Defining The African Diaspora
April 30, 2007.
By Sokari Ekine
Let’s refrain from defining “African” for now, and what it’s doing qualifying the word diaspora. Let’s look instead at what a diaspora is.
Some scholars have identified four basic criteria: 1. there must be a dispersal to at least two locations. 2.There must be self-awareness as a group. 3. It must be multi-generational. 4. There must be some relationship, real or imagined, with the “homeland.”
Now obviously, this last one is what I am most interested in. The relationship with the homeland. I’m interested in first thinking about the relationship of two broad groups, with Africa: African Americans and Africans living abroad. With the former, there have historically been impressive strides made towards imagining a “black” nation, where black at different times has included African people and people of African descent even outside the US.
There’s been Pan-Africanism and Negritude and countless other movements in which people have supported each other at crucial times like during the civil rights movement or anti-colonialist struggles.
But that generation is almost gone. Sure, there are a few relics still around, but exclusivity has become the name of the game, with “black” now being restricted to specific geographic boundaries in addition to all the other criteria that have existed before. Which of course has implications on the relationship, real or imagined, with the “homeland.”
Then there is the latter group, whose relationship, I am finding, is astonishingly schizophrenic. I talk here of a specific class of Africans living abroad. The educated ones who on the surface are proponents of a “pro-Africa” sort of image. We are the ones who want the world to know that Africa is not one country, that there’s more to it than you see on National Geographic etc.
I think it’s fashionable in certain circles. And we are the most defensive people you will find, because the more we exist in a whitewashed world, the more we see Africa through white eyes and the more we dislike what we see. And so even though we love where we come from, we love the food and the people and the music, (in our minds the “culture”) we do not love everything that Africa is. We go to particular pains to be everything that is the opposite of the stereotype, because we want this world, this whitewashed one, to see that we can be as good as they are, as eloquent as they are, speak with the same accent as they do…the list is endless.
I am having a conversation with the other Africans around me, who by the way will not countenance being called African because we are all from different countries and Africa is not just one country.
I am having a conversation about what images we want to present as part of that “showing the positive sides of Africa” campaign that our kind is so fond of. The consensus so far is that there will be no pictures of huts, only of mansions, highways, swimming pools…in Africa of course, because we have those things too.
Is this not as problematic as the one-sided National Geographic images we are struggling so hard against? Have we not learnt that the problem is not with a negative portrayal but with a one-sided portrayal?
And so there is our relationship with the homeland. Whitewashing a continent which we are unable to define because we are unable to accept all of it. And we are the educated ones, the ones who read, the ones who write and who speak and who believe that we can change things. Of course we want to change things…change things the way we have changed ourselves. One day, maybe soon, I will find that just about any place in Africa will leave me homesick as Cape Town did. And then what will my relationship with the “homeland” be?
What is our relationship with the “homeland” now? If we all (and I come full circle to include both groups I mentioned) have found such ingenious ways to slowly but surely sever ourselves from a reality that should be ours…all ours, then that’s one criteria gone. And if I were a scholar, my conclusion would be that the African diaspora cannot survive.
The Nigerian-born Sokari Ekine is arguably the best female writer in Blogosphere. Educated in Britain and America, Ekine is a human rights and female rights activist. She blogs frequently as Black Looks.
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