquisitions of natural resources in these “helped” regions, and hence a “looting” by the U.S. government (see Burgis, 2015) to increase the Western empire prompts the need for investigations into the reasons for these deployments and, as needed, the insistence that the U.S. military pull-out of these regions. The secret proliferation of U.S. military bases throughout Africa and the unprecedented aggression against Libya over the past several years warrants greater attention to the need for mass, organizational efforts to bring it to its demise. According to an article by Aaron Maté of The Real News (TRN), Defense Secretary James Mattis reported a ramping up of U.S. military operations in Africa. TRN reported that Senator Lindsey Graham freely admitted in an October 2017 interview:

You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less. You’re going to have decisions being made not in the White house but out in the field, and I support that entire construct. (Maté, 2017)

Du Bois expressed his clarion call in Battle 11 years before his death in 1963. This prolific leader, staunchly committed to the struggle for African-descended people throughout the Diaspora, sought to draw the attention of his reading audience to this phenomenon of empire building.

Leaders who confront empire builders cross physical thresholds to out-wrestle despair with hope as the militarization of these so-called interventions is menacingly entrenched. Undaunted, they create edicts and make efforts to move people from across the globe to achieve peace. An example of this can be seen in the following statement by the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP, n.d.), shown on their website, in their efforts to end U.S. interventions in African countries (Fig. 5.1).
Fig. 5.1

The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) calls for an end to AFRICOM

Randall Robinson is another champion against empire building. Robinson founded TransAfrica as an advocacy organization aimed at U.S. foreign policy in African and Caribbean countries. Robinson established the Free South Africa Movement to push for sanctions against apartheid South Africa. His protest tactics included a 27-day hunger strike in 1994 that led to a United Nations multinational operation that restored Haiti’s first democratically elected government to power. Apartheid constitutes a series of laws related to racial classification that included economic exclusions of Blacks to reserve jobs for Whites, inferior education, and total separation of Blacks and Whites in public and private areas. Apartheid was codified into law in 1948 by the National Party to accomplish the goal of racial, cultural, and political purity (Gobodo-Madikizela, 2003). Robinson would go on to work fiercely on behalf of Black freedoms across the Diaspora, including the heroic “release” of kidnapped Haitian President Bertrand Aristide, who was kidnapped by U.S. President George W. Bush (Robinson, 2007).

Like the final status of the racial identity theory, the people who act against imperialism and military “interventions” in Africa understand that racism imposes oblivion (Trouillot, 1995), thus compromising the legacy, heritage, and endurance of a people whose work toward building peace and liberation can be viewed as exemplars for the world. Their task is to commit to the struggle for liberation, and in furthering their understanding about violence, they learn new ways of being that serve to build peace in ways that allow them to do so, even at the risk of harm or death.

The gallant efforts of transformational leaders are needed to express their commitment to ending further abuses to African descendants and other historically colonized populations. For example, with the establishment of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi), there have been organizational efforts to attune to the issues of Black Americans, as well as to allegiances among African-descended across the globe. When possible, psychologists as leaders need to involve themselves in efforts to bridge gaps between people across the Diaspora. This involvement extends beyond mere hope, but rather entails agency. Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report (April 12, 2018) wrote about the need for this type of maturation in coming to an understanding about capitalist warfare and its impact on Black people throughout the world. He wrote: “When we grow up, when we abandon hope, that longing for a future condition over which we have no agency, all that’s left is the responsibility to take action. Our fates are truly in our own hands. The capitalist warfare state can only produce war, against humans and against the planet itself. We must envision and plan for its end, organize ourselves and build the traditions and institutions that will take its place.” ABPsi already has shown its commitment to a global psychology and indeed emerged from the need to create theory, research, and practice that attends to the well-being of Black people throughout the Diaspora.

Inter-Ethnic Conflict and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

Communities must address justice in the aftermath of the genocide or mass killing of the “undesirable” (Staub, 2004). Justice can take the form of restorative efforts by perpetrators and compensation for survivors to help re-establish the order and safety of everyone, “by formally and publicly confirming that the violence and victimization of the genocide or mass killing were unacceptable” (Staub, 2004, p. 260). Truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC) have arisen in regions throughout the world and have become the focus of research from people both inside and outside these regions. In describing the inner workings of the Inkiko-Gacaca, a revised system of adjudication from past traditions in Rwanda, Staub points out the importance of cultural specificity and by implication, of the need for people to fashion new ways of vetting perpetrators and determining how best to meet the needs of victims. In his work over the years, Staub has witnessed the positives and negatives of these processes toward reconciliation. Some of the negatives include a re-traumatization of issues, as well as the problems inherent in introducing the traumatic events to young people who were not yet born when the 1994 genocide occurred, but who take part in this participatory Gacacas. He estimated that some 100,000 Gacacas have taken place throughout the country of Rwanda alone in groups that number as high as 19. Over 250,000 people have served as judges.

Chapman’s (2007) pursued a 6-year collaborative study in which 1819 transcripts of the South African TRC hearings were analyzed. The researchers also followed up with focus groups with participants of the TRC. The findings show limitations of the TRC in promoting forgiveness and reconciliation “in a meaningful way” (p. 51). Mainly, the TRC had difficulties “in conceptualizing forgiveness and reconciliation on an inter-group level and concentrated instead on relationships between individual victims and perpetrators. Former victims and members of their families who testified at the violations hearings rarely mentioned these topics unless prompted to do so, and those who did were not generally inclined to forgive perpetrators. As one person interviewed expressed:

Although it is easy to say you must forgive, they say you never forget, but would you believe now that we are in the new South Africa. I still hate some of the Whites. I am sorry to say that, but that’s how — if I see a White policeman I hate him. (deponent testimony April 29, 1996, Johannesburg Human Rights Violations Hearing, p. 60)

The perpetrators in Chapman’s study also were reluctant to acknowledge their wrongdoing or to offer meaningful apologies, expressions of regret or some form of compensation (p. 51).

To engage in liberation and peace is to understand that forgiveness is a way of letting go of the bitterness, but it does not mean the absence of perspicacity about racialized violence in how we go about engaging in forgiving. South African psychologist Gobodo-Madikizela (2003) writes eloquently of her visits with imprisoned ex-police chief Eugene De Kock, whose role in commandeering death squads during the period of apartheid cast him as an evil, unconquerable beast among Black South Africans. She wrote of the TRC which was spearheaded by Bishop Desmond Tutu, as a vital measure to the pursuit of justice and peace in post-apartheid South Africa. Speaking of the impacts of trauma on identity, she writes

Traumatic experience ruptures a part of the victim’s identity. It violates the boundaries that protect the definition of self, leaving the individual stripped of many of the things that bestow respect, dignity, and self-worth. Anger and resentment become the only personal “possessions” that the individual now has in place of the loved one. (pp. 96–97)

Gobodo-Madikizela (2003) also speaks about what forgiveness should entail in terms of the healing of psychological wounds and with it, the wounds of a society that continues to see disparities in housing, labor, and virtually all areas. She also warns against prescribing forgiveness as it cheapens the process. It presents a form of coercion in which victims may look for opportunities to forgive solely because they want to bring closure to the trauma. The onus lies with the perpetrator and the sincerity of the apology and the actions of municipalities to bring justice to the wrongs and to listen to the voices of the wronged who want more than mere closure. She states:

A sincere apology does not divert attention from the self, such as those accompanied by a disclaimer: “I’m sorry that your sister was killed. Please understand that I was fighting to end the oppression of my people.” Or “I apologize. But what I did happened because of the political climate of those days.” … A genuine apology focuses on the feelings of the other rather than on how the one who is apologizing is going to benefit in the end. It seeks to acknowledge full responsibility for an act, and does not use self-serving language to justify the behavior of the person asking forgiveness. It must communicate, convey, and perform as a “speech act” that expresses a desire to right the relationship damaged through the actions of the apologizer. A sincere apology does not seek to erase what was done… It clears or”settles” the air in order to begin reconstructing the broken connections between two human beings. (pp. 98–99)

The inclusion of racism to explain and disrupt violence is best accomplished as we also weigh in the other conditions, surely influenced and complicated by this violence, that are common to large-scale mayhem of human lives and physical structures. Referring to the multiple accounts of extreme, mass violence in history and throughout the world currently, Staub concluded from his analyses some common features of these phenomena. These features include difficult life conditions, in particular economic decline, as well as political disorganization, proclivities for scapegoating “others,” and great and rapid changes in society (see also Staub, 2013). Based on these conditions, Staub writes of the importance of creating ways to fulfill psychological needs for prevention purposes. For example, he pointed to increased contact, inclusion of people from various groups in all activities, targeting media and education as conduits for practicing inclusion in language and promoting “moderate” respect for authority. Staub (2013) in fact recommends that people scale back their proclivity to obey authorities as one means to root peace promotion. Further,

[Promoting moderate respect for authority]… is a special challenge, since strong respect for and the tendency to obey authorities may be entrenched in a society’s child rearing practices, the nature of its institutions, including hierarchical social arrangements… and in the political system. Authority orientation will be more moderate in a pluralistic culture with democratic institutions… which allows public discussion of a wide range of values and beliefs and provides access for all groups to the public domain. (Staub, 2013, p. 582)

Racism operates as a globally entrenched component to societal ills that deserves attention in peace promotion strategies in Diasporic regions of the world. Haitian activist Espy (2015) is a community organizer for the People Power Movement: Movimiento Poder Popular who lives in the Bronx, New York and manages a blog at Below, Espy comments on the significance of race as well as class in creating a revolution in Haiti:

In order to stabilize the complete social upheaval on the island of Ayiti, we need both a racial and class analysis to get to the source, the rotten putrid root still leaking the blood of our ancestors. The system must be changed fundamentally at its core to build a new sustainable society equal to all, where the people are truly in power to control their lives and their communities. … Therefore, it is our duty to educate and organize our Dominican and Haitian sisters and brothers on revolutionary principals, rooted in social justice and human rights, so that they can be rehumanized to see who their real enemy is. Once the people see that, the will for social change and people power will be so strong, so broad, so popular, that those in power now will have no choice but to surrender!

Religion as a Means to Attend to (or Avert) Racism

Mills’ (1999) writings concerning Whites’ insistence of a raceless reality to which many Black people collude overlaps with interpretations of religious doctrines. The argument is that beliefs in these doctrines carry more cache in resolving matters surrounding race. Praiseworthy are the White people who have adopted Black children, established churches with overwhelming numbers of African-descended people, and espouse that race is insignificant precisely because it has created ire in our lives and in how societies operate. Yet this thinking runs dramatically counter to interpretations of religious documents in which attention to racism is implicated by many important scholars and activists as important to faith in the religion and to the struggle to recognize the other in the self. Liberation psychology in fact owes much of its foundation to Ignacio Martín-Baró, a Spanish theologian whose essays on the topic were published posthumously (see Martín-Baró, 1994). Martín-Baró was assassinated for his outspokenness and fierce activism during the conflicts in El Salvador in the 1980s.

Theologian Mugambi wrote of how the growth of the Church in Africa ought to be reconstructive, and thus governed by a theology that is not destructive as borne out of a history of Christendom. It is to be “inclusive rather than exclusive, proactive rather than reactive, complementary rather than competitive; integrative rather than disintegrative, … regenerative rather than degenerative” (p. xv)—in other words, all life-advancing processes that entail harmonious relationships, an unfettered practice of worship, and one that does not entail the control or dominance of Europeans, but the participation and will of Africans themselves. In The Cross and the Lynching Tree, liberation theologian James Cone advances vast lessons that can be learned when the symbol of Christianity, the cross, as the instrument on which Jesus was fastened and tortured, is akin to the lynching tree—both Jesus and the Blacks who were lynched were “outsiders” and reviled by the ruling classes. Examinations of the parallels, in Cone’s view, is especially valuable for Whites to learn in order to help them understand the true meaning of Christianity, and its very real reminders in examining the savageries that continue to exist in society with the criminal justice system.

The creation and rise of the Nation of Islam, the noteworthy lessons shared by Malcolm X later in his evolution of racial identity, and by Muhammad Ali, are all examples of how piety and attention to racialized violence and other ongoing injustices can continue. A focus toward justice and peace never altered the prophetic fire or meant the relinquishing of religious beliefs. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom West (2015) describes as the “most significant successful organic intellectual in American history,” whose philosophy of nonviolence expressed in his leadership in the civil rights movements was influenced by the pious Mohandas Gandhi.

His Honorable Dalai Lama (2012) shares a different take on religion and social justice. He advises that the practices toward inner development that can guide us in the difficult ethical decisions of our day are best conducted secularly. In his definition of secular, he is not suggesting that people ignore religion or religious doctrines but rather, that we embrace the similarities that exist in the major religions of the world. As one area of focus, His Honorable Dalai Lama recommends that people regulate their destructive emotions. This focus on destructive emotions is important to spiritual practice and to the resolution of societal problems like war, poverty, and environmental degradation that is steeped in hatred and greed. According to His Honorable Dalai Lama, personal problems are the sources of problems on the societal scale. In recent years, people’s emotions ride high when the subject of immigration is raised (e.g., Kingsley, 2018; Vitali, Hunt, & Thorp, 2018). Heads of state in the Global North in particular can make use of the precariousness of people’s lives as political platforms that evince fear in would-be voters about crime rates and precarious economies that can be compromised by the flow primarily of Global South peoples (Fantina, 2018). Meanwhile, analyses of the complicity of wealthier nations in stemming the conditions in many nations are rarely addressed in the media while negative views toward impoverished immigrants who leave their countries to save their own lives and the lives of their families are rampant. Directing attention to the rhetoric of violence against immigrants is important to the cultivation of advanced schemata and hence, to seeing the complexity of racialized violence. For example, Pilecki, Muro, Hamack, and Clemons (2014) ask, “how have U.S. counterterrorism efforts become so palatable to the public?” in view of American perspectives toward people, typically from Arab countries, who are considered tyrants. They draw from the literature in political psychology to form the basis of their study of the speeches on terrorism by two U.S. presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. According to the authors, people in authority, like heads of state, contribute to “shap[ing] the popular understanding of concepts through rhetoric that situates subjects in larger moral frameworks” (p. 286). They discovered how the discourse from these speeches convey justifications for violence that occurs without procedures of law. Certain groups who are deemed inherently evil are pitted against a favored and presumably neutral and innocent group, Americans, and then executive decisions to destroy these enemies occur with little public outcry. These examinations of discourse make intriguing topics for the deep and penetrating study to which Nobles (2015) refers.

Concluding Remarks

Mary Robinson, former Irish President of the United Nations Commissions stated in a speech that women are most adversely affected by disasters and yet are rarely in the forefront of efforts to protect the vulnerable. “Climate change is a man-made problem and must have a feminist solution” and further, that “feminism does not mean excluding men. It’s about being more inclusive and… acknowledging the role they can play in tracking climate change” (Tabary, June 18, 2018). A similar position applies to peace initiatives that include racialized violence among African-descended people. African-descended people, men and women, need to be fully involved in international deliberations on ethnic conflict, African genocide, and poverty and disease in Diasporic nations, and with advanced schemata to inform their participation, they need to speak about the hidden violence of racialized violence. Their words go beyond mere expression when they have the strong backing of other advanced schemata Black people. True advancement will occur when such advanced racial identity is achieved among Whites who occupy seats of power on multinational corporation boards and as heads of government. In her White Identity Model, Helms (1990a, 1990b) describes how White people experience shifts in their identities by relinquishing racism and devising positive White identities. Helms’ four-part theory consists of models which together, are explications of how everyone can move toward moral engagement and beyond conformist worldviews in which societies absorb rather than actively stomps out structures of oppression.

Christie, Tint, Wagner, and Winter (2008) propose a model that combines both negative and positive peace. Negative peace refers to the efforts to reduce violent episodes while positive peace refers to the promotion of social arrangements in different societies that reduce social, racial, gender, economic, and ecological injustices as barriers to peace. The authors also note that peace in incompatible with malnutrition, extreme poverty and refusing people the right of self-determination. They concluded that the only lasting peace in the world is a just peace. Peace with justice is based on respect for human rights and articulated in the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals (see also the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], n.d.).

The act of confronting racialized violence should be part of the comprehensive efforts. In regions throughout the Diaspora, frictions are characterized by a mimicking of the power plays that originated and that continually are stoked with White racism and imperialist domination. They include divisions that are based on the intersections of race, ethnicity, nationalism, gender, social class, and experiences in policing and penal systems. When we closely and deliberately examine these intersections, we see violence re-enacted in ways that can keep us from the collective pursuit of liberation. Notably, knowledge about White people and imperialists, as Malcolm X espoused in the Burnham quote, translates into the ability of African-descended people to understand how many White people and institutions that serve the racial-status quo are complicit in the equation of racialized violence. The extent to which knowledge is understood theoretically is virtually absent in the peace psychology literature.

What happens when theory is swept away from so-called comprehensive deliberations about violence and, likewise, about peace-promotion strategies? Novelist and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison (1992) provides us with a clue of this absence when it comes to examinations of literature. She wrote persuasively of how White American literary authors would include the “Africanist presence” in their works to serve certain objectives about the work itself—its characters and plot, as well as reinforce certain ideas about the world and inadequacies about the authors themselves. Morrison wrote that the presence of African-descended characters acted as a means to reinforce the egos of these White people. According to Morrison, the Africanist presence is one that settles into the minds and imaginations of these authors because of the tensions inherent in fallacious views about Whites’ “natural” superiority over Black people. She also contends that this existence that manifests in the literature, necessarily emerges out of fretfulness. Further, Morrison writes that

… the imaginative and historical terrain upon which early American writers journeyed is in large measure shaped by the presence of the racial other. Statements to the contrary, insisting on the meaninglessness of race to the American identity, are themselves full of meaning. The world does not become raceless or will not become unracialized by assertion. The act of enforcing racelessness in literary discourse is itself a racial act. Pouring rhetorical acid on the fingers of a black hand may indeed destroy the prints, but not the hand. Besides, what happens in that violent, self-serving act of erasure in the hands, the fingers, the fingerprints of the one who does the pouring? Do they remain acid-free? The literature itself suggests otherwise. (p. 46)

Morrison is referring to a psychology of Whiteness that has impacted societies around the world. To deny the social construction that propels racialized violence can be difficult to uphold despite the supports that help erect these social realities. The fiction is hard to bear and as a consequence, the need to continue the violence—or conclude that it is inevitable and an artifact of a violent world in which some are luckier than others, propels the racial-social order. Within the global order, the association between life and White survival cannot comfortably exist alongside an association of life and Black survival. To resist the call to act against racialized violence—that is, racism—is to be complicit in a helix of structural violence. In contrast, to engage in actions that confront racialized violence is to break from a conformist environment that perpetuates it.

It is ironic that when people engage in these actions, they can experience threats to their livelihood and lives (Thompson & Alfred, 2009). They can experience ruptures in their relationships, rejections, and efforts by friends and strangers alike to curtail their vigor and anger and to find more suitable ways to act that do not disturb the normalcy and quietude of public environments. They will learn over time that their outspokenness is an outgrowth of their strength and resolve to depart from a normalcy that is achingly mute about the ongoing pathology of societal injustice (see Lorde, 1984).

At times, the risk is great when it entails disruptions of systems that are highly guarded. To be vocal about racism, and intersected with other forces like sexism and class exploitation, is also to face danger, as in the recent assassination of Brazilian activist Marielle Franco (Reeves, March 15, 2018). Guyanese scholar and activist Walter Rodney, who attempted to “rehabilitate” African and Caribbean history while acting prominently in the Caribbean Black Power Movements of the 1960s (Fontaine, 1982), spoke of the association he saw between safety against violence and political mobilization and action. In an interview with Margret Arkhurst, Rodney explained

We will try to guarantee our safety by the level of political mobilization and political action inside and outside of the country. Ultimately it is this rather than any kind of physical defense which will guarantee our safety. None of us is unmindful of the threat that is constantly posed. We don’t regard ourselves as adventurers or martyrs or potential martyrs, but we think there is a job to be done, and at a certain point in time we have to do what has to be done. (Fontaine, 1982, p. 15)

Rodney was assassinated in 1980 for his activism.

Lake and Rothchild (1996) emphasize that analyzing the problems of war and conflict requires recognition of the panoply of forces that merge. Referring to the ethnic conflicts that have existed throughout the world in countries within Africa, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, they stated that explanations for why these conflicts occur are often reduced simplistically and too often are entirely wrong. They state further:

Ethnic conflict is not caused directly by inter-group differences, “ancient hatreds,” and centuries old feuds, or the stresses of modern life within a global economy. … We argue instead that intense ethnic conflict is most often caused by collective fears of the future. As groups begin to fear for their safety, dangerous, or difficult-to-resolve strategic dilemmas arise that contain within them the potential for tremendous violence. As information failures, problems of credible commitments, and the security dilemma take hold, groups become apprehensive, the state weakens, and conflict becomes more likely. Ethnic activists and political entrepreneurs, operating within groups, build upon these flaws of uncertainty and polarize society. Political memories and emotions also magnify these anxieties, driving groups further apart. (p. 41)

There is little doubt that many forces play a role, and no amount of “working through” interpersonal anxieties that arise from “political memories” will dissipate the problems we see occur across the globe. Talking openly about political memories and emotions can indeed drive groups further apart but too many can no longer bear the silence and subterfuge.

For the conflicts that occur in countries like Sudan, Uganda, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, comprehensive measures that include efforts to nurture Black people’s commitment to forcefully end racialized violence are needed. Recognizing that political memories and emotions may indeed magnify anxieties and drive groups apart initially; however, these memories and emotions may also be the path to restoring history and hope, actions that have been demonstrated in liberation approaches. University of Kwa Natal student Kagiso Nkosi (Personal Communication, 2018) states that the transformation that emerges from an understanding of these sociopolitical realities and of one’s own power and humanity to contribute to a better world is the essence of the meaning of Ubuntu.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana University – Purdue University IndianapolisIndianapolisUSA

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