What does it mean to be African

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I have been thinking

What does it mean to be African or African descended? How are those on the continent and in the diaspora related and connected? How do we nurture our common heritage and history for our common welfare as African-descended people wherever we may find ourselves?

Proceeding from the premise that African descended identity matters, why does unity and harmony among African descended people matter?

Notions of Pan-Africanism can be traced back well into the nineteenth century as those forced into diaspora longed for home and pondered home as being a place beyond geography.

The Pan-African vision is a vision that African peoples, on the African continent and in diaspora, share a common history and a common destiny. It is a powerful vision pregnant with possibilities for African descended people and for the world.

Yet, it is a vision too often obscured by a bushel basket and a voice muted by the gag of another paradigm rooted in colonial ideas conflated with illusions of divine destiny.

I’ve been thinking about these things for a long time. I’ve thought them with greater urgency in recent weeks in the aftermath of the murder of nine people of African descent in historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

I’ve thought about our African descended heritage and our story as calls have gone forth and actions have been taken regarding the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public properties.

I’ve thought about the Maafa and our African descended heritage and history as cries have gone forth that the shooting in Emanuel Church was not related to that Confederate battle flag and that indeed the battle flag represented heritage, not hate.

I’ve thought about our African descended heritage and narrative obscured and disrupted by a heritage that declared African bodies to be without heritage or history or any redeeming value.

As happened in all places where the seeds of the colonizing, empire building vision of Europe were planted and nurtured by bloodlust and blood, indigenous heritages were crushed as irrelevant and a new heritage and was imposed with some sense of divine will.

Cloaked in an aura of divine will, memory is sanitized and it is quite easy to declare that the Confederate battle flag as a symbol is merely a sign of heritage devoid of hate, devoid of bloodshed, devoid of any negativity.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of community and ubuntu and how essential these ideas have been and continue to be for us of darker hues throughout the world who continue as embattled aliens even in our own land.

In a state of learned helplessness, we even battle each other in an effort to acquire larger shares of the oppressor’s mythical pie since the oppressor’s way too often looms large in our memory as the only way.

Have we really forgotten the time before the Maafa? Yes, Africans were fallible humans before the Maafa, but we did remember and we did celebrate our own stories. We were nurtured by those stories.

But now we chew hungrily on the straw of a narrative that is not our own and are perplexed by the hunger that lingers in our bellies. We continue to ask why things fall apart and continue to resist our own ancient practices and knowledge as being deficient, even evil.

This is by design. The one who controls the narrative has the power. To have power necessarily means resetting the mind and memories and calling things by new names.

Old stories and old storytellers are a threat to those who would conquer or otherwise assert new paradigms of power. Chinua Achebe says it well in Anthills of the Savannah when he writes, “Storytellers are a threat.

They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit – in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.”

Yes, I’ve been thinking. I am distressed when I read that African nations are hesitant to open their borders or extend hospitality and community to fellow Africans.

I am distressed that xenophobia among some Africans exceeds that of Westerners. I am distressed that we seem more dazzled by the illusion of communion and community with Europe, with NGOs, and with others but continue to eschew true communion based in shared values with other African descended people.

We are poisoned with the memory of another. We are bewitched or, as Brother Malcolm is often quoted, we have “been hoodwinked.

Bamboozled. Led astray. Run amok!” I am distressed that time and again, we are raped, pillaged, and destroyed by those who seek only commodity and not community.

I’ve been thinking. A community of African descended people was gathered in an ancestral place to consider ancestral wisdom (for the roots of Christianity are deeply African).

A sojourner was welcomed in the ancestral way of love. He was almost persuaded from the evil in his heart by the love he encountered. Our ancestral wisdom is love. Our ancestral way is a transforming and transformative way.

We must come back to ourselves and be clothed once more in our right ancestral minds. Let us lead with our own stories. Let us be nourished by the substance of our heritage.

Lewis Gordon notes, “Indigenous African system affirms that human negotiate their affairs with the understanding that cannot change the past (although they can be informed by it, especially through the ancestors), are entirely responsible for the present, and must take responsibilities for their future.”

Such a perspective should give rise to much hope and mitigate any fear of evil as we sojourn through the valley of death. As Africans and African descended people, we have a heritage and it is not a heritage of hate nor is it a heritage of despair.

We have a heritage of community. Yes, as with any group of humans, there are tensions and conflicts inherent in those communities and among our community of communities.

Yet, we are able to live in the present and grow into the future because we are nourished by the past. We have wisdom and practices and a cosmology. We have a narrative of rich diversity in community that can prosper all of us.

The call, echoed by Ngugi, persists; let us be dedicated to, and renew our dedication to, the decolonizing of our minds. Let us unlearn self-hatred.

Let us aside the besetting weight and the shame about our African heritage, which keeps hinders our conversation and our joining together in a common vision and in community.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for the people to join together in unity rooted in the common shared by U and I

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