Sunday, September 30, 2012

African homecoming: A way of healing or just diasporic dreaming?

Can Black people of the 'old' diaspora still make the connection with Africa, or is it just unrealistic day dreaming? In August producer and activist Bamba Nazar organised the event “African Homecoming” in Amsterdam, dedicated to the bridging between Africa and the diaspora. He was triggered by his journey to the slave island of Gorée in Senegal.  But Dutch cultural critic and blogger Plug is skeptic about this new Pan-Africanisme.
He feels the gap between black Europeans and Africans has become too wide. By quoting Ama van Dantzig (Ghanian) he explained that, "to Ghanaians there’s very little difference between White Westerners and African Americans, or Black Europeans."

But  to Bamba Nazar, who was born in Amsterdam, has lived in Suriname and grew up in New York as a teenager, the connection with Africa is important.  In an interview with Tolhuistuin he talked about his personal homecoming. “As a person of African descent, I was always busy with the question, where do I come from. As a child I was fascinated by culture and history. The hip hop scene in 1988 in New York had a big impact on me. Stetsasonic, Public Enemy, Lakim Shabazz, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah ... At that time hip hop forced you to think, to read books, it was not like today. Back then you'd better talk some sense to earn your stripes. Hiphop was about our collective African roots, the Islam and history. Inspired by hip-hop, I started researching the continent and traveled to the continent. Egypt, Senegal, Gambia, Tanzania and Zanzibar were my personal 'African Homecoming’, but I didn’t share them with a large audience."  As for connection: "The Pan-African identity is an important theme in African Homecoming: an identity that unites all Africans, whether they live in or outside the continent." Read full interview in Dutch here

Dutch (Caribbean) blogger and cultural critic ‘Plug’, who attended the event, had a different perspective. He feels those diasporic returns are romanticized triumphant homecomings that have been pre-destined from the moment of departure. Plug: "Here we were talking about a possible return to Africa, whether actual or philosophical, while asylum seekers from countries in Africa are risking life and limb to get to European soil. Most of them end up languishing in State sponsored detention camps. Those who live here undocumented live under the constant threat of being rounded up and imprisoned in order to keep 'us' safe.”
"For those of us living “here,” whether we like it or not, we are Europeans. I grew up within a European context. I have made friends, defined myself, tried to reinvent myself and struggled with myself within a European context."

He concludes: "How can African descended folks 'here' build deep relationships of solidarity with African descended peoples over 'there' when opportunities to meet them are rare, or near impossible, due to travel restrictions? How can we build relationships of solidarity across differences and mutually incomprehensible languages? These factors hamper the free exchange of information, and silence those voices that do not have access to computers/the Internet and that are not familiar with English/post-colonial terms." Read the full story at Plug.



  1. Without too much hyperbole, I've got to say it as I see it, Afro-Europe: "Plug" is the New James Baldwin. He is an Afro-European griot, the male "Afro-Dutch Audre Lorde", who is going to make mighty waves on both shores of the Pond. AMAZING. Just amazing! I can't praise this brother enough. It goes without saying I'll be following his blog religiously; as I do this one. Thanks for introducing us to him and his thought!

    And yes, I heartily agree with him: In all honesty, we the descendants of Mother Africa can return "home" for a visit, surely, but to LIVE there may be very problematic......we've been gone too long.

    1. Thanks John. I agree that he is right about the fact that black Americans and black Europeans (of Caribbean origin) can’t go “back”, but I don’t agree that African descended folks 'here' can’t build deep relationships of solidarity with African descended peoples over 'there', because of language and technological barriers. But have to admit that his realistic view on some issues is refreshing.

    2. Thank you for picking up my blog post! I appreciate all the comments as well.

      I don't think it's impossible for African descended folk over "here" to build deep relationships of solidarity with African descended folk over "there".

      My concern is that if we don't take our privileged position into account there's a chance we will end up reproducing colonial relationships. We need to think critically about how we relate to African descended peoples all over the globe; and not just those living in Africa. I don't see a lot of coalition building over "here" (i.e. Europe) between African descended people from the Caribbean and the continent Africa.

      Currently, there is a group of "failed" asylum seekers from various African countries living on the streets of Amsterdam; as long as we only look toward building relationships with Africans over "there" and fail to care for those over "here" it will hamper any true solidarity building. As African descended people from the Caribbean we need to use our privilege to challenge current border politics, and European imperialism, within the EU borders.

    3. "Discoatemybaby": Feel free to "make yourself at home" at this blog, too! I've already subscribed to Plug.

      I can easily envision the Afro Europe blog becoming a kind of poly-lingual African Diasporic United Nations of sorts. *

  2. I understand fully what plug is saying. I think when people are talking about going to live in Africa then they are romanticizing it, but I feel there is nothing wrong with Africans in the diaspora visiting African countries to me that's a postive and a good experience for both parties, we always travel around Europe why not Africa, it's such a huge place that people try to avoid, even Africans don't travel to other African countries like Europeans do, it's sad

  3. For me, Plug speaks nothing but the truth.

    I agree, that with most members of the black diaspora whose ancestors were uprooted and enslaved, there is a perpetual since of rootlessness that one carries inside. Within an American context, ethnicity and roots are paramount, often times coming before one’s American-ness (Italian-American, Irish-American, German-American). I don’t even call my mother African-American because it infuriates me. For one, Africa is a continent, not a country. For me, such an ethnic derivation, in and of itself, lends to this romanticized, limited and downright racist notion of a culturally-racially-linguistically singular African nation >> One SUPER HOT country, where everyone is pitch black, speaks Swahili or some Click language, wears Kente cloth or animal skins, beats drums, dances frenetically, with Lions and Zebras in their back yard. AFRICA <<. Anyway, I say all this to say that I wanted to know PRECISELY where some of my ancestors came from. So, I did the faddish genealogical testing thing, found the specific country my black ancestors came from, the specific ethnic group, everything, did my research, learned some of the language, packed my bags and went there ASAP. Now, though there were some shining moments in my journey, overall I was rather disappointed and hurt more so than healed. In large part, I think this was because my expectations were still too romanticized, despite trying to be “realistic” about the possibilities.

    For one, I was STILL an “other,” an outsider, foreign. Though I am both black American and white European, I strongly identify as BLACK and of African descent, first and foremost. But, in the land of my ancestors, I was everything BUT…I was white, American and European…and consistently reminded with big but not ill intentioned smiles that I was not truly black. #HEARTBREAK! lol Now, I was treated with great curiosity, interest, warmth and hospitality, but under the premise of still being an OTHER. I think, in my soul, I wanted something along the lines of the last scene of the Color Purple…lol…some strong sense of communal kinship or bond that transcended language and other socio-cultural barriers. And if that wasn’t enough of a blow to my spirit, I had to contend with seeing so many once beautifully dark faces now chemically lightened to the point of unnaturalness, sickness and ugliness. Everywhere I turned the remnants of European imperialism and colonialism hit me square in the jaw. I came trying to be re-connected with an "unknown" African culture but was re-directed back to European culture as the preferred default and status quo. Then, there was the abject poverty (juxtaposed with lavish scenic beauty) and overt corruption displayed without pretense that just hurt my feelings and left me for dead. YES, I know that not every Sub-Saharan African nation has these particular set of issues…but many do and more importantly, the nation where my ancestors came from, suffered these ills…my spiritual “home.” #HEARTBREAK. I learned the hard way that even though I have African ancestors and my Black American culture may share some distant similarities with various African cultures, I am NOT African. I am something else. And that has to be ok but that’s what it IS.

    Perhaps, my next trip will be different. I had my face cracked the first time, was able to re-evaluate my expectations, and now I’d go in with a different set of lens. Next time, I’d be more interested in trying to figure out how some manage to smile so brightly and still love, despite what they endure.

    1. BlkViking, read this post from Kemi,
      VIEWS: Colonial Mentality in Africa
      It's almost the same experience.

      I hope you find what you are looking for BlkViking, but I think you are almost there.

  4. I kind of liken Africans in the diaspora to orphans that are always in search of their biological families. We have been away for many generatoins it's true and we may even have been encouraged in such a way as to be ashamed of or mistrust our Africaness (Negritude?). Still, we long for the knowledge of self that is our birthright and will likely not feel complete until that self-knowledge is satisfied.
    In my opinion when we acquire a solid knowledge of our history as Africans, both continental and throughout the diaspora, we will be on our way toward some kind of reckoning. The prosperity and security of Africans the world over can be greatly enhanced by such a reunification. We may be the last people in the world to understand how true this is. In parts of the diaspora that I am familiar with we have been influenced by negative imagery to the extent that we not only ashamed of the idea of being African but are even ashamed of our own physical features, unable in our self loathing, to appreciate the beauty we possess because the majority of people around us set us apart, degrade and abuse us for their own purposes. When the time comes that Africans can look upon one another with pride, in the knowledge of just how well we have all withstood, all of the abuse and injustices that have been thrust upon us, with the full understanding that the wealth of all the big rich countries in the world was built on our backs and the resources of our land, then we will be ready to acknowledge our true worth and come together for our collective advancement.

  5. discoatemybaby you’re welcome. To answer your comment, you wrote: “My concern is that if we don't take our privileged position into account there's a chance we will end up reproducing colonial relationships.“

    But why should we thing critically about how we relate to African descended peoples all over the globe? My experience in communicating with people from other countries is that I had to reflect on my own way of communicating and my pre-conceived notions. Talking to a black German, is not talking to a black person, but to a German person. Talking to black Brazilian is talking to a Brazilian and so forth. When I mailed with a Nigerian cartoonist about his work I wasn’t mailing with a Nigerian brother in Africa, but with a professional cartoonist who could have lived around the corner and could have worked in a creative agency in London or Amsterdam. The fact that I live in Europe and the person on the other of the wire doesn’t play a role in the way we are exchanging ideas. I am glad that someone pointed that out to me.

    You and I both know that if you gave one of those asylum seekers in Amsterdam a passport, he would graduate from University within 3 years and would have a high paid job 2 years after graduation. In Amsterdam South-East there is a Ghanaian girl now helping Surinamese and Antillean families to get back on track. I sometimes wonder who needs the solidarity the most. So there is a very thin line between the ones with the passports and the ones without them.

    As for why Caribbean people and African people don’t build coalitions. I think has to do with different perceptions. And for the Netherlands I also think there is also a language barrier. Perhaps another cause is the fact that the relationship between the African and the Surinam community isn’t that well ever since former Amsterdam city alderman Hanna Belliot, during the celebration of 300 years trade relations between Ghana and The Netherlands 10 years ago, caused a diplomatic riot because she refused to meet Ashanti king Osei Tutu II because she wanted an apology for the slave trade, since she regarded him as a “descendant of slavery sellers” . But I think the general Caribbean attitude towards Africa also plays and important role. But I don’t think that’s new to you.

    So to sum it up. I loved your story and your openness and I agree that we cannot go back to Africa, because some of us have simply have lost the connection with the African continent. But I don’t agree that “we” in Europe have a privileged position. Yes, we are sometimes treated differently in Europe because we have European passport, speak the native language, or because we don’t come from an African country. But that’s a very small privilege, which could easily be revoked.

    As for solidarity, in the marketing they say that if you want [customer] loyalty, buy a dog. The same goes for solidarity based on race In France they have dinner table meetings with people from the Caribbean and Africa, I think someone realised that only trough communication we can start value each other and build effective relationships. A shared skin colour alone is not enough.

    Again, I am not saying anything you probably already know, I just wrote it down as a small contribution to your story.


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