The Political Economy of African
DONALD R. CULVERSON
For most of the post—World War II era diverse groups of African Americans contested U.S. collusion with white supremacist regimes in southern Africa. Yet, scholarly analysis of those movements emphasizes black efforts to influence U.S. policy in response to crisis events such as the 1960 Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprisings in 1976. The focus on specific episodes in foreign policy management obscures how the long-term maintenance of apartheid relied on a matrix of international economic, social, political, and ideological arrangements, and how the fragility of those relationships presented new obstacles, opportunities, and resources for opposition movements.
This essay explores African American mobilization against apartheid and its response to structural transformations in advanced capitalist society. It contends that major societal changes created new opportunities to challenge state and corporate policy and to develop better explanations of U.S. connections to the production and distribution of wealth and poverty in southern Africa. Favorable circumstances helped expand possibilities for transnational citizen activism.
For more than a decade, scholars across a range of disciplines have devoted considerable attention to African American efforts to influence foreign affairs. 1 This trend counters perspectives that confine the study of transnational political activities by black Americans to “back-to-Africa” or “cultural identity” movements. Recent studies have identified a considerable and sustained African American group interest in the world beyond America's shores, 2 but much of the research concentrates on the first half of the twentieth century. Little assessment has been made of how increased levels of global interdependence since the early 1970s have shaped the direction of black American foreign affairs endeavors.
This essay explores major changes in African American politicization over southern Africa from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s. Growing