Black People Worldwide, We Need to Talk
Let me preface this by stating this is just my humble opinion.
Recent discussions, both here and via email, have got me thinking about a few things.
For one, when Obama told the CBC to "stop complaining", I felt he was in the wrong because like all people of color in America, Black people have valid reasons to be upset; they stem from institutionalized white supremacy, and that's not some empty, random, whiny "complaint". When it comes to the concerns raised by Black Americans and presented in political circles, a black President needs to have both understanding and respect. I stand by my initial opinion.
However, I think Black people worldwide have some post-slavery, post-colonial conditioning which we all seriously need to work through. We complain or show disdain for one another, and that has to stop.
I'm a child of two worlds; I see things through eyes of an African woman and an American woman. I understand both sides because I walk on both sides and listen to both sides. And it's my fondest wish that we get rid of the "two" sides and become just one side.
This is not a Kumbaya speech; this is all very serious. Both sides have been conditioned. One side was conditioned by enslavement, the other by colonization. The conditioning was the same. Both were told they were worthless, subhuman, that they had never accomplished anything, and could never accomplish anything. Both sides had foreign names, religions, and languages crammed down their throats; both sides were often separated from their parents, children, and spouses. Before and during the slave trade and colonialism, division weakened us. After 500 years, division is still weakening us, and it will go on weakening us until we become one side.
We talk a lot about white conditioning here at the bar, but we have to talk about ours as well. Whether through fear, casual misinformation, or subtle discouragement, all Americans are conditioned to stay in America. There is a clear financial motivation for this; the citizenry is needed to generate revenue and pay taxes, especially during times like these. The citizenry is also needed to fight for the country in its bullshit wars. That's why we're not strongly encouraged to be multilingual or to hold dual citizenship with another country, and why traveling abroad seems to grow increasingly expensive each year.
Black Americans have been especially conditioned against Africa, so whenever they have even the slightest negative experience concerning Africans, they go in the other direction. Same thing for Africans who are also conditioned against Black Americans. Black Americans have been taught that Africa isn't as advanced or diverse as America, that their lives will be of lower quality and greater struggle if they ever left America. Black Africans have been conditioned much like other immigrants are conditioned; they're told Black Americans are violent, ignorant, and low-class.
And in my personal experience, no one blows up and exaggerates the divide quite like white Americans, who know absolutely nothing about being Black or about anything to do with Africa. Once they learn where my family's from, they can't wait to talk shit about Black Americans, or try to wax authoritatively about the supposedly cosmic-sized disconnect between our two sides.
And that right there, brothers and sisters, that right there is division weakening us. After 500 hundred years - and millions of lives lost - one would think we'd have learned our lesson, but apparently not.
Everyone keeps telling me to "try to understand" and the fact is, I understand just fine. Some Black Americans feel they were wronged by their Mother, and feel they don't owe their Mother anything. And no...they don't. Mother owes them, but Mother can't pay them back if they don't at least try to come home and get what's theirs by right.
Much of Black American hesitation stems from fear. "I don't know where I'd go. I don't know where I belong. I don't know how people will react to me" - these are all perfectly understandable fears which can easily be overcome if one just does the proper research. Just as Black people in America are not a monolith, Black people in Africa are not a monolith either. Africa is not a country; blogger Abagond describes it best:
Africa is huge: it is three times bigger than America in both land and people.I stress doing the proper research because it helps avoid misunderstandings, which are a great cause of the disconnect. In a place with a thousand cultures, you're talking about a broad spectrum of personalities and perspectives. You have to find the one which meshes with yours the most. Some regions are strictly Muslim, some are strictly Christian, and some places devoutly practice their indigenous religions. In some places, women are in charge. In others, men are in charge. And in some places, both tend to run the show.
Africa is a continent of a billion people. That is bigger than the whole world was up till 1800. Bigger than it was in the time of the Bible. Bigger than it was in the time of Shakespeare.
Africa has at least a thousand languages, which means at least a thousand cultures. Meaning each country has dozens of cultures of its own! So even the countries are not countries in the Western sense. (emphasis mine)
Africa has way more genetic diversity than the rest of the world – because it is the root of mankind. Deep down we are all Africans no matter what our colour or country.
So while there is some truth to the stereotypes about Africa – it is easy to find supporting examples in a land of a billion people – they are profoundly false. Because any stereotype about a place that big would have to be.
Colonialism and attempted genocide have left many tribes paranoid; they tend to view all outsiders as a threat. These are often the groups who are indigenous to the Nth degree. They don't want to see or hear anything from "the white man's world." They're not fans of money, Christianity, or modern technology. They don't speak any Western languages. If you go onto their territory, you better be barefoot, shaven-haired, and metaphorically waving a white flag otherwise you won't get very far.
You're laughing, but this is all very serious. Black people worldwide are more diverse than even we realize, and just as many of you Black Americans keep telling me you don't understand and feel disconnected from Africans, many Africans - even the ones who live here and speak English - don't understand you. I'm not just talking linguistically; my own two older sisters, for example, were born in Cameroon and spent many years there, but most of their lives here. They sound completely American. Yet I still have to constantly "translate" concepts for them, even as I do for my older relatives. Mind you, most Africans will not come right out and admit their ignorance to you; they'll stiffen up, withdraw, or nod politely, wait until you're gone and then have a relative like me "translate" what you've said or explain why you did something (Asians, you understand what I mean).
Africa is not just another continent, you see; it's a totally different world. And the one thing those thousand cultures have in common is that they don't see things the way Americans do. When you have a place that diverse, it's easy to offend and be offended. In fact, it's expected. When I was in Cameroon, it seemed like I was offending everyone all the time. With each offense, I learned something new - and that's how many Africans function. That's how we learn about one another. American sensitivity to perceived personal criticism, however, has no place in that system; it actually hinders growth.
Before I return home, I'd like to travel, to see more of the world and write about it, but my ultimate goal is to eventually head home, and not just when I'm withered and gray - long before that. I constantly encourage others to come with me (figuratively speaking, of course; we can't all travel together) because it will do them a lot of good. The next few decades will be an excellent time to go; Africa's economies are on the rise (the recession in America is reportedly helping somehow...ironically), the populations are increasingly diversifying even more than they already were, we're seeing dictators dying or being overthrown, Gabon set a brilliant example by deporting white people for racism, and by 2050, Africa is expected to be home to about a third of the human species.
My mother recommends Nigeria for Black Americans in particular; aside for literally being the blackest country on earth, it's at the forefront of growing African economies. All those degrees you have that aren't doing squat for you here are quite the commodity there. There are various jobs available from teaching classes to setting up and running computer labs at universities. My uncle strongly recommends UNICEF jobs for anyone who wants to get their feet wet in a flexible, temporary position. He used to work for the UN and talked about how it really opened up the whole world. You can work in, say, Nigeria this year, South Korea the next, and end up in Dubai the year after, and you don't have to pay for your travel.
I hope this stimulates Black American curiosity not just in the Motherland, but in themselves. Africa is always going to be a part of you, and she's always going to be waiting.