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100 Years On: Is The Pan-African Flag Still Relevant?

“Elvis was a hero to most / But he never meant shit to me, you see / Straight up racist that sucker was / Simple and plain / Mother fuck him and John Wayne / 'Cause I'm black and I'm proud / I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped / Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps...”

An all-time protest bop, Public Enemy’s seminal anthem ‘Fight The Power’, taken from their Fear Of A Black Planet album, was on the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s classic film Do The Right Thing. It was named number seven in Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs Of All Time’. The ‘Fight The Power’ music video illuminates black historical figures and step drills (an ode to the Black Panthers) and the Bed-Stuy ‘Do or Die’ mural made famous in Spike’s film. The song, along with other hits like ‘Can’t Truss It’, are credited as threads belonging to a tapestry of work in music and film which endears black unity and Pan-Africanism. And 100 years from the day that the Pan-African flag was first adopted, it is worth revisiting some of the ways this flag has been included in some of our social and cultural discourses within the African diaspora.

This Pan-African tapestry consists of a catalogue of hip hop music videos and songs for that era known as ‘conscious hip hop’. Black empowerment themes in this genre and other diaspora musical genres helped create a cultural lexicon that reminds scholars of the ‘griot tradition’. Productions include Queen Latifah’s ‘Dance For Me’ and ‘Fly Girl’, and Boogie Down Productions’ ‘You Must Learn' – which critiqued the failure of the US education system to teach African and black histories. And then of course there’s roots reggae. Songs like Peter Tosh’s 1977 hit ‘African’ and Aswad’s ‘Back To Africa’ speak to the aspirations of Rastafarian adherents seeking closeness to ‘Jah’, black liberation and African identity – which were popular from the mid 1970s until the 1990s.