We Must Learn More About Africa

Africa, African, Culture, Education, Films, History, Politics, Uncategorized

Africa: States of Independence – The Scramble for Africa

Africa has so much meaning for humanity and particularly for African descendants spread throguhout every corner of our globe. Africa though, is a complex continent for many to comprehend, with a complicated history, burdened by mis characterization, prejudice and exploitation.

In 2003, I was fortunate enough to travel to Africa as a student learning about Human Rights. It was a journey that had many meanings for me. On one hand it meant reconnecting with the land and the people on the continent where my father’s descendants lived. It also meant being actively connected with young people struggling for progress in their respective nations in the spirit of Pan Africanism. Lastly, it meant an incredible summer as a 20 year old fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time.

I remember watching a scene in the movie, Belly, where Nas’ character, Sincere, announces to his friends that “I’m going to Africa!” In this scene he explains how he is getting his life together, moving away from his past lifestlye and reconnecting with his roots and his motherland.

Personally, I have always felt this type of affinity and connection with Africa. I am sure that being raised by a Pan-Africanist father has a little something to do with that. Anyway, Africa is a complicated continent and it is important that people of the African Diaspora in particular become knowledgeable about Africa’s history ancient and more importantly the history colonization and decolonization. This documentary published by Al-Jazerra English effectively provides a snapshot of Africa’s experience with colonization and its sturggle for decolonization.

The film highlights the glorious period of the fall of colonization, the subsequent failed governments, the coups and the modern struggle with the exploitation of neocolonialism. If you are interested in learning more about the current state of Africa, I would suggest that you begin by learning which countries were colonized by which European nations. Then I would begin meeting different people from the continent and discussing some of their history with them. When did your country get Independence (be careful though Ethiopia was never colonized)? Who are your famous leaders? What are some of the major ethnic groups in your nation? What is the name of your capital city?

Many times growing up in the inner-city environments we are surrounded by people who have recently immigrated from Africa. Often times its the classmate, the sister braiding hair or the brother driving a cab that can help us learn more about Africa. We just need to take the initiative and ask. I am sure that if we can work to avoid judging, keep an open mind and sincerely try to learn, our questions will be appreciated and our knowledge will increase. It is my hope that you are or will be inspired by Africa, the great continent, the cradle of humanity, the wounded land, the hopeful l. Hope you enjoy, share and comment.

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Europe’s African and Islamic History

Africa, African, Culture, Education, Europe, European, Films, History

Europe’s African and Islamic History

Many African Americans grow up in the United States and other countries throughout the African Diaspora lacking much knowledge about the history of Africa and the great contributions African people have made to civilization and Western civilization especially.

It seems as if we are taught that Africans were brought to the New World from a Dark Continent that was devoid of the light of knowledge, advanced culture and civilization. We are made to believe that illiteracy and primitiveness are essentially African concepts.

The following well produced and credible documentaries serve to debunk these myths and begin to shed light on the impact that  the African and Islamic civilizations of West and North Africa had on Europe. This influence was most pronounced in Islamic Spain or Al-Andalusia, which lasted for a period of over 700 years until 1492. Al-Andalusia  as the following films document, brought advanced sciences and knowledge to Europe via Spain that changed the course of European and world history .

Learning about the influence Africa and the Islamic world had on Europe and the European Renaissance, should create a sense of pride and appreciation among people of African descent or Islamic faith, while also teaching us about the importance of tolerance and mutuality. I hope that these films will enhance your understanding of the history of Europe and highlight that the proliferation of knowledge, civilization and culture was never a one way street leading out of Europe.

These films in light of the current clamorings in Europe against the rising immigrant populations, mainly from African and Islamic nations, will hopefully serve to instruct people on how much can be accomplished when we respect diversity and bring the best of our cultures to bear for the common good of man.

Brazil – Discovering My Other Southern Roots

African American, African American, Brazil, Brazil, Culture, History, Race, Race

Brazil – Discovering My Other Southern Roots

Candomblé

I have a distinct passion for learning and documenting the history, implications and lessons of contact and interaction between Afro-Brazilians and African Americans. Growing up in America it is often times perceived that African Americans are the quintessential African community outside of Africa. As a matter of fact, this is the case in terms of economic, political and social status, with African Americans enjoying a special place of prominence within the African Diaspora. This interest was sparked as I matriculated through my undergraduate degree in African American Studies at Morehouse College, where I was stunned to discover that 38% of those enslaved in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade were exported to Brazil[1]. I took a trip to visit Brazil, in 2004, as a member of a student delegation from Morehouse College and other Atlanta University Center schools to the first Afro-Brazilian University of its kind, Universidade Zumbi Dos Palmares, to highlight the meaning, implication, and importance of the largest African-American population, Afro Brasileiros[2]. Traveling to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, I was in awe of the numerous shades, faces and infusion of Afro-Brazilian culture within the larger Brazilian society. I was also tremendously shocked that I had been ignorant of this for so long, since I considered myself a student of Africa, African-Americans and the African Diaspora.

In the Brazilian cuisine, Candomblé, Samba, Umbanda, Brazilian Hip-Hop and other cultural expressions, I heard another African-American story. A story not widely disseminated here in the United States among African Americans. This led me to wonder, why? Was I alone in my ignorance? Was there a history of interaction and support and between these two societies of Africans in the Americas? I began to read books like, Brazil: 500 Years of Change by Thomas Skidmore, which floored me when it referred to Brazil as home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of Nigeria[3]. I remembered that Pelé, the soccer great, was Afro Brazilian. Then I remembered the film, Only the Strong starring Jean Claude Van Dame, who played a character who learned Capoeira from an Afro Brazilian Mestre. I realized that there were pieces to the puzzle all around but no one had put them together in a clear and concise manner for my generation. Many of us undergraduate students and our elders as well, looked to the Caribbean, Africa, and the American South to connect with our African “roots.” Never had it dawned on me to look to South America to learn more about the African experience.

As I met more Brazilians and self identified Afro-Brazilians, I would ask them about their struggles against racism and oppression that resulted from the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Time and time again, I was told that Afro-Brazilians looked towards the African-Americans in the United States for inspiration, both culturally and politically. Mala Hutn confirms that, “Brazilian activists were also influenced by non-white Third World nationalist movements and the U.S. civil rights movement.”[4]  There was clearly a great respect for Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., R & B music, Soul music, and Hip-Hop. Despite the admiration for African Americans’ historical movements, figures and cultural manifestations, I found out that in Brazil, “race-based collective action has been relatively rare, but not absent entirely.”[5] It appeared that Afro-Brazilians were entering their own civil rights era, which further sparked my interest, curiosity and desire to get involved.

As our student delegation visited universities and met with Afro Brazilian student delegations, it became clear that the historical inequalities that resulted from slavery in the United States were alive and well in Brazil and markedly pronounced[6]. I wondered as to why Afro-Brazilians were so seemingly far removed from the political, social, and economic advantages and visibility in these arenas that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. As Mala Hutn explains, there is an Afro-Brazilian “absence among political, business, and media elites, and cultural practices known to all such as the use of terms like boa aparência to exclude dark-skinned people from employment.”[7]

There were vibrant Afro-Brazilian movements for the establishment of affirmative action in the state university systems of Brazil. The Brazilians involved in these movements expressed that their movements looked to the accomplishment of African-American in the United States with affirmative action as proof that affirmative action policies were a benefit to society. Ironically, these conversations were taking place at the same time that affirmative action policies and quotas were being repealed stateside, which served as fuel for those in Brazil opposed to the establishment of affirmative action policies in Brazil. The passionate Afro-Brazilian voices explained that Brazil is now experiencing the start of its “Afro-Brazilian Civil Rights Movement.” This excited and saddened me simultaneously. On the one hand, I was excited that the struggle to tackle the problems associated with disproportionate socioeconomic circumstances of the Afro-Brazilian community and the legacy of slavery were being addressed on larger scale. On the other hand, I was saddened that these issues were only recently being brought to the attention of the masses in Brazil. There was also a strong push back against these passionate Afro-Brazilian voices by those in who believed that Brazil’s “social democracy” did not need measures used by African-Americans in North America, down in South America. As Mala Hutn highlights opposition movement in Brazil speak of, “fears that quotas are a policy based on U.S. race relations and history and will consequently introduce false racial divisions to Brazil and end up generating greater injustice (Pinto de Góes 2001).”[8] The eroding policies of affirmative action in the United States juxtaposed to the nascent affirmative action movement in Brazil highlighted that there was still fertile grounds where social change was necessary and vulnerable.

In general the African-American community has largely conceded that affirmative action is waning in political feasibility, despite continued many who continue to advocate for it. Many arguments have been made that affirmative action in the United States has served its purpose and is no longer necessary, as minorities have entered the higher realms of society in education, politics, business and the media. America is moving away from the “one-drop rule” with many people who previously would have exclusively considered themselves as black or African-American, opting to identify themselves by their many ancestries. In Brazil an opposite trend is developing. As Hutn notes, “at the same time that the United States seems to be moving away from its historic “one-drop” policy and toward a recognition of mixity, evinced by the ability of residents to identify with multiple racial categories in the 2000 census, Brazilian quota advocates seem to be pushing Brazil in the direction of greater fixity in identities.”[9]

Ironically, as a minority student in high school, I was witness to one of America’s largest debates about affirmative action and quotas in particular, the case of racial quotas at Boston Latin School. This case was filed by the parents of Julia McLaughlin, who was denied admission to Boston Latin School despite scoring higher than dozens of minority students on the schools entrance exam. This case reverberated around the nation, Boston and the lives of students, minorities and non-minorities alike.  The federal appeals court decided to rule in the favor of admitting this young student, despite the city of Boston’s policy of racial quotas at the prestigious Boston Latin School.

It is my desire to further study and analyze the linkages, struggles and approaches of Afro Brazilian experience and the African American experience. It is my belief that there much benefit in this discourse for all parties privy to it. I look forward to making major contributions to the struggles for improvement of African descendants in both Brazil and the United States. The writing above is only the beginning of my scholarly work.


[1] Stephen D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and David Eltis, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American ResearchHarvard University. Based on “records for 27,233 voyages that set out to obtain slaves for the Americas”. Stephen Behrendt (1999). “Transatlantic Slave Trade”. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. New York: Basic Civitas Books. ISBN 0-465-00071-1.

[2] Skidmore, Thomas. Brazil. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1999.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Htun, Mala. “From “Racial Democracy” to Affirmative Action: Changing State Policy on Race in Brazil.” Latin American Research Review. 39.1 (2004): 60-89. Print.

[5] Htun, Mala. “From “Racial Democracy” to Affirmative Action: Changing State Policy on Race in Brazil.” Latin American Research Review. 39.1 (2004): 60-89. Print.

[6] “African descendants make up 33.7 million of 53 million poor Brazilians. Of 22 million indigents, African descendants are 15.1 million. Among the 76 million African descendant Brazilians, 48.8 million of them live in subhuman conditions of poverty and indigence” Beato, Lucila. “Inequality and Human Rights of African Descendants in Brazil.” Journal of Black Studies. 34.6 (2004): 766-786. Print.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid.