The murder of George Floyd by a white policeman in America has sparked so many conversations surrounding Black Identity and systematic racism. The question of Identity is one that most people struggle with, especially people of colour. For most people, it becomes a lifetime mission, to discover who they are and what their life purpose is. But truth be told, it is quite difficult to find yourself when all your life you have been taught to hate yourself and been relegated to a position where you wish you had a totally different Identity. Such is the story of Identity crisis amongst Black Africans.
Back in 1971, the World Boxing Champion, Mohammed Ali said something regarding Black Identity that I thought was incredible. He recalls asking his mother; ‘Mama, why is everything white? Tarzan is the King of the Jungle in Africa but he is white.’ Santa Claus is white. And the president lives in the White House.’ Everything was white…He goes on to say, and everything bad was black. The Little Ugly Duckling was the black duck. And the black cat was bad luck. If I threaten you, I was blackmailing you. And I said mama, ‘why don’t they call it ‘whitemail’? They lie too!’ It was a humorous way of pointing out things we sort of overlook, yet they are subtly sending a message that seeks to dehumanize a people. This I believe is Colonialism 101. If you want to conquer anyone, what better way is there than making them feel bad about who they are, especially something they can never change like skin colour. And we have our people going to bizarre lengths to try and ‘lighten’ their skin just because they are ashamed of being dark skinned. It’s easier to ascribe any identity on a people who have lost any sense of belonging. When the slave traders shipped Africans to Europe, America and the Caribbean Islands, one of the first things they did was change the names of the African slaves. The same happened when Missionaries came to Africa and gave new recruits Christian names. Those who were christened would go on to receive an education (more of propaganda if you ask me) dress like the White Men, talk like the White Men, eat like the White Men. Blackness or Africanism was associated with primitiveness and some extremist colonialists would go on to equate Blacks with Apes. These narratives are really evil when one puts them to perspective. Yet, today we speak of a dark pastime where systems openly allowed racial discrimination and the subordination of blacks under the pretext of them being underdeveloped and subhuman. Today we seem to celebrate, as Blacks, being almost accepted to the ‘meal table’ with our former colonial masters but are we really free?
Bob Marley, the Jamaican Reggae maestro has a song, ‘Redemption Song’ from the album, ‘Uprising’ that complements what I have just mentioned. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free out minds. In many African societies there is now a decay of Ubuntu and the rise of western adopted creeds at the detriment of African value systems. Are we not still enslaved by the same systems of old? And when are we going to emancipate ourselves from those mental gaols? And some of us, on seeing all this have taken to numbing their conscience by painting neo-colonialism with the colour of civilization. Civilization by definition is a state where a particular society has reached an advanced level of development and organisation in terms of culture, technology etc. But is it not the same society which must define what that civilization entails?
Each man for himself and the devil for us all, that’s the new mantra, right? So long I’m-my-brother’s-keeper talk. The Ubuntu culture was marked by collectivism, not individualism. Individualism is now commonplace but it’s a foreign concept which is divorced of what makes us ‘US’. The term Ubuntu or Hunhu in Shona laterally means, ‘I am because you are’. If you misbehaved back then, it wasn’t just up to your parents to set your ways right. Sometimes it would mean going for a hearing before the elders of the village because they understood that this child is OURS and if he loses his or her ways it does affect the entire society. It takes a village to raise a child. But now, Ubuntuism is just a word we throw around to embellish our speeches and writings but there is no Ubuntu to talk about anymore. It’s just a wish we have, a reminiscence of a coveted past time. Instead we have phenomena like Xenophobia taking the centre stage. Fellow Black Africans butchering other Africans just because they are ‘foreigners’. Foreigners?Perhaps most of us were sleeping in history class. If I remember my history well, the map of Africa we have now was a culmination of a conflict-resolution exercise amongst thirteen European Powers and the United States of America under the banner of the Belin Conference of 1884-1885. Africa was partitioned and bordered by foreigners and now we use the same divisions to persecute each other. Most of Africa right now is rigged with internal conflicts: tribal conflicts, religious conflicts, territorial conflicts…you name it. This is exactly what the architects of Colonialism wanted and in conflicting amongst ourselves, we are playing right into their hands. And instead of African organisations like SADC, AU and many other pan-African groupings going in those conflicted zones to settle the said disputes, we have our former colonial masters rushing to offer ‘assistance’. I like what the great states man, the late Thomas Sankara said once; One who feeds you controls you. When are we going to learn to depend on ourselves and create systems that are geared toward taking care of our own and buttressing our African Identity?
We have lost our ways and I think much of it can be traced back to colonialism which was meant to strip us of our Africanism. But is it too late for us? Have we fallen too deep into the jaws abyss that there is no way out? The concept of colonialism pivoted on education or rather propaganda. The Colonialists sat down and came up with a genius way to brainwash us into thinking much less of ourselves if not entirely nothing. And I think the same modus operandi can be employed to undo the damage. Well, not propagandistically of course but a well put truth can wash away the lies we have been soaked in for centuries. As Black Africans, we can regain our Identity and run our own affairs without outside influence or interference. Each one of us has a role to play in this. It is possible and it begins with you.
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