A “Common Spectacle” of the Race: Garveyism’s Visual Politics of Founding

A “Common Spectacle” of the Race: Garveyism’s Visual Politics of Founding

By Adom Getachew, University of Chicago

The questions of what makes a people a people and how they are endowed with political power are central to political founding. Through the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s first annual convention, this essay reconstructs the central role of aesthetic practices to the constitution of a new people. The convention’s spectacular performances were a vehicle through which participants came to understand themselves as constituting the Universal Negro—a transnational and empowered political subject. Founding was tied to the development of “reverential self-regard,” which was a process rather than a singular moment. Central to this process was both the gaze of spectators whose affective responses confirmed the power of the people and the political leader who served as the people’s mirror. Focusing on a mass movement rather than canonical instances of constituting republics brings into sharp relief the reiterative labors of staging, enacting, and viewing necessary to the practice of founding.

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