Honestly, it’s not until I got the U.S. that I understood the type of struggle of identity within the American culture. Before I came to the U.S. for my studies, I solely identified myself as Rwandan but empowered Afrikans. I also didn’t think there was a problem with being called Black because in my mind “Black” was a unifying identity of Afrikans and African diaspora based on culture. However, as soon as I stepped in the U.S. let’s just say “Black” was everything else but what I thought.
When I arrived at my college, the vibe was (is) that “Black” people meant students with a phenotype of chocolate skin color (notice I did not say brown-because I feel like “brown” mostly identifies other afro-descendants). It didn’t (doesn’t) matter whether you are African American, African Canadian, Afrikan or Caribbean, you are ALL the same BLACK. However, when it came to the African American students, “Black” was an individual identity solely used for those in the U.S. A unique and own identity. So, to them, not every dark/chocolate skinned person is “Black” (basically Black is more like a culture). So, my entire first year of college, I was being tossed around, from one identity to another. Being rejected by some and embraced and accepted by others.
The students were one part of the problem in the equation, the institution was another. Tell me why my college has a Black studies department where the only Black history told, is African American? Yet, apparently Black studies means the mash up of Afrikan, African American and Caribbean history (does this sound familiar? Yeah, my definition of Black). Let me tell you a little bit about the University I attend (like you don’t already know a lot). There are only two Afrikan-related courses taught at DePauw: African civilization (From pre-colonial to 1912; the coming of Mandela) and African in the 21st century (From Mandela’s era to present). The courses alternate between spring and fall semester and when the ONLY ONE Afrikan professor that teaches these courses is gone on sabbatical, we have no Afrikan related courses. And someone has the nerve to stand up and say, I know about ALL about Black history/lives because I am a Black studies major. Relax, you ONLY know A in the whole 26 alphabets.
When I raised my concerns about the Black studies department to a friend, surprisingly they agreed. A semester later, the department had changed the name. Now, hold your horses, don’t be too excited. They changed the name to AFRICANA studies. How? Why? I don’t know. There are so many things wrong with this.
- The department excluded the major impact of Afrikan history in the history of a country that basically bleeds through the Afrikan veins-the first Afrikans on slave ships.
- The department assimilates a western-biased curriculum that talks about little (as good as nothing) of Afrikans, Afro-descendants or diaspora and engulfs Afrikan in it.
The students know almost nothing other than what’s seen on the media about the Afrikan continent. In fact, in my opinion you can barely distinguish the level of ignorance and prejudices between “Black” and “White” people against Afrikans. Because really what’s the different a white person saying “I’m going to Africa, I hope I don’t get AIDS” and a “Black” person saying “Afrikans are Ebola. Send them back to their caves.”? Exactly, NO difference. If anything, in my imaginary, non-academic world, “Black” people can be racist towards Afrikans because really “Blacks” can institutionally oppress Afrikans due to the fact that they carry power handed to them through their “non-African” (American, Canadian or European) identity. Yet, Afrikans will weep for every “black” body that dies. How fair is that? So, really, what do you think students who have limited knowledge on African studies will think first when they hear “Africana”? I did a study and here are the common results:
- Africana means African lives. You know like when I say I’m from Rwanda, therefore, I am Rwandan. Coming from Afrika, I’m Africana.
- The Afrikaners in South Africa. Yeah, because besides the deaths and starvations, the only countries in Afrika people know is South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. And just the fact that African history is pathetic that half the time we are talking about Europeans and the other half, Europeans in South Africa.
It doesn’t matter what you call the department or how you write it, it’s the content of the curriculum and the distributions in the major. If you want a Black Studies department, by all means. If you want an Africana (whatever this means) department, by all means. I’m just asking that whatever you choose to make it, provide a fully correct education on it. If we are talking about Black studies, then learn about the History of all Afrikans-that’s why a major is not just ONE CLASS. Why, would you have 10 courses of the same thing? Again, if you don’t want to teach about in depth Afrikan history, then its fine too-just don’t name the department that gives false hope to all groups of people that identify as “Black” (culturally, socially, etc.). Plus, I have fought for many things, I don’t mind adding an Afrikan studies major on my to-get list.
Personally, it is selfish for “Black” people who know the importance of learning your own history to completely ignore the history of another oppressed group (in this case one that has strong ties). It’s unfair to me that I’m basically gauged with everyone’s history but my own. It’s Weird that I know more “Black” history than a Black studies major-and I don’t mean quantity, I mean quality. It’s unfair that you are all about Black power and empowerment and all you know about Afrikans is that they were slaves and once called savages and now a pity case (in the eyes of some). It’s a shame. A pity because like Martin Luther king said “Every time you hesitate as a Black person on whether you have the strength to endure, just know your ancestors: the ones that survived the horrors on the slave ship, the ones that survived the deaths in the fields and the ones that lived through the lynching, prepared you for the fight today.” It’s a shame if you won’t claim their blood in you. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t need everyone prophesying their Afrikan, if you don’t want to be African American and rather Black American, be my guest but just know “your” people came from somewhere. Like Rev. Otis Moss III said “The ability to stay firm in your culture is an act of resistance.”
In conclusion, there was a time I said the meaning of “Black” is subjective but NO “Black” is not subjective because if the meaning is, then the lives, experiences and culture is subjective as well. So, be careful “Black” how you phrase such a statement because while many may understand where you are coming from, this is so much more than an opinion. It’s a culturally and socially constructed ideology that affects how we interact with each other. It has the ability to sustain our culture, to change the history of oppression and to transform our society. On the other side, with all the tossing, thank you America for teaching me an important lesson, never give anyone the power to influence what you choose to identify as. Thank you America, for making me a more passionate strong Pan-Afrikanist and reminding me that it is my duty, as an Afrikan queen to keep stories and voices of my people alive. And my advice to you “Black” people, we will never have full Black pride if we don’t learn the prideful history of the Afrikan continent and remember, BLACK HISTORY DIDN’T START WITH SLAVERY-so stop telling it like it was.