Many of my blogs usually deal with African diaspora issues, however, there are issues that persist today on the continent of Africa that have affected cultural growth as well. The issues stem from the legacy of the other institutions that have been used against Africans. Not slavery nor apartheid but colonialization of the African continent.
The story begins in 1855 with the Berlin Conference, where Europe divided Africa into the many countries we know today. Of course, the new demarcations were self-serving to the Europeans and in their zeal to claim their new territories to exploit they gave little credence to the cultural damage they would permanently inflict on the millions of innocent Africans. These demarcations known today as borders, split the tribes arbitrarily and in effect scattered and broke up the kingdoms to serve different masters called governments. African tribes exist mostly horizontally or parallel to the equator, so the vertical borders drawn during the berlin conference served to divide some singular tribes in to 3 or 4 separate entities. Like the Hausa tribes (One of the largest tribes in Africa) are a diverse but culturally homogeneous people based primarily in the Sahelian and Sudanian Daura area of northern Nigeria and south-eastern Niger, with significant numbers also living in parts of Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Chad, Togo, Ghana, Sudan, Gabon and Senegal (From Wikipedia). Divide and conquer personified.
Now colonization is different from the transatlantic slavery of course because a few million Africans on foreign soil are controlled way different than many millions of Africans in their native land. Brute force could not be widely utilized because the colonists would be overwhelmed by the revolting locals. Since the cultural removal employed on slaves could never be successful on African native lands... cultural perversion was used. In essence, mentally and spiritually convincing the Africans of the colonizers superiority and by default convince Africans of their inferiority without explicitly saying so. Apart from the use of technological advances like weapons and luxuries to subvert the African leadership to do the colonizers bidding, arguably the most powerful of these persuasive tactics was the use of religion. Convincing Africans that their very understanding of God was in dire need of review caused major issues within the African community. Especially the pictures of the Christian Messiah which gave the Africans the impression that indeed God was definitely on the side of the colonizers.
The colonizers grew a feeling of shame within the Africans that still revered the traditional gods and deities. Even I choose to write the Christian God with a capital ‘G’ while the traditional gods are worthy of lowercase ‘g’. So over time, the Africans could not be proud of their ‘backward religions’ which had defined them for centuries but instead they began to look towards the more perfect European God. This created a dichotomy of thought that still exists today. On one side insecurity, inferiority complex and fear while the other side is filled with strong belief and pride in African indigenous traditions.
This dichotomy says that while we will externally exalt /accept the European God and other practices and traditions as superior, we will also hold dear internally the traditional gods and their dominion over ‘African affairs’. That is to say European spirituality does not necessarily work in Africa. Many Africans even if they do not worship the traditional gods will not dare to publicly denounce them. It is generally understood that these ancient beliefs and practices have power though they are ‘Evil’ in nature. This dichotomy is also evident in the diaspora. In places like Cuba and Haiti where African traditional beliefs still are practiced. These old religions are given negative framing like ‘juju’ or ‘voodoo’ but the people still fear the powers these ancient religions ‘possess’. It is even well known that in Cuba those that practice pray to the old gods but pretend to pray to traditional Christian saints. They did this to avoid the condemnation or worse from their owners.
I will not go into why we fell for the whole my god is better than yours, but I am sure it has to do with simply being impressed with the wonders of the western world. The Africans that were lucky enough to get educated (some even in Europe) rose to the top of society. The looked down on the locals because they were now closer to the Europeans than the lesser educated. They sought-out trophies like foreign degrees from distinguished western universities, fine luxuries from the west, changed their names to European names and even found European women to marry. Having a European wife was an ultimate of trophies to have. It means you are so close to the Europeans that you can even be loved and have children with one.
This reverence of Europeans still occurs today. Even to be of mixed blood (meaning half African and half European) is perceived to be better than being just ‘Black”. The half casts as we would call them in Nigeria, always were considered to be ‘white’. In the olden days, when a mixed child was born (most likely from an African woman and a European man) the child would be taken to the monasteries to be raised by the European reverend sisters. The thinking behind this was that it is better for the mixed child to be raised by its own kind (meaning the Europeans). Half casts would marry other half casts and full Africans would give more reverence to the lighter colored Africans despite sharing 50/50 lineage between the races.
I have heard of this phenomenon of lighter brown people feeling ‘superior’ to darker brown people here in the diaspora. Especially amongst the afro-Latino community or places in the Caribbean like the Dominican Republic and Haiti or even amongst the darker skinned field and lighter skinned house ‘nigger’ during the slavery days the USA. In Africa there is a disturbing trend which isn’t as common as some years back, but it is still prevalent enough to mention and that is what we call ‘bleaching. ‘Bleaching’ of the skin is done with a specific body cream that in essence lightens dark African skin, making the user fairer in complexion. Apparently, once the user starts to use this beaching cream, they must continue to use it other wise they become abnormally darker than when they began to ‘bleach’. The use of this cream while condemned and looked down upon by African society, the practice says more about psychology of wanting to be ‘white’. Some equate hair perming as a similar practice.
If we look at other areas of Africa society, we can find other examples of if its ‘white its right’ mentality. Some say it is the ‘copy and paste’ approach used in African governmental systems where western societal and professional values are combined with every day African life. “copy and paste’ refers to the practice of observing something that works in the western world and attempting to duplicate it ‘verbatim’ or exactly as it exists in the west in the heart of Africa. They duplicate without considering the cultural, societal or even geographical differences that may not allow said transfer to Africa a smart idea. The result of this ‘copy and paste’ is usually an inferior copy filled with flaws that show the producer was more interested in the external appearance of ‘western values’ rather than the hard work, internal logic and substance that gave rise to said ‘western values’. My good friend would often say ‘they are amazed that an object is shining and how much it shines, and they are not interested in what is making the object shine’.
One of the more blatant abuses of ‘copy and paste’ is the desire for specific education in Africa. While it makes sense to only train our children to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, lawyers, Architects, accountants …well you get the idea. There is this joke that is often said about how we train our children‘In Nigeria, you can either become a doctor, lawyer, engineer or the failure of the family. Any one who has Nigerian parents knows what I’m talking about… they can put Asian Tiger moms to shame any day of the week. The truth is ironically that in western society there are many more professions that may not be glorious careers, but they are nonetheless extremely important to the success of western society. Why? Because life means more that just money and success. We also need to laugh and play. All wrk and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I would argue that the creativity and ultimately the colorfulness of our African cultures have been stymied by this attitude towards arts and sports. Would you believe that music (and all arts) and sports were SERIOUSLY discouraged in Nigeria. To some extent they are still not looked upon as virtuous career choices anywhere, but when even for casual leisure or hobbies they were discouraged for children to concentrate more on their studies. Our music industry suffered with a 30 year gap between major Afrobeat stars like Fela Ransome-Kuti of the 70’s and Wizkid the current afrobeat music phenom. There were so many songs that were sung in English with no Nigerian language at all until recently. 2face Idibias ‘African Queen’ is such a song. Its common to find an African who has just returned after 3 weeks’ vacation from his or her first trip to London, sporting a brand new British accent.
So while the point has been made that in some areas Africans tend to revere their former colonizers culture, there is also a deep cultural pride which is kept separate from their internal reverence of the west. Its hard to explain but its true. Maybe they just see the advancements as worthy of mimicking because socially they look down on the attitudes of the west especially morally. This moral superiority felt by Africans while simultaneously mimicking and trying to assimilate in to western culture is completely at odds with the African diaspora attitudes towards the west. There is need to stay separate and not see value in the European/American culture. ‘White is definitely not alright’ in fact the African diaspora community especially the African American community rightfully so sees the ‘white race’ with suspicion and fear. Often discouraging intermingling in marriage and socially. Professional interaction is treated as a necessary ‘evil’ one must endure to survive in America. Africans do not have the same racial hang up but instead feel free and in fact actively strive to assimilate and grow within the ‘superior’ society.
With these contrasting viewpoints, it is obvious why there is misunderstanding between the African immigrant and African American communities here in the diaspora especially when it comes to issues of dealing with race. I recently spoke on a panel for Juneteenth celebrations. To be honest, even though I have African American heritage, I did not know much about the significance of the event. I asked around with both Africans and African Americans alike also did not have a detailed understanding of the event. I learned the celebration was about the slaves in Texas receiving the good news nearly 2 ½ years after the emancipation proclamation was made law of the United States of America. So, the slaves in Texas were the last to know that they were indeed free men and women. This is significant in this colony discussion because in Africa our independence days are similar celebrations of being free from our colonizers. What’s the connection? It is simple…let’s look at what we have in common instead of our differences. Let’s honor the sacrifices of both the colonized and enslaved to build a better tomorrow for our children, who despite all the trials and tribulations, all the joy and pain, through all the ups and downs we experience in our journey through life, the truth is that our children whether African or African diaspora share the same African skin and therefore the same reality. Africa Unite!!!