Khaya Dlanga

White people are African too!

2011-01-04 10:04

My friend, Sentletse Diakanyo, who I tend to disagree with on almost everything, recently wrote a blog called: We are not all Africans, black people are!

It’s obviously controversial and was bound to get a lot of attention. There was nothing new about the case he brought forward. We have heard the statement many times by people who attempt to dress themselves up as radicals. Of course these people have become as insignificant as the PAC. That is the problem with radicalism. It swells up for a while but never stands the test of time because it is often based on faulty logic and principles.

What he wrote was in the same vein as the “Mandela sold us out” argument. It’s often an attempt to demonstrate how independent one’s thinking is because they are able to say such “shocking” things.

The argument claims that only black people are African. This reminds of a Peter Tosh song from his 1977 album, Equal Rights. The lyrics go thus, “Don't care where you come from, As long as you’re a black man you’re an African.” Peter Tosh was simply singing about the lack of belonging that descendents of former slaves feel.

They can identify themselves as African, but are they really African? Which state in Africa do they belong to? Can you really call yourself African when you don’t contribute anything to Africa?

Definitions

What does the dictionary define an African as? “Noun: African - A native or inhabitant of Africa.” Since we have established the definition of an African perhaps we should also define what a native is. “Noun: native - 1. A person born in a particular place or country. 2. An indigenous person who was born in a particular place.”

What do we conclude from this? If a white person is born in a particular country in Africa, that white person is a native of that country. Since they happen to have been born in a country in Africa that means they are African.

The writer of the blog says: “Historically, the term ‘African’ never had any ambiguous meaning. To Africans today it still does not have any ambiguous meaning.”

What he fails to realise is that the term African, when used by a certain generation in the past, was used to identify a group of people - that group being black.

Simplistic answers

Now if we go back a little further, there was even a time when black people in South Africa were referred to as the Bantu. When Nelson Mandela speaks of Africans, he uses language that his generation used; it is not to separate whites from their “Africanness”. He merely used language he was comfortable with. Sentletse mistakes the evolving nature language for a definition of what an African is.

It is as simple as that. There is no need to be meandering around this; however, I will continue to entertain this debate.

The writer of the blog doesn’t really define what an African is. His answer is a simplistic “if you are black you are African”. There is no acknowledgement of the complexities of blackness. He has not considered the black people of Papua New Guinea for example. These people did not really originate from Africa, yet they look as black as Sentletse and me. The question then needs to be asked, are people from Papua New Guinea considered African? Scientists claim that these people have their origins in South East Asia some 70 000 years ago.

Using Sentletse’s very own logic, which claims that Caucasians actually originated from China, not Africa he concludes by saying that white people should in fact claim to be Chinese. According to this logic we can conclude that the black people of Papua New Guinea, even though black, are in fact not African because they originated from South East Asia. Therefore we should agree that being black does not necessarily mean African if we use Sentletse’s very faulty argument.

Since science tells us that Chinese people originated from Africa, the silly question that must be asked is: does that mean Chinese are in fact African?

'Witchcraft of our time'

In 1937 Jacques Barzun published Race: A Study in Superstition. He called the idea of race “the witchcraft of our time”.

Scientists today claim that there is in fact only one race, the human race. Separating ourselves by physical appearance has no scientific basis. In 1943, Ruth Benedict and Gene Wetfish published “Races of Mankind” in which they claim that there is actually no race because most people in the world have in-between-skin colour.  Therefore there is hardly any pure race if one wishes to use race. Even Africans aren’t pure because of the mixing that has taken place over time.

In her book, The History of White People, Dr Nell Irvin Painter (an African-American woman) states the following: “All that is needed is sex between people of different colours, which has taken place as soon as people meet. Acknowledgment of the existence of people of ‘mixed race’ means acknowledgment of the impermanence of race.”

She goes on to say: “Mapping the human genome elicited initial proclamations of human kindredness across the globe... ideally we would realise that human beings’ short history relates us all to one another.”

Earthlings

Human beings are referred to as Earthlings because they live on the planet Earth. A person of any colour born in South Africa, for example, is called a South African. No one denies their South Africanness simply because of the colour of their skin. South Africa is on the African continent, and therefore a South African is an African regardless of colour. Unfortunately it is as simple as that. No great revelation here.

This country has been divided for too long. Those divisions didn’t work. To attempt to divide us again, even under the guise of creating debate, isn’t doing us any favours.

The truth is this debate is worn out and pointless because it doesn’t achieve anything but division.

Yes, I am aware of the fact that I have engaged in it. But I only did so to unify. We are Africans. All us. Black, white, Indian, coloured, Chinese. As long as you were born here, live here and work for the betterment of this country and the continent, you are an African. Never doubt that for a second. African and proud.

That is all. As you were.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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