Who is an African? One simple question that has a plethora of difference answers that can be funnelled to either a “yes” or a “no”. As a white person living in Africa, South Africa specifically, it’s a very interesting question with equally interesting answers. Recently, I read an opinion that I am indeed not African. The reasons that I am not African are due to my skin colour, language, cultures & traditions and of course my heritage. However, in my opinion, none of the aforementioned taints my answer as I will show by debunking each reason of why I am not an African.
To begin with, I am going to consider the argument that my cultures and traditions do not allow me to brand myself as an African. The culture and traditions that I do not abide by are those of the “traditional African” which would include something like paying lebola for my wife. Originally, an African male would prove his ability to support his future wife by presenting her family with livestock of his future wife’s worth. This is one of many the many African traditions that is harboured within African culture. However, being the 21st century, in many cases it is no longer practical to be presented with livestock and as such, lebola is paid in cash. This is an example of how a culture has evolved over time and moreover, we must consider the traditions that have been lost altogether over time. This shows me that as much as our culture influences us, in turn, we influence our culture. The culture of a white Afrikaner living in South Africa is unique – it has an African spice. A people that were rooted in Dutch culture have been influenced by Africa and today, we have an Afrikaner culture.
If that argument doesn’t convince you that my culture is irrelevant, allow me to gently place a spanner in your works. In North Africa, we have nations such as Egypt or Tunisia – African countries. However, their cultures and traditions are extremely different to the Africans who inhabit Southern Africa; some of the people are Muslims who follow a culture that is comparable to many people living in many other parts of the world. These African citizens are just that, African. Their culture does not preclude the fact that they are proudly African. Similarly, if my language is of issue to my being African then we would have to disbar many more people – in South Africa there are 9 official African languages; not counting Afrikaans and English. Further north, there are even more languages that still don’t stop people from being African. A Cameroonian speaking French or a Mozambiquen speaking Portuguese is no less African than any other African.
We can now consider my heritage or lineage. Does the fact that my ancestry is German or Russian prevent me from being African? Well, to answer this question, let’s consider the alternative; if I’m not Africa, then I’m German or Russian. For argument sake, let’s say I’m German. I am barely able to mutter one word of German, German culture is completely foreign to me and at best I can point to the Germany on a map. I don’t sound like a very convincing German? I think a German may laugh off the fact that I could even think to consider myself German. Further, being the diverse country that South Africa is, the makeup of a most white people is more than likely a mix from many countries and continents and as such if these people are denied their being African, where does it leave them? With no identity?
The last topic to challenge would be my skin colour. It’s fairly obvious to notice that I am not black; there’s no surprise there. Again, perhaps it is the colour of my skin that will define whether or not I am an African? I can confidently, categorically and explicitly say: no. Rather than me explaining my thought process behind this, I will provide you with social experiment – albeit, a hypothetical one.
Let’s assume that there’s a chap who lives in New York City, let’s further assume his name is John. John is a black man living in the USA and has lived in the USA all his life; as had his parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Nevertheless, John’s skin tone is still black; as one might expect. Now, let’s magically transport John to South Africa. If we’re talking about culture and tradition, I would venture to say that John would be completely lost in the happenings of Africa and feel like a bit of an outsider. Further, John’s grasping of an African language would be worse than mine (which is embarrassingly poor) with tongue clicks he’s only heard on National Geographic. How much would John have in common with his new surroundings? I think the commonalities would start and end at with his skin colour. It seems awkward to me for John to be entitled to calling himself African and not myself. Further, should we consider an Aboriginal as an African because he happens to share a common skin colour with that of a black African?
I think I have clearly shown that it’s neither my culture/tradition, language nor the colour of my skin that determines whether I am African. Then, what does determine whether I am African? I do. It is my embracing of the fact that Africa is my home that determines that I am African. The facts that I feel my roots are here, that I identify with the people who surround me and that I am pulling in a common direction with my fellow Africans is what makes me African. I don’t need anyone to grant me the right to be African or disqualify me on any grounds that they seem to be fit. My culture does not align with a black man’s but his culture may not be aligned to another African in Morocco; I may not speak Xhosa but can a Xhosa speak Bandi or Kpelle or one of the other thousands (literally thousands) of languages across Africa? I may not be black but don’t tell me that an Aborigine is an African.
In conclusion, no matter my opinion and no matter anyone’s opinion, how you define yourself is exactly that – you define yourself. In a country that is as tender as South Africa with regards to reconciliation; to disallow someone their identity is separating you from them and that is a backwards way of thinking. South Africa is diverse, Africa is diverse; this is something we must embrace and use as a positive rather than anchor on it to keep it as a dividing factor. I am proud of the fact that I am an African