For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart. – Mary McLeod Bethune
I have just finished reading a book called What is the What.
It is a brilliantly written story about one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. There is some variation in the boys’ stories, but generally speaking:
• They were all very young when the Second Civil War of Sudan started;
• They were victims of the scorched earth policy of the Khartoum government that killed their family members and razed their villages; and
• They fled these events traveling over vast stretches of land (dodging bombs, bullets, lions and starvation) to reach the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
At 7, 8 and 9 years old they had seen more death and devastation than most will know in a lifetime.
The book is remarkable in its lyricism and tragic in its depiction of human suffering. And even as I was filled with sorrow about the things he had known and seen, I burned with shame about his experiences once he left the refugee camp and came to America.
As an American, an African American and former resident of Atlanta, I was deeply ashamed of the story of his robbery at the hands of an African American couple in Atlanta. In the book, his whole life story is woven around this ordeal. He is bereft not just about the pillaging of his apartment, but by the contempt that the couple showed to him as an African.
To be fair it cuts both ways. I know both Africans who were brought up to believe the worse stereotypes about African Americans; and African Americans who say and believe the most dastardly things about people from Africa.
However, I am generally aghast at how little most African Americans my age know about African affairs and how little they care. What is the What merely showed our ignorance at its worse.
How did this happen?
African Americans used to be at the vanguard of efforts pushing for anti-colonization of Africa from Ghana to South Africa. Black churches and universities were focused on addressing these issues. Black intellectuals of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s thought broadly about the plight of blacks.
Where is TD Jakes on the the Mai Mai in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the challenges of the newest country in the world, Southern Sudan?
Where were we on the raging conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone?
I have only seen a few examples of engagement around contemporary issues on the continent. For example, we’ve spoken about the plight of AIDS/HIV and there are organizations like My Sister’s Keeper which works with women in the Darfur region of Sudan.
How did we go from Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois and Kwame Nkrumah to being callous about the plights of others? When did we collectively cease to care?
Instead of quoting the black intelligentsia, many of the Africans I have come across in West and Southern Africa dance to Beyoncé, paint their taxis with images of Tupac and sample T-Pain in their songs.
I love Tupac. He has some very insightful lyrics (in some of his songs), but what does it mean if he and 50 Cent are the only connection between those in Africa and those of African descent in America?
It may sell t-shirts, CDs and posters, but it does not feed the imaginations or the dignity of a majestic people, united by bloodlines, united by their struggles across time and geography.