Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why I Keep "Africa" in my American

I spent last week in DC consumed with all things Africa. From the USAID Frontiers in Development Forum to my very own “Afripolitan” cocktail hour my days and nights were filled with conversations about the continent. From development experts to farmers, from young professionals to sitting Presidents everyone has an opinion on what’s happening in Africa and who has a stake in it. It was in this movement  that I read Shahida Mohammed’s piece in Ebony shunning the use of what she deems a “pc” term in favor of being a color (or the absence of it depending who you ask).

One of my favorite quotes of all time is "I am an African, not because I was born in Africa but because Africa is born in me" from the Hon. Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana. With his statement Dr. Nkrumah qualified what I’d always felt. My connection to Africa had nothing to do with a superficial need to be connected to somewhere but everything to do with my understanding that if I looked at my culture, mannerisms, heart, and soul I am every bit the African. I’d love to take Ms. Mohammed to Sierra Leone, a place that literally brought me to my knees with emotion when I stepped off the plane for my maiden visit to the continent and whose people and traditions reminded me of my aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents even in simple ways like they way they told jokes or the fact that the women kicked all people out of the kitchen as dinner was prepared. It reminded me of my grandma’s house at thanksgiving. When I see even the smallest child jump out of their chair as soon as "Nwa Baby" or another tune comes on it reminds me of how I jumped to my feet at age 2 to sing “How Will I Know” by the late Whitney Houston for my grandmother and her friends. For me, this isn’t happenstance. Nor is the fact that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was one of the few that systematically severed the connection of a people to their homeland.

Beyond a nostalgic relation, I also understand that the plight of African people worldwide is pertinent to me. Whether it’s Surinamese living in the ghetto of Amsterdam or Afro-Mexicans in rural Costa Chica, the idea that globally, descendants of the continent are consistently pushed to marginal ends of society yet find a way to be brilliant through it all is a unifying factor like no other. In urban centers across the world, the African Diaspora whether they be slave descendant or newly arrived immigrants – Africans have impact, it’s in our blood. The global phenomenon of Hip-Hop or the reggae bumping through London’s streets make me smile at the ability of a people to turn its hardship into such beautiful power. It is this power that has been twisted, subverted, and maligned for hundreds of years both from external forces like colonialists and extractionary corporations as well as from leaders who have let the idea of riches for one trump opportunity for all.

Just like its Diaspora, Africa is Rising. The technology boom in Kenya, the energy booms in the West, and a new look at infrastructure and systems brought in by a populace swelling with youth and pushing for change mean that the nations of Africa will remain at the bottom no more. We should all pay attention, whether it’s to inspire young people in the urban slums of the US or Brazil, or to invest in agriculture or real estate to create generational wealth, this is not the time to separate ourselves from the continent.

The term “African-Americans” is as inclusive as we want it to be and while others can make it a point to differentiate between our “direct vs. historic” links to the continent, we as a people cannot afford to do so. It is only by sharing, understanding, and building that this power can be harnessed not just for Africans but for the betterment of our turbulent world. Below you'll find a few of my fave shots of the second continent I call home.



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