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We American Negroes may indeed be the harshest critics of Africa when we have

few opportunities to make her better than she was or is or what she might become.

We living comfortably (comparatively) here in America, at the bottom of things



Telling the Truth about Africa

Letting Her Become What She Can and Will Be

By Rudolph Lewis


Africa and America, for centuries, have interacted like mother and son. On a personal level this complex relationship has been at once creative and destructive. Africa gave up enslaved men, women, and children by the hundreds of thousands who brought America many gifts (not only labor but music, dance, and words) that have enriched the cultural and social life of the modern United States. Africa also supplied the uranium (of Congo mines) used to produce the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Seldom in all its history has Africa acted consciously for self.

Though much in common, neither has had a stomach for the other. One praises the potato and fries, the other raves over cassava and fou-fou. One has been relegated to service and the other to rule. One is given to song, dance, and celebration; the other to work, reason (denial, and sacrifice. One is primitive and ancient; the other modern and contemporary.

Africa as “mammy” to America is a longstanding image. Though lovable and serviceable she is a pitiable and forlorn character, for her children, unlike the “old-time Negro,” lack “reliability, regularity, and faithfulness.” They do not know their “place.” Stereotypical, these are not the sentiments of contemporary ethnologists and sociologists and other such specialists. But this popular perspective lingers.

Anxious to become their betters, these sons of Africa are seized by the twin demons of fear and ambition and become a Colonel Mobutu or a Bigger Thomas or a Charles Taylor or a Biggie Smalls or an Idi Amin and so soon after they have won their freedom or their independence, lauding the glory of their people. In their specialized isolation our elite of the thoughtful and the well connected, seemingly, turn but to money and power, with the loss of dignity or scruples or an absolute turn to criminality.

And then there are the vicious wars that engage the masses of Africans—we see bloated bellies of famine, machete-swinging genocide on today’s world news, and the peoples of Africa still languishing miserably in their huts or shanties without electricity, clean water, literacy. Can the masses of African people be more than just a human potential—can a middle-class life become as ubiquitous in Africa as America? We all wonder when.

In two centuries we American Negroes have come to understand that it is an exceedingly difficult prospect not to assess the modern world except through the eyes of a racialist: chances or opportunities are few of making a true white friend. Since Nasser died African heads of state wonder whether an African can have a true Arab friend.

We American Negroes may indeed be the harshest critics of Africa when we have few opportunities to make her better than she was or is or what she might become. We living comfortably (comparatively) here in America, at the bottom of things, Africa is of little daily interest to us. For instance, at a recent conference in the mountains of Virginia—of the leading African-Americans writers and poets—not one writer or scholar mentioned the tragedy of Darfur, the genocidal society of Rwanda, the land question in Zimbawe, the great white wealth and greater black poverty of South Africa. What can be promised those Africans—who are the lowest of the low—who have not gotten the cars, the villas, the lavish government posts? Be patient, cool as a cucumber. Nkrumah to Lumumba.

Though color and race tie the best minds of America to darkest Africa, they nevertheless enjoy the comforts of America’s middle-class life with its access directly or vicariously to the wealthiest of the world. I speak of that unique item called the “credit card.” What share we have in the diamonds or the gold of the Congo and South Africa or the oil of Nigeria and Sudan? What share the masses of Africa have in their nations’ wealth?

What urge for Pan-African unity is there for the Hausa woman who walks twelve miles carrying water on her head? It’s a nice postcard. But is it reasonable for her now to think of Africa as Du Bois or Nkrumah thought of Africa, a half century later? What pay is in the notion of a “United States of Africa” for a Congo soldier holding a death-killing machine in his hand who can’t afford a pack of cigarettes to ease his nerves? For those left out of the fruits of independence or civil rights bills, uneven development and opportunity can be countered only by the psychic web of tribal or gang affiliations or immersion in religious enthusiasm, or, worst, ethnic vengeance and violence.

Africa appears altogether as a different glorious reality for those endowed Afrocentrists chairing programs at Harvard or Temple. The motherland becomes an object of study and celebration, and grants. But these American elites speak of the “mysteries of the African soul” more in terms of tribal religions and ancestor worship and their accoutrements of ceremony (the imaginative aspects of African consciousness) rather than the day-to-day distortions of greed brought on by Western economic exploitation and social injustices that exist now on a global scale, with American corporations often the beneficiaries.

How can these other “mysteries” be adequately explained and be of significance to the semiliterate, the homeless, America’s middle-class, to make a difference? That we have adopted an alien culture that does not serve our countrymen?

The mysteries of Pan-African struggle, interred in their black coffin decades ago, do not command the hearts, minds, and souls of what Richard Wright called the “black Western elites.” That was the era of Du Bois and Garvey, Nkrumah and Padmore. Togetherness “to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor” is as dead as Lumumba. How many indeed are ready for the “sublime struggle” that will lead Africa “to peace, prosperity, and greatness?”

Like Moise Tshombe our path leads away from “the center of the sun’s radiance.” Every deal now is a private one. That’s what makes the economy run: the individual chance to be wealthy. Individual energies summoned for self-interest as a way of life. In that thin air, that Sahara sand, the seeds of idealism and sacrifice, which live in the acts and words of a W.E.B. Du Bois or a Lumumba or a Richard Wright cannot take root. In these awful times, martyrdom is the stuff of legends and action films. We have cheated ourselves out of that vision—that wisdom that comes from suffering.

posted 5 October 2004

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Nia: Haiku, Sonnets, Sun Songs   /  Terry Gross Interviews Natasha Trethewey

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Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

By Ron Suskind

A new book offering an insider's account of the White House's response to the financial crisis says that U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ignored an order from President Barack Obama calling for reconstruction of major banks. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, the incident is just one of several in which Obama struggled with a divided group of advisers, some of whom he didn't initially consider for their high-profile roles. Suskind interviewed more than 200 people, including Obama, Geithner and other top officials . . . The book states Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks, which were burdened with toxic mortgage assets. . . .Suskind states that Obama accepts the blame for mismanagement in his administration while noting that restructuring the financial system was complicated and could have resulted in deeper financial harm. . . . In a February 2011 interview with Suskind, Obama acknowledges another ongoing criticism—that he is too focused on policy and not on telling a larger story, one the public could relate to. Obama is quoted as saying he was elected in part because "he had connected our current predicaments with the broader arc of American history," but that such a "narrative thread" had been lost.—Gopusa

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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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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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 11 June 2003




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