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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reflecting on the Global Uprisings of 2020

Responses to the 2020 Global Uprisings

Reflections on Ben Okri, Goenawan Mohamad, and the 2020 Global Uprisings

The global Black Lives Matter uprisings against police violence prompted by Floyd’s murder were connected to a longer history of transnational Black struggles. As Ben Okri and Goenawan Mohamad and others have suggested, the civil rights and Black Power movements from the 1950s to the 1970s were not confined to US terrain; they were part of a global conjuncture. Protests throughout the Western world highlighted the blood-soaked record of the global color line, coalescing around demands for the official repudiation of the continuing legacies of racial oppression, enslavement, segregation, and empire. In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement transformed the public conversation in the US about police violence. Caught in the act, Derek Chauvin seemed untroubled at being recorded by a courageous 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. We do not know what he was thinking, but still one recalls those members of lynch mobs posing for photographs during the Jim Crow era. Convinced that he would not be held accountable by a system of state-sanctioned violence, Chauvin appears to have believed that his use of deadly force was justifiable, just as similar extrajudicial killings by police officers of Black people have been upheld by juries and the criminal–legal system. BLM linked the crisis of oppressive policing to longstanding racial inequities in health, housing, employment, and income while insisting on the sanctity of the lives of Black poor, queer, and transgender persons, and persons living with disabilities. Republican-authored laws seeking to wrest autocratic control of education by criminalizing the teaching of race in US history are a craven response to the ways that the global reckoning on racism in 2020 has altered the US political landscape.

'I can't breathe': Why George Floyd's Words Reverberate Around the World

Reflections by the Nigerian writer and critic Ben Okri on the worldwide impact of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minnepolis police. 

Strange Fruit

An analysis of the long history of anti-Black racism, which stretches from George Floyd's trampling death back to the lynching murders which Billie Holiday sang about in "Strange Fruit."


Black Atlantic Currents: Mati Diop’s Atlantique and the Field of Transnational American Studies

This essay reads French-Senegalese director Mati Diop’s 2019 film Atlantique, a Senegalese-French-Belgian coproduction, to argue that its oceanic focus gestures at the haunting histories that suture the US and Senegal. Atlantique, spoken in Wolof, explores global and local class inequalities through a romance narrative that foregrounds the lasting effects of colonialism and economic imperialism on Senegal. Despite this distinct national context, Atlantique was quickly absorbed into a global media stream, picked up by Netflix and distributed to more than one hundred and sixty-five million subscribers. While Atlantique appears to tackle the ravages of capitalism on a global scale by highlighting labor migration and the disruptive effects on the women left behind, a close reading of the film reveals a more complicated and transnational story. Atlantique forces us to also think about the United States. The American continent in the colonial era formed the tragic third corner in the triangular Atlantic economy based on the slave trade. Placing Atlantique within a Black Atlantic trajectory yields a richer, more politically invested reading of the film that simultaneously helps us to rethink the political work that film can do in a globalized world. In particular, I posit that Atlantique’s circulation to the US and Europe helps reverse the traditional patterns of flow, North to South, West to East, as such challenging limited understandings of the US's cultural and political ties to Senegal.After a discussion of production and circulation, I therefore turn to a close reading of the film and the paratext surrounding it to proffer a theory of how films like Atlantique can help us rethink the potentialities and investments of transnational American Studies as a field.

Lessons from a Different Shore: Portrayals of Japanese American Incarceration and the Redress Movement by Western European Newspapers

The history of Japanese American incarceration is traditionally framed as one of the bleakest chapters in twentieth-century US history. Yet interest in the story of Japanese Americans and the lessons of the incarceration are not limited to the United States or the Japanese diaspora. This article examines media reactions to the story of the Japanese American incarceration and the redress movement of the 1980s in four Western European countries—the Netherlands, United Kingdom, West Germany, and France. In each country, media outlets discussed the redress movement and the Japanese American experience, larger issues of racism within the United States, and financial compensation for war victims. In doing so, these media accounts both dramatize the nature of public opinion on the subject of reparations and touch on larger debates on the collective memory of the Holocaust and colonialism that were emerging in Western Europe.


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Hasty Departures: The Evacuation of American Citizens from Europe at the Outbreak of World War II

When World War II began in September 1939, upwards of one hundred thousand American citizens were residing and traveling throughout Europe. Over the next three months, nearly seventy-five thousand of these individuals would be returned to the United States on crowded passenger ships and merchant vessels. This evacuation, organized and facili­tated by the US government, shipping representatives, and labor organizers, proved to be difficult. Besides contending with logistical obstacles, officials leading the operations had to assist evacuees with bookings and other personal matters, contend with rowdy ship crews, and ensure that the vessels traveling across the Atlantic Ocean were safe from Ger­man U-boats. This article offers insight into the Americans who were assisted, the US government officials who orchestrated the repatriation efforts, and the ships that were involved in the transatlantic crossings. It also provides a unique glimpse into the activities of American consular staff in France, Britain, and Ireland during the early days of the inter­national conflict.



Pluralism, Transition, and the Anglophone; and Just an American Darker than the Rest: On Queer Brown Exile

This excerpt from Transitive Cultures: Anglophone Literature of the Transpacific asks how South East Asian writing in English can be analyzed in conjunction with texts from its North American diasporas to reread forms of global multiculturalism within a longer genealogy of “pluralist governmentality:” an art of government that expects individuals to visibly express their difference via given group identities, and in doing so, to represent imperial state power as neutral, universal, or benevolent. Patterson asks how South East Asian migrant narratives deracinate the optics of pluralist governmentality by emphasizing forms of transitivity that Patterson dubs “transitive cultures,” the sets of camouflaged and shifting cultural practices tactically mobilized in contexts where identity is defined as fixed and authentic. To read across ethnicized genres and identities, Patterson reframes Asian migrant texts as transpacific Anglophone texts—a category that stresses encounter and exchange—and shines a spotlight on works that trouble a global multiculturalist reading because they are deemed “inauthentic” to both nationalist literatures, global literatures, and American ethnic literatures. Chapter 4, Just an American Darker than the Rest: On Queer Brown Exile, extends the inquiries of transitivity by reading texts of queer brown migrancy. It pairs Lawrence Chua’s 1998 novel, Gold by the Inch, with R. Zamora Linmark’s 2011 novel, Leche. Both novels consider queer of color travel as a rejection of American senses of brownness and homonormativity.