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the more they say the world is globalized, the more

they marginalized Africans and endanger our lives



Books by Manthia Diawara


Black-American Cinema / African Cinema  / We Won't Budge


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We Won't Budge

An African Exile in the World

By Manthia Diawara


The idea for this book came from a deep frustration I felt on the death of Amadou Diallo, who was violently killed by New York City police. he was on his way back to his apartment, after a long day's labor, when they gunned him down.

I was saddened and angry because I felt that his short life in America mirrored my own beginning here, and that his American dream was betrayed by a violent and senseless killing. My frustration came partly from the fact that there are still no opportunities for young people like Amadou Diallo in their home countries in Africa. Not much has changed since 1974, when I, myself, had left Bamako, Mali--with other young people of my generation--to go to Europe and America. Still, today, the youth are fighting to get out of Africa, to run away from abject poverty, unemployment, civil and tribal wars, religious persecution, corruption, and government oppression. Another part of my profound disappointment with the world stemmed from a realization that Amadou Diallo was shot in new York because he was a black man. if he were white, he would still be alive today. He was killed because he fit a biased description, a racial profiling.

Amadou Diallo's death left a sour taste in my mouth. Just as my success story in America could have been his, the tragedy that had befallen him could be mine, as a black man in America`--albeit an African. I remember writing an editorial about that which no newspaper wanted to publish. It went as follows:

Homeboy Cosmopolitan

Amadou Diallo was a "homeboy cosmopolitan," dressed in his down jacket, baseball cap, and tennis shoes. He hustled videos outside of a storefron in Manhattan and counted his money at the end of the day, with his mind full of every immigrant's dream of making it in this land of unlimited opportunities. Culturally, Amadou Diallo, not unlike most immigrants to this country, was different from African Americans, and perhaps even prejudiced against them. But Amadou Diallo was also a black man, and that visual sign is enough to get an African or Caribbean mistaken for an African American in the streets of New York.

Amadou Diallo's generation of Francophone Africans has just discovered America. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was radical for those of my generation from the former French colonies of Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, and Senegal to use America as a dream space for emigration. We dreamed of going to France--the land of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity--in order to rise above what we considered our miserable condition in Africa. We hoped to prove ourselves there, and to participate in the universal humanism as it was promulgated by the République. But as soon as our member grew large, the National Front and other racists raised their ugly heads against immigration and homeboy cosmopolitanism as threats to public safety and as a danger to French culture.

Amadou Diallo's generation turned to America because of its new image as the winner of the cold war and as the champion of globalization and democratization. The gains of the Civil Rights movement also opened the doors to many more Africans and Caribbeans, even, if these groups do not always live in solidarity with their indigenous counterparts. Amadou Diallo's generation arrived in America, full of hope and life and dressed like homeboys. They took advantage of the space created by the civil rights struggles and America's superficial consumption of African-American popular culture. They rented apartments in black communities in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. But, like most immigrants, they lived separately in their own cultures.

Little do the Amadou Diallos of the world know that the black man in America bears the curse of Cain, and that in America they, too, are considered black men, not Fulanis, Mandingos, or Wolofs. In America, no taxi will stop to pick them up; putting a price on their heads elects politicians; and the police will hunt them down.

They cut Amadou Diallo down like a black American, even though he belonged to the Fulani tribe in his native Guinea. There is a lesson here for all of us to learn. The tragedies of Abner Louima (a Haitian-American brutally raped by members of the New York Police Department) and Amadou Diallo--two immigrants submitted to the ritualistic white violence generally reserved for African Americans--should finally suffice as a political awakening for Africans and Caribbeans to the issues of race in America.

Ironically, the killing of Amadou Diallo has elevated him to the level of a martyr whose initial identification with homeboys, and subsequent ritualistic execution by the police, should serve primarily as another landmark of injustice for African Americans. it is only when new immigrants of African descent, and immigrants from Asia and Europe, realize that their opportunities are linked to the oppression of African Americans that the sacrifice of Amadou Diallo, this homeboy cosmopolitan, will influence the improvement of race relations in America.

But We Won't Budge is not about the death of Amadou Diallo, even if there are parallels between his life and the stories I tell here. The book is about the developed world--that is, the former colonizers of the African continent--that is now closing its doors to Africans and Arabs; it is about human rights violations and racism against people of color. I am sadder than I have ever been before because the more they say the world is globalized, the more they marginalized Africans and endanger our lives. As the Western media monopolizes control of the communication channels, our voices are unheard in Europe, America, and even in Africa. I am now unhappy wherever I go in the world. I cannot stand the stereotypes Europeans have of Americans or Africans, and vice versa. I cannot discuss Israel with Europeans, or Palestine with Americans. how did the world decide that we Africans have nothing meaningful to say about these important issues facing us: democracy and human rights Lest our oppressors forget, we Africans have eyes to see, ears to hear, heads to analyze, and mouths to judge. And this book shows the way one African sees the world.

In We Won't Budge, I want to give a human face to African immigration in today's global world. As I describe the reasons that lead many Africans to leave the continent--poverty, persecution, and lack of opportunities--I try to make visible their predicament in Europe and America, where they are caught between tradition and modernity, and hindered by their attachment to the past and the resurgence of racism and police brutality against them in the countries of immigration.

Bedridden with malaria, I take the reader back to the town when i first emigrated to Paris and then to Washington, D.C. Some of the stories I tell here come straight out of the hallucinations caused by the malaria fever--which is capable of making one who suffers from it feel a pain as acute as a racist insult. I can best characterize the other stories in the book as romantic memoirs which are laced with rock & roll nostalgia, the freedom generated by African independencies, and the euphoria of the Civil Rights movement in Washington, D.C.

I begin with my own stories of immigration and the experiences of my friends and relatives to show how recent immigrations have brought race relations to the forefront in Europe and how the American dream has become the primary lure for Africans who are locked out of the old continent. But one also wonders, with the Amadou Diallo shooting, if racism and xenophobia do not constitute the main obstacle to the integration and assimilation of immigrants and their attempt to achieve the American dream.

My memories are interlaced with immigrant experiences in the present. I go back and forth, moving between my immigration in the 1970s during the cold war and nowadays with globalization, the clash of civilizations, and immigration as a security issue not only in France and other European countries, but also in the United States. By making the past speak to the present in this manner and using literary techniques to write the history of African immigrations, I hope to go beyond anthropology and sociology, while continuing the discussion with these academic disciplines. I call my approach reverse anthropology, or neo-anthropology, or simply cultural studies. That is, I study African immigrants in Europe and America by using, whenever appropriate, the tools of anthropology, sociology, literature, memoirs, the epistolary form, and travel narratives.

My depiction, in the present tense, of the conditions in which my friends and relatives live in Paris today is intended to reveal the new divisions in French society. The African ghettoes are a sober reminder of how France is becoming like America--a society divided between black and white, rich and poor, and European and others. As I travel between continents, I see myself and people like me singled out at airports because of our national origins and the color of our skin. Despite all the education I have received in America, the fat professor's salary, and all the titles, I wonder if I have become the cosmopolitan individual of my dreams, or if I am still trapped in a racial or ethnic group.

We Won't Budge is a literary tribute to a song, "Nous Pas Bouger," by the Malian singer Salif Keita. he sang it in defense against the exclusion and the human rights violations of Africans in the global world. I intend my book to continue the dissemination of Salif Keita's ideas and to contribute to making the lives of African immigrants better. It is a book about Africans in Europe and how their presence influences European politics. It is also a comparative study of two social systems: race relations in America and France; identity politics and communitarianism on the one hand, and individualism and universal rights on the other. I hope, therefore, that the book will provide a more complex and nuanced take on globalization.

The most recent books related to my subjects--i.e., integration, globalization, the politics of recognition, unemployment and racism--that inspired me include Les misères du monde (The Weight of the World) by Pierre Bourdieu et al., and Tahar ben Jelloun's Le racisme expliqué à ma fille (Racism Explained to My Daughter).  While Ben Jelloun's book is about racism against North Africans in France, Bourdieu and his colleagues address the issues of class and the dislocation of the welfare system in France. Paul Stoller, an American scholar, also has published a fascinating book entitled Money Has No Smell, about West African immigrants in North America. It is an ethnographic study of African vendors in places like New York and Atlanta. I hope that We Won't Budge will add more fuel to the findings in these books, and that it will contribute to the betterment of the conditions of immigrants everywhere in the world

posted 4 November 2007


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Manthia Diawara is presently chair of the Africana Studies Department at New York University. A native of Mali, Professor Diawara received his education in France and later traveled to the United States for his university studies.  Diawara received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1985. His dissertation, on the politics and aesthetics of African cinema, formed the basis for African Cinema, published in 1985 by Indiana University Press.

Since then, Dr. Diawara has edited the volume Black-American Cinema, published by Routledge in 1993 in addition to publishing widely in journals. He has taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Pennsylvania. 

Diawara is  engaged in Black cultural studies, a project begun in Britain in the early '80s by figures such as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy. He is interested,  however, in the material conditions of Black people in the Americas in order not to replicate the British formulations.

His essay "Black Studies / Cultural Studies: Performative Acts" in AfterImage explains his view of black cultural studies and the direction they should take. His bibliography should be checked for other essays on the topic. Diawara's views on "Blackness" place him among the "strategic essentialists," which include such thinkers as Greg Tate, Arthur Jafa, Tricia Rose, Paul Gilroy, Houston Baker, and others -- all of whom privilege Blackness "without recourse to narrower, pathological, and biological notions of cultural purity.

Diawara has published widely on the topic of film and literature of the Black Diaspora.  Professor Diawara also collaborated with Ngûgî wa Thiong’o in making the documentary Sembene Ousmane: The Making of the African Cinema, and directed the German-produced documentary Rouch in Reverse. He is also the author of Black-American Cinema: Aesthetics and Spectatorship (1993), African Cinema: Politics and Culture (1992), and In Search of Africa (1998).

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African Film: New Forms of Aesthetics and Politics

By Manthia Diawara

In this book Manthia Diawara, a renowned scholar on Black cinema, literature, and art brings readers up to date on the exciting changes taking place behind and in front of African cameras. Contributions by filmmakers, scholars, and producers as well as profiles of thirty important African directors and their films, provide valuable insight into recent developments. The volume comes with a DVD containing several interviews with filmmakers conducted by the author. Scholars, students, and anyone interested in cinematic and African cultural studies will find much to discover and celebrate in this authoritative, fascinating look at new trends in African filmmaking.

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In Search of Africa

By Manthia Diawara

Manthia Diawara is able to see Guinea with a nostalgia that doesn't turn a blind eye to the nation's faults, pointing out what needs to be done without falling prey to "Afro-pessimism." In one heartfelt passage, recalling his upbringing in revolutionary Guinea, Diawara writes: "My life began when the new nations were born, in the late 1950s. We had been full of hope then, determined to change Africa, to catch up quickly with the modern world, to show that black people could use their culture and civilization, as other people did, to lead them into modernity." But, as Diawara relates throughout the book, that didn't happen. He painfully recounts how he and his family were forced to leave Guinea and how the country sank into a Marxist-oriented dictatorial nightmare.

While not overlooking the horrible historical impact of the slave trade and European colonialism, Diawara also blames internal corruption and dangerous African ethnic customs, like female genital mutilation, for his country's underdevelopment. Ultimately, however, he remains confident that this people will one day ascend to their full political, economic, and cultural potential: "Our desire to be modernized has been awakened, and it cannot be denied. Women want liberation from traditional oppression; we all want access to education and material wealth; and we are tired of being ignored by the world."—Amazon Review

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

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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Related files: Manthia Diawara Preface   Diawara Reviews