I'm a NEGRO DAMMIT!!!!
" The Negro, strictly speaking is an American creation and does not exist anywhere else."
-James Baldwin (paraphrased)
John McWhorter recentlty wrote a commentary piece entitled Why I'm Black, Not African American which I was going to put on blast. Instead i decided to take on the subject with seriiousness because I know for many people of African descent or "of African Ancestry" or " African Descended" as Gill Noble often puts it, this issue of what we call ourselves is a sensitive one, one that brings up all kinds of feelings of inferiority, displacement, pride, shame, etc.
Strictly speaking, there are few if any "black" people on the planet. Indeed within' the United States it may be safe to say that there are no "black" people whatsoever. What exists in the US that is classified as "black" or "African-American" are people of varying shades of brown and yellow lumped together largely because whites were unwilling to lay claim to their own offspring.
Going back in history there are/were people in various regions of Africa who were indeed so brown they were black. Many of us can attest to meeting someone so dark they were blue. It was the stark contrast between blacks and Europeans ( and some Arabs) that caused them to signify us with the color black. So in reality the reason why we have referred to ourselves as "black" regeardless of our actual genetics or skin tone, was an issue of common culture, Black and African is and was interchangeable. To say that someone was black was to say they were African. Of course in the US (and elsewhere) with the huge stigma attached to being black, those who were able or by social custom, were designated as "colored." Now of course this had two implications, The first was the implication that the person was a "colored in white person" and/or that this person was not "as black" as a "real" black. All said and done, when the 'black pride" movement took over, the use of the term black was an attempt to dismantle the coded language and to express solidarity with those of us who were black but not neccessarily "American." Indeed if one looks at some of the old literature, it would be immediately apparent that many of the early blacks regarded themselves as Africans, hence the various 'African-Lodges" and "African Churches" that existed way back in the early history of the United States. This of course does not dove with the image that McWhorter attempts to project:
But what about the black business districts that thrived across the country after slavery was abolished? What about Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright and Thurgood Marshall, none born in Africa and all deeply American people? And while we're on Marshall, what about the civil rights revolution, a moral awakening that we gave to ourselves and the nation.
But let us look at the mentality with which McWhorter attempts to frame his newfound "blackness:"
It sets us apart from the mainstream. It carries an air of standing protest, a reminder that our ancestors were brought here against their will, that their descendants were treated like animals for centuries, and that we have come a long way since then.
But we need a way of sounding those notes with a term that, first, makes some sense and, second, does not insult the actual African Americans taking their place in our country. And our name must also celebrate our history here, in the only place that will ever be our home. To term ourselves as part "African" reinforces a sad implication: that our history is basically slave ships, plantations, lynching, fire hoses in Birmingham, and then South Central, and that we need to look back to Mother Africa to feel good about ourselves.
How stunted and cut off McWhorter feels. For him, and indeed many "blacks" of his mentality, all they can see in the past is slave ships and lynchings. Indeed, if that was all that Africa meant to me, I would be ashamed too. In regards to Slavery, I choose to take a positive view of the experience. Unlike those who thank thier "god" for the white man to bring Christianity to us and 'rescue us from each other." I choose to see myself as the descendants of survivors. I am among the toughest of the tough. The most cunning of the cunning. The survivors survivor. And if over all the odds against it, I could be here today, then there is nothing that can stop me from suceeding except myself. When I think of Africa, I think of the great religion of the Egyptians, still being practiced in the forms of Judaism, Chrisitanity and Islam, Ifa and santeria. I think, "how powerfully relevant and timeless these religions must be to have survived thousands of years and brutal attempts to eradicate them. Unlike McWhorter I refuse to be parochial in my acceptance of being "part African." For being "part African' allows be me take the examples of Toussaint L'Ouveture and Jean-Jaques Dessalines. Of Paul Bogle and Kwame Nkrumah, of Nandi Azikwe and Kwame Toure, of Marcus Garvey and Amilcar Cabral.
That same "Part African" allows me to embrace, Martin Luther Kings, Frederick Douglass, Martin Delany, Denmark Vesey, Ida B.. Wells, Harriet Tubman, Sojournor Truth, Mae Jemmison, Assata Shakur, James Baldiwn, Duke Ellington. See being part of the global African family means being part of a huge tapestry of culture. only a person of limited understanding would want to "simply be black.' But wait, I understand why. See blacks see what is going on in Africa, War, AIDS, Poverty and they are not proud, They see people who are dependent and can't get their act together. McWhorter fails to understand that by virtue of being "black" he had a 74% chance of being one of those "Africans." To paraphrase a writer; it is not whether you are my friend when times are good, but whether you stand with me when times are bad.
Lastly I want to address this point McWhorter makes:
Modern America is home now to millions of immigrants who were born in Africa. Their cultures and identities are split between Africa and the United States. They have last names like Onwughalu and Senkofa. They speak languages like Wolof, Twi, Yoruba and Hausa, and speak English with an accent. They were raised on African cuisine, music, dance and dress styles, customs and family dynamics. Their children often speak or at least understand their parents' native language.
Living descendants of slaves in America neither knew their African ancestors nor even have elder relatives who knew them. Most of us worship in Christian churches. Our cuisine is more southern U.S. than Senegalese. Starting with ragtime and jazz, we gave America intoxicating musical beats based on African conceptions of rhythm, but with melody and harmony based on Western traditions.
Also, we speak English. Black Americans' home speech is largely based on local dialects of England and Ireland. Africa echoes in the dialect only as a whisper, in certain aspects of sound and melody. A working-class black man in Cincinnati has more in common with a working-class white man in Providence than with a Ghanaian.
On his first point, had "Modern America" been in the 1700's then he same statement would apply. When does the African become 'just black." But what is most interesting and which was a point brought up by the US organization under Maulana Karenga, the culture gap. Africans in America ( the old ones) have a serious choice to make. We have adopted so much of European lifestyles (from which American life is based upon) that we are killing off our own culture. We lost our names die to the slave trade and many of us keep those names, why not reclaim the names? many say that they have no idea where they are from so they won't do it. Well I guess the name of one of your relatives slave masters is better than any old African name. Why are blacks still Christians? It is beyond contention that most blacks in this hemisphere are Christians by heredity rather than by choice. Why not reclaim an African religion? Same excuse probably. To be sure there are many differences between Africans of the Diaspora and of those 'at home," There are differences between Finns and Italians too. MAny of our differences are the result of historical inertia and simply not choosing to do things differently. A question that Mr. McWhorter should ask is, how would one classify one who does eat "African food', has an "African" name, practices an "African" religion but has never stepped foot in Africa?
We usually call ourselves "new Africans." we embrace both our Americaness and our Africannesss. We too usually reject the term "African-American" and self identify as "black" on occasion. But most people can't seem to figure us out.