I was reading this short story, Reena by Paule Marshall and one of the characters (in a 1960s NY setting) says about Africa: “I want to live and work there…All I know is that I have to. For myself and for my children. It is important that they see Black people who have truly a place and history of their own and who are building for a new and, hopefully, more sensible world. And I must see it, get close to it, because I can never lose the sense of being a displaced person here in America because of my color.”
Interesting, “Black people who truly have a place” yet, in the early sixties, most African nations had not yet or were just tasting their first days of independence. And legacies of centuries do not change overnight so indeed, these Black people were in “a place” whose possession had been taken charge of by outsiders who told them how they were to exist in it (and only in parts of it at that!) “And a history of their own” which for the most part had had a hugely significant part of itself erased. Knowledge about how people lived before colonization is elusive. “Who are building for a new and hopefully, more sensible world.” Well a quick look at what’s going on in Africa today clearly shows that we have so far fallen short of this expectation.
“African American” views of Africa and Africans are often misinformed. Watching a popular reality tv competition this week where the contestants visited South Africa, one Black American contestant kept effusing how great it was to be back home!!! One of the big debates. A lot of Africans I have met here in the US are offended when non-Africans refer to the continent as a whole. They insist that Africa is not one big country but a continent of many distinct nations with differing characteristics that spread the gamut. One wonders sometimes though why we should hold so steadfast to separations that were carved out by our otherwise usually repudiated colonial fathers!
And to play the risky game of stereotypes for a moment… There is the Black American who rejects the term “African American”, refusing any attachment to a place that they have never known and have no intention of knowing. Some have a patronizing attitude toward Africans, angry that African immigrants (who are justifiably more hard-working and less complacent) are taking over their jobs. They joke about Africans being dirty, ugly, uncouth and plain primitive. They nurture their ignorance in order to, it would seem, console themselves that there is another group that is lower than them on the racial ladder (I am reminded of that famous quote from Hotel Rwanda). Then there is the Afro-centric Afrikan American who embraces any- and everything that is remotely African (which means that they are ripe prey for impostor goods!). They self-consciously wear head-wraps, mudcloth and natural hair. They loosely use words such as “Nubian” and speak about the Motherland with extreme reverence. Their whole life seems to be a grand preparation for their return home but their conviction is belied by the fact that, when it comes down to it, most of them do not really plan on actualizing this ‘dream’. Not to knock them completely for indeed, how does one return to that which one doesn’t know? Where would one start? Would one be accepted?