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Africans in Diaspora: Why Denying Your Blackness Will Not Save You

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When our ancestors first witnessed Europeans in boats landing on the Africa shore, I doubt if they would have ever anticipated the horrors, genocide and injustice their children, land and people would experience.

But the Europeans did. For more than 400 years, the capitalist-led, musket-wielding, bible-thumping, disease-carrying opportunists starved off their own resources plundered our African land from coast to coast. Our most skilled, creative, strong, versatile, fertile were stolen, bribed and sold into perilous journeys to the Americas and Europe. Those who resisted, killed. The oceans groan with the weight of our kin who did not survive the genocidal slave ships. Africa’s children robbed from their mother’s teat and scattered into the world.

For those left behind, millions of people – fathers, mothers, children, warriors, healers, priests, entire villages – were gone. The rest of this story is one those left behind are intimately familiar with: Systemic Plunder, Colonization and Death. Till today, we suffer. We laugh, cry and pray using the language of our oppressors while sneering at those who choose to speak in their vernacular, eat and praise imperial foods while looking down at the “miti-shamba” (traditional plants/medicine) which had sustained the African for millenia while we languish in new, hard-to understand diseases, and celebrate neo-colonialist “freedoms” paid for in blood and sweat by our ancestors.

Through all of this, we have resisted! Our people brought to the land of Haiti – newly arrived and descendants of Congo, Benin, Nigeria, Togo, Madagascar, Senegal – strengthened by faith and wielding the Machete turned a slave insurgency into the first Black revolution struggle in modern times, creating the first Black-led state. We remember The Nat Turner rebellion, The Bussa rebellion of Barbados, Tacky’s War in Jamaica, Queen Yaa Asantewaa leading the Ashanti and Mekatilili wa Mwenza leading the Giriama in rebellion against the British. Who can forget the victory at the Battle of Adowa, where Ethiopia stood its ground of sovereignty against Italy? Harriet Tubman using songs as secret codes for the Underground Railroad?

Around the time Africa was being split up like a cake between Europeans at the Berlin Conference and prepared for a second round of economic invasion, the now free yet still oppressed Africans in the Americas and Caribbean were stoking fires for a new revolution. Battles settled in the field now played out in law, debate, and rhetoric to save the lives and hearts of many. Sojourner Truth, Ottobah Cugoano, W.E.B. Dubois, Frederick Douglass, Lutie A. Lytle, Booker T. Washington were among the pioneers of independent Black thought, critique and activism. In their wake the Pan African movement came forth, inspiring diverse thought and leadership among African people across the world.

In Africa, the struggle for independence raged. Blood was shed! We remember Dedan Kimathi, Steve Biko and Phila Ndwandwe. African voices of protest rang around the world, catalyzed by the coming together of Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Mboya, Nyerere, Selassie, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and many others in the Pan African movement. They laid bare the hypocrisy and inhumanity of colonial white supremacy around the world, and the message of self-reliance and equality was reinforced. Nkrumah believed European colonial rule of Africa could be extinguished if Africans could unite politically and economically. In 1957, Ghana gained its independence, Kenya in 1963. The historic U.S. Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. South Africa would abolish apartheid in 1994.

No one asked us to be “Black”. We have beautiful skin full of melanin for our environment in which we thrived. I was a child of Afrika, Luo before anything else. As a willing African immigrant, I did not know that I was “Black” until I filled out papers to come to the United States. Our stolen people and their descendants did not have a choice to be “Black”. They were dehumanized, beaten, their children stolen, their lives lost because of the color of OUR skin. Through much suffering, they broke the yoke of their oppressors and reclaimed “Black” to Power, Strength and Pride. Many Africans who have sought protection, education and opportunity in the United States have enjoyed the fruit of labor put in by “Black” people. They continue to fight today unearthing injustices experienced by oppressed people around the world. What leg do we have to stand on as our “free” African nations continue to ravaged by despots while we watch in relative silence?

By denying your Blackness, you deny a shared history and destiny. You side with the oppressor when you perpetuate the notion that “some” Black skin provides a license to inhumanity. You condemn your ancestors and your fellow people, separated through no fault of their own. You eat to your fill from plates filled by others still left starving in the dark. You continue to play into capitalist “divide and conquer” politics, believing stories fed by oppressors that Black people elsewhere are the cause of the racism and challenges they experience today. What is more insidious is that when we deny our Blackness, we allow others to continue dehumanizing and denying our right to life.

Recent African immigrants did not experience the generational trauma of slavery nor share in the struggles following it, yet we are irrevocably entwined with each other. We are children of Africa, our lifeblood shared through our ancestors. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, your son might be the one stopped and frisked. Your daughter might be followed throughout the store aisles, your business might struggle compared to White counterparts for some “odd reason”, and you might be targeted for being in the wrong neighborhood.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

-Martin Niemöller 

#black lives matter

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