photo left: Mama, a
painting by Kaki photo right: a photograph by Sonny Rivers of Jerusalem Church
Letters from Jerusalem
the Potomac or Beyond the Atlantic?
Response by Amin Sharif
I have just read your essay about Jerusalem and consider it to
be a jewel in the crown of CBAJ. It shows a man at peace with his
rural, southern roots. As you know, I find it difficult to deal
with my own. Perhaps, this is because my own family roots are so
fragmented and scattered.
letters give me a chance to once again take up the subject of
African and African-American ancestry. As you know, I am not
greatly enthused with Afro-centrism-although there is some
merits to it. I find that part of its appeal is the
replacement of real past (in America) with a fabled one (of
Africa). In fact, we are more rooted to the past of slavery, Jim
Crow, etc. than we will ever be to our ancestors and
kin in Africa. As I have told you, we will always know more
about Uncle Joe, Aunt Mary or, in your case, Mama--than we will
ever know about those who were/are our cousins in Africa. It is
this turning away from the familiar faces we know to unknown
faces across the sea that bothers me.
course, I know why we are more comfortable with a fabled Africa
then we are with Virginia or the Deep South. There is no
fear connected in our minds to the wide savannahs, beautiful
coasts, etc. of Africa. We have a primordial urge, as all humans
do, to return to paradise. Perhaps more than any people on
earth, we Africans-in-America need a paradise after dwelling in
hell for so long. On the other hand, our experience in America is rooted
in fear (white racism) and continues to be so. If we are to look
at the past we have experienced in America, we must come face to
face with it all -- lynchings, rapes, cotton fields, and a
thousand humiliations. We can not see our families and not be
touched by the fear that pervaded their lives. By turning to
Africa, we move beyond all of this.
those who embrace Afro-centrism will say that I have no
understanding of the damage done by the separation of Africans-in-America
from Africans-abroad. My answer is simply that I fully
acknowledge that damage. But only if they will acknowledge that
a similar damage is constructed when we honor our African
ancestors more than the ones who have fed us, clothed us, and
loved us in flesh and blood. Why should near-mythical ancestors
who we have never looked upon be more dear to us than those we
know? I am a thousand times more comfortable with your mother,
my mother than any ancestors I might have abroad.
is time that we come to realize that we are far from Africa.
Africa was our cradle but all men (and women) must leave their
cradle to experience the world. We acknowledge Africa
as the place we came from and honor her. But I refuse to be
fixated by all of that. We have long left Africa. And when we
return to her (if we choose), we will be like a son or
daughter returning after having gone out into the world. We have
seen different things. Yet we are a new kind of African raised up
from an American experience that we can not deny. Your letters
are my proof -- beautiful and vibrant! You have made me
wish to hold your mother's hand and kiss her cheek. She is, as
all our ancestors in America are, a testament to our greatest.
There is much to be considered in your letters and I hope that
you will time to time make your experiences accessible to others
in the CBAJ family. I have little to contribute in this
regard. Let my envy of you and your family be an impetus for
further writings. It is late and I will speak to you further
about this subject tomorrow.