Why We (Should) Talk about Kemet II
Reason #2: Identity
Oh, precious Lord
You see what the white man did?
When the first came here
They gave us looking-glasses
They said, "Get up there,
you black man monkey!
Get up there...!"
~ fragment of a "hymn" I heard in Cameroon
(Thanks, We are Respectable Negroes!)
1) Preservation in the face of intervention. Anthropological theory states that all societies will develop so long as someone doesn't step in and throw a wrench into the people's progress.
When I moved back to America, I lived with my father, a professor. As I child, I noticed the issue of preserving my African identity was very important to him. He tried to avoid speaking English to me, even when we had guests over. After the age of 11, he struck French off the list as well. He explained that America was not "our" country even though I myself was born here. He pressed the fact that the only reason we weren't in our country was that white intervention had thrown a wrench in (but not obliterated) our religious systems, our governmental systems, and our economies. It even had displaced our people, to an extent; before the Southern/Western Cameroons were carelessly stitched to Eastern Cameroon, we were Nigerian. The new borders cut us off from those whom we shared linguistic, cultural, and physical similarities. 'Til today, wherever my sisters and I go, we are always confused for Nigerians, by both Africans and non-Africans.
And today, Nigeria grants those of us who are descended from the displaced "indigenous certificates", through which we can gain Nigerian citizenship without the need for visas.
Understand that to Africans like my father (and there are millions like him worldwide), colonialism and all its devastation is not some distant time and place scribbled on a page in a history book. As with many older African Americans, to whom Jim Crow and segregation are living memory, so is colonialism to Africans like my father. For them, it was a childhood of being dragged to church and told to abandon pagan ways like shaving hair at funerals or pouring libations for the ancestors. It meant being shipped to British schools, given English names, and told to abandon their tribal dialects.
It meant beatings, emasculation, and being kept away from home, which inspired my father's generation to compose "hymns" like the one above. You can imagine the look on my face the first time I heard my father sing this song, which up until then, I had only heard from my cousins and fellow schoolchildren in Cameroon.
See, what helps people of color around the world survive such times is identity: the unflinching (accurate) knowledge of one's self and history. My father explained that "Africa" was not the problem, and that I should never feel ashamed of being an African child. No one forced the Europeans to invade us. No deity descended to Earth and order them to haul Africans off in chains on pain of extinction. We cannot control the behavior of other people, he said, but we can remain true to ourselves.
My father told me and my sisters all the time that we were beautiful, and forbid the straightening of our hair. He raised me in a house full of books, with no television for the first six years I lived with him. And when he taught me about African history (since my schools sure as hell weren't), he made sure I started from the beginning. He explained that had I stayed in Cameroon, such extensive history lessons would not be necessary, but for an African child living in the West the lessons were essential for my emotional and psychological well-being.
As a child, I was annoyed with the endless reading and lecturing, but like many Black people living in the West, my father understood the need for preservation. He knew I'd grow up seeing mostly over-hyped, positive images of white people in media, and mostly negative, inaccurate images of black people in media. And as one who was personally taught that Black people never built empires or created anything at all, my father understood better than most the white tendency to exploit and insert themselves into cultures of color which had absolutely nothing to do with them.
My father encouraged me to learn about modern African scholars, because they are basically the new griots of our continent. Naturally, they tend to get quite furious over the Kemet-whitening issue because it derails their sacred duty of ensuring the historical accuracy of our peoples. In fact, at times in years past, that duty became downright hellish. If we think dealing with drones and draptos on the blogosphere is horrific, imagine what these guys dealt with (you get to hear and see Diop himself around 4:45).
2) Recognizing loss. When white outsiders look in on Kemet, they see some sort of mystical, enchanting, ideal world which they fantasize about not only living in, but ruling (Lothlórien with obelisks and pyramids, if you will). They think Kemet's exciting and exotic, and they're pissed that 1) it's not here anymore, and 2) though they'd never care to admit it, their own ancestral interference is one of the main reasons it's not here anymore.
There's another subconscious part to this white lens, of course. Most modern Irish people don't speak Gaelic; British invasion and colonization almost annihilated their language. Modern Scandinavians are viewed as "pretty" people, not the fierce and dreaded scarred warriors of the Viking Age. And modern Italians don't even remotely resemble their Roman ancestors, who conquered and enslaved millions, built a vast Empire, and then...fell.
There was a time when, like everyone else, Europeans prayed to many gods, worshiped the Earth, and paid strict attention to the cycles of the moon and the patterns of stars in the night sky. Their warriors too dredlocked their hair and painted their faces before rushing into battle to the thundering sound of drums. But then...Europeans turned their back on that heritage. They gave it up willingly. In the case of people like the Irish, their heritage was taken from them forcefully by fellow Europeans.
Part of the white obsession with Kemet stems from their own loss of identity which, for the most part, wasn't taken so much as given up. They walked away from who they were and now they're struggling to get back (hence all these self-indulgent "period pieces" and "epics" flooding Hollywhite, in case you're wondering).
As I was saying in a comment on the last Kemet post, modern Africans don't feel "loss" when we look at Kemet. We still have our shit. We still have our clothes, our music, our languages, our hairstyles, our ancestral beliefs, our customs, and our overall identity. We know who we are, even after being invaded, colonized and enslaved. If anything, these events strengthened our cultural resolve and even moved us towards a Pan-African mentality. While we are each proud to be Ethiopian, Nigerian, Gabonese, Zambian, Ghanaian, etc., most of us say "African" when referring to ourselves and one another. We don't mourn the loss of days gone by because their legacies remain, and we recognize how their influence helped shape who we are today. Hence the reason Africans in general tend to focus on who we are today.
3) Reclaiming self. I've noticed that African Americans in particular demonstrate a strong feeling of claim and connection to the Nubians and Kemites. This is perfectly understandable. When you're taken from your home for centuries, you lose your way (because it's taken from you). And when you lose your way, the smartest thing to do is retrace your steps from the beginning. African Americans have been posting marvelous videos on the web unapologetically taking back what was snatched from them. While some (read: whites) brand this miltant Afrocentrism, this is actually a very healthy tendency which I encourage.