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For an American audience, black as understood in African American parlance does not help

 us to understand the nationality dynamics of Darfur. Africans are first and foremost

a historical and cultural group. They identify themselves as such. Most are black

 

 

In Search of Africans

By Kwesi Kwaa Prah

 

When he comes to the issue of who is an African, [Mahmood] Mamdani  shifts into post-modernist over-drive and writes that,

‘Africa’, in this context, was a subaltern identity that also had the potential of being either exclusive or inclusive. The two meanings were not only contradictory but came from the experience of two different insurgencies.  

The inclusive meaning was more political than racial or even cultural (linguistic), in the sense that an ‘African’ was anyone determined to make a future within Africa. It was pioneered by John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south, as a way of holding together the New Sudan he hoped to see. In  contrast, its exclusive meaning came in two versions, one hard (racial) and the other soft (linguistic)—‘African’ as Bantu and ‘African’ as the identity of anyone who spoke a language indigenous to Africa.

The racial meaning came to take a strong hold in both the counter-insurgency and the insurgency in Darfur. The Save Darfur campaign’s characterization of the violence was not one-sided and the contest over the meaning of ‘Arab’ and ‘African’: a contest that was critical precisely because it was ultimately about who belonged and who did not in the political community called Sudan. The depoliticization, naturalization and, ultimately, demonization of the notion ‘Arab’, as against ‘African’, has been the deadliest effect, whether intended or not, of the Save Darfur campaign.

Mamdami must not underestimate the power and relevance of language as an identification reference point. Language is a central feature of most cultures. Arguably, it is the most crucial feature and at the same time, one of the principal distinguishing features of homo sapiens as a culture creating animal. It is through language that we relate societally, through language we transact our social lives.

I personally knew John Garang, for many years. Indeed, I spoke to him on the phone, long distance, about a month before his very strange death. Nowhere does he define who an African is, in the political terms Mamdani writes about. Garang was always a proud Dinka from Bor.

Mamdani’s so-called inclusive definition of an African as “anyone determined to make a future within Africa” is most perplexing. When I read this definition to an intern in the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS), Cape Town, Nana Kofi Appiah, his immediate and hilarious response was that this is an invitation for the pillagers of Africa.

Does this sort of idea apply to other people in other parts of the world? Does a similar formulation apply to Chinese, Indians, Arabs or Europeans? If I arrive in China or India with a wish to make a future in these places, do I, on the basis of my wishes, become Chinese or Indian? Cecil Rhoses, Verwoerd, Ian Smith were are all people who were “determined to make a future within Africa,” were they Africans? I dare say they never even wished to be so regarded. Mamdani’s understanding of the so-called inclusive definition of an Africa makes Africaness very cheap. I say, ‘if everybody is an African, then nobody is an African.”

We all know that, by appearance and looks you cannot tell a Sunni from a Shia, Northern Irish Protestant from a Catholic, a Palestinian from and Israeli, a Pakistani from an Indian, or numerous such examples. Black, in Darfur, does not really help us to identify an Arab from an African. The difference is more subtle and decisive. Africans are attached to more eclectic varieties of Islam than Arabs, they are more likely to be cultivators than pastoralists, and they identify themselves as Africans and speak more African languages. They form the overwhelming majority of the population.

For an American audience, black as understood in African American parlance does not help us to understand the nationality dynamics of Darfur. Africans are first and foremost a historical and cultural group. They identify themselves as such. Most are black, but there are blacks who are not African. From South India through Sri Lanka to Melanesia many such groups are to be found.

Years ago, I argued elsewhere that; “The racial definition of an African is flawed. It is unscientific and hence untenable. No serious mind today would use the race concept in any way except as an instrument for poetic imagery. What I am saying is that no group of people has been ‘pure’ from time immemorial. Notions of purity belong to the language of fascists and the rubbish-bin of science. But before my observations are misunderstood let me take the argument in another direction. Most Africans are black, but not all Africans are black, and not all blacks have African cultural and historical roots.”

Additionally, one must not forget that Arabization and Arabism for Africans represent instruments of thraldom in a tradition, which precedes Western colonialism by a millennium.

Source: Kwesi Kwaa Prah. "The Politics of Apologetics; Genocide Denial, Darfur Version." CASAS, Capetown. Pambazuka.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 31 March 2008

 

 

 

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