Monday, March 22, 2010
African vs. African American
i rented this movie Black Is....Black Ain't from the library by filmmaker Marlon Riggs. the film is mainly about the limitations and boundaries, or lack thereof, of the term "black", along with ideas of black masculinity, sexuality, homophobia, and feminism. he includes interviews with Angela Davis, Cornel West, bell hooks, Maulana Karenga, and others. during the film, Riggs is suffering from HIV and gives commentary from his hospital bed a number of times. unfortunately, he dies during the making of this film.
i would buy this film. i liked how it was kind of a low budget type film where the message of the movie was more important than the production of it. and most of all, i enjoyed the message(s) and the concepts that were explored. what is "black", and what is "black identity"?
one thing it made me think about was the different between the terms "African" and "African American", or rather, "African" and any other term blacks in America have termed themselves as. the brothers, Sons of Malcolm, use the term "African" to describe themselves. some black nationalists, Black Panthers, and Nation of Islam members also call themselves "Africans". but the majority of blacks in America call themselves either "Black" or "African American". but what exactly is the difference, if any, between the two? i think both (all) sides have valid arguments.
those that term themselves "African", i think, term themselves as such because that is what we are. we are descendants of Africans and embody their physical characteristics as much as anyone born of the continent. the only reason we don't term ourselves "African" is because of the slave trade, which is something we (we who were born in the Americas) had no hand in. and why include "American"? have we felt as Americans this time we have been here? have we been treated as Americans? have we had the same rights as all Americans? when you think of an "American", is a black person in that image? isn't the term "African American" the epitome of assimilation?
those who term themselves "African American", i think, feel as though this is the term for someone born on this continent of African descent. there are Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Chinese American, etc...so why not term ourselves along the same lines? this term was one of the first terms that we coined ourselves that has a neutral stance as opposed to something like "colored" or "negro".
on one hand, i agree with calling ourselves "Africans", however, how many people that are actually from Africa call themselves "African"? very few. even here, in America, they call themselves "Senegalese", "Ghanaian", "Nigerian", etc. sometimes even along tribal like, like "Wolof", "Dinka", or "Zulu". and it seems like the only time i've heard someone refer to them self as "African" is when they are from somewhere in the Americas. its arguable whether i even have the right to coin myself an "African". i can name a good number of African countries, but calling myself "African" is almost reducing the term to something that lacks diversity.
the African continent probably has more diversity on it than the rest of the world. there are 52 countries, then there are the tribes, sub-tribes, hundreds of religions, religions that have been amalgamated with Abrahamic religions, then there are hundreds of languages (many Africans are multi-lingual), and various dialects of those languages.
theres a part in the film that goes into the first African civilization in the United States in South Carolina. the leader of it says "we have to connect to our African past." but Africa is not a country. it is a richly diverse continent. its as if the people they showed dancing in this society in South Carolina in grass skirts, they took off their shirts, threw on some Kente loin cloths and head wraps and changed they name to something they found i a book they rented from the library under the African History section. is this not a trivialization of the term "African"? just because someone speaks my language, listens to my music, and wears the clothing i wear doesn't mean they can then term themselves as i term myself. do i or will i ever have the right (the privilege, from my perspective) to coin myself "African"?
it makes me think of someone i heard a while back that was active in a Mexican Organization, but was white, term them self as "culturally Mexican". what does that mean? just because you speak Spanish, celebrate the Day of the Dead, eat all your food with jalapenos, red pepper, hot sauce, and....fire, doesn't mean you're "culturally Mexican". its never that simple.
theres a necklace i wear every now and them thats looks like Kente cloth. but it isn't. its fake kente cloth i got for a dollar a yard in Wal-Mart a year or so ago. Kente cloth is something that takes around a week to make that is weaved from a large wooden machine. the women usually spin the cotton by hand, and then use natural dyes to dye each loon. each pattern means something different. some are only worn by chiefs and royalties within the different tribes. some mean wealth and spiritual purity, others mean family unity and cooperation....but what does it mean when i look at it?
"Africa" and nothing more. i have no deeper concept of Kente cloth other than the fact that, for me as an American, it represents Africa as a whole. i have to google search what these things mean, and even then, i cannot remember or probably even distinguish between which cloth means "unity" and which means "creative ingenuity"; which is Emaa Da and which is Adwinasa. i wear it (or rather, i like it) because it is African American. it is this struggle that we have with what it means to be African, what it means to be American, what it means to be black, what it means to be African American. this piece of fake Kente cloth IS representative of an African in America; an African in the western world....sweat shop clothing and all.
comment. criticize. give me your perspective. think.