How African are you?

2013-05-27 00:00

A FAMOUS black American said he felt that being called an African-American was more racist than being called a nigger, because they had been in America as long as any “regular” Americans. This made me adjust my thinking about white South Africans and ponder black South Africans’ status as Africans.

It is a controversial stance to call white people Africans when Marcus Garvey calls all black people worldwide Africans, saying wherever they are, they are inherently African. This becomes a valid argument when you observe what a fight it is to be black anywhere in the world. You can understand how a slave in a plantation or a teenager in a black ghetto in the United States could fantasise about a home they could run away to, where they belong. Knowing that their skin colour and hair texture are biologically made for the climate of Africa, I can imagine them feeling that so did their acceptance as people deserving of a dignified existence. That black people everywhere are the only true Africans is a strong argument, theoretically.

However, from the first generation of black Americans in plantations to the current generation who are in relative equal standing to their white compatriots, in all spheres they are American. Whether they did it as slaves, or as hip hop artists, U.S. blacks are Americans through and through, and coming to Africa, if spiritually familiar, is still an adjustment. They are used to the American lifestyle and may get homesick, for that is their home now. Meanwhile, back in Africa ...

Black South Africans speak of people from Africa, and the other races (or race) follow suit. There are African South Africans, coloured South Africans and Indian or Asian South Africans who are all institutionally black, just so we are clear if you are not from South Africa. And then there are white South Africans who are mentally, and arguably institutionally, in the naughty corner but really run things out here. All the above South Africans apparently do not feel African, judging by their lack of warmth towards them, and the English-speaking of us call foreign Africans and the Garvey category of Africans kwere kweres in general discussion.

Musician Pops Mohammed best explained black South Africans’ lack of spiritual affinity to their family from the continent when he was describing our music style. He said the reason most African artists’ music has a distinct sound, unlike ours, is because although they were also colonised they did not have settler-colonisers who moved into their society and heavily influenced everything in their culture. Black South Africa is very Westernised. This is evident if, staying with music, you observe that many of our traditional music styles like Maskandi use Western music instruments. And yet, like the blacks in the U.S., whites have been here so long they are African. Whatever the original situation was, you are not going to find white folks like these anywhere.

Are you African?

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