Too African for Europe, Too European for Africa: The Complex Dilemma of The Child of Africa and The Diaspora
Written For Raw Forms Magazine, 01 Spaces
Raw Forms Foreword
“This issue of Raw Forms focuses on defining and understanding the politics of digital and social environments. This book examines personal space and it’s ability to foster confidence, sexuality and learning. ‘Spaces’ was chosen as a focal concept to allow contributors to take advantage of its multifaceted identity and its ability to take many forms, both in a literal and conceptual sense of the word. The politics of the internet, the community, and the self are all undeniably imperative to out existence as autonomous creatures. Power structures that define the environment in which we move have an unprecedented impact on our daily lives, independently of whether we notice they exist. The purpose of the issue is to help illustrate the political relevance of space and environment as a conceptual tool for understanding both the blatant and the invisible power dynamics that define everything from the information set you can access, to the way in which you’re expected to speak.”
I often find myself swinging from end to end like a pendulum in motion. Tiptoeing about “No Man’s Land”, flitting about two starkly different cultural dichotomies, caught in a complex web of dilemmas. As a child of Africa and the African Diaspora living abroad, I find myself falling into the pattern of feeling too African for Europe and too European for Africa. In the sense that my conception of self-identity, as an African woman living outside of the continent, has experienced a blur in concrete validity. The search for identity will always be a key issue facing mankind in our striving after significance, meaning and belonging. Being able to identify with anything, whether it be culture or subcultures makes it possible to find commonalities with beings who identify similarly. This enables the materialization of a safe, comfortable space which nurtures the growth and expansion of significance, meaning and transformation, in not only the individual but the collective. However, the African and diasporan conception of self is in question and crisis, having been assailed from a number of different directions. Being heavily entwined in a multifaceted identity crisis, as many children of the diaspora are, is problematic in its many manifestations. Whether it be politically, socially or economically.
The African Diaspora is classically defined as communities throughout the world that have resulted by descent from the movement of peoples of Africa. For the sake of a more relevant and contemporary definition I will refer to the African Diaspora in context to the more recent definition of the term provided by the African Union. The African Diaspora consists “of people of African origin, living outside of the continent irrespective of their citizenship or nationality and are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union.” The notion of migration, which is at the centre of the concept of being a Diasporan, is not only limited to the movement of people. It extends to the movement of cultures, ideologies, customs and languages across borders. The movement of people and their various facets across borders result in significant levels of impact in terms of the dilution and transformation of cultures- and thus on the search and conceptualization of self-identity. Africans and children of the diaspora have continuously experienced a cultural transformation catalyzed by the politics of migration. Aspects of cultural dilution and transformation manifest throughout a widespread elemental plateau. For example in the transformation and adoption of accents, language and intonations and in the separation of African oriented approaches and attitudes versus the more European oriented attitudes and approaches. Additionally, the dynamic sphere in which migration and cultural impact is contained has given rise to the emergence of a New Wave Culture. This New-Wave Culture embodies and highlights positive aspects of transformation of our African identity. It exhibits a new wave of Africanness and Afrocentrism- being defined by the more recent generation of diasporans through the internet.
To be able to fully grasp and conceptualize the identity of both the African and that of the child of African Diaspora and thus of the cultural dilemma, one has to have a wider base of understanding of the historical landscape of Africa. Historically, the period in which slavery took flight can be seen as the first major paradigmal point at which the dilution of identity occurred alongside the dispersal of Africans all across the West. Cultures and customs indigenous to African tribes and peoples were to a massive extent dissipated as they moved across the oceans and continents aboard slave ships. The loss of connection with African roots amidst the experiences of slavery manifested in many forms. For example, during the initial act of enslavement, when people were forcefully taken from their home villages by some means of ambush, they had minimal belongings with them. Leaving behind all the physical materializations of their heritage and taking with them only their ideologies and beliefs. Additionally, white slave masters would purposely engage in the erasure and blotting out of the Africanness which remained. For example, slaves would lose their birth names and be addressed by a more European name and be punished if they spoke their native tongues and sang their native songs.
The erasure of Africanness was further materialized and manifested during Colonial times, where the plethora of languages and dialects native to specific tribes and areas were hijacked and replaced with the language of the colonizers. Similar to slave owners, colonial powers ensured that they could establish and maintain power by destroying channels through which we could connect with each other on our own terms and in our own native languages. For example, under British colonial rule schools were taught in English, road signs were marked in English and thus English became the operational language of these territories. Not only was it problematic in it’s blatant erasure of native tongues but it also perpetuated the narrative of Africans being backwards, unintelligent or illiterate, as English was seen and used as the benchmark for intelligence. This manifests itself in the present day context, where English is still used as the benchmark for intelligence- even by Africans themselves. The narrative goes- “If you can’t speak English you are not an intelligible being.” or “The more diluted or less African you sound when you speak English the more intelligent you are.” This is further entrenched by the educational and operational institutions in African nations, where life is still largely centred around the use of the language of the colonizers. The historical saturation and sanctification of the English language in former English colonies has directly impacted the celebration of African languages, accents and intonations of those nations.
The impact of identity that the African Diasporan faces materializes in the way in which a large number of second or third generation Africans have experienced and are continuing to experience a massive disconnect with our native languages. A great deal of us find difficulty in rolling our tongues in the ways that our ancestors did. Many of us are sucked further into the vortex of assimilation into white spaces, which are most places. I, for one often catch myself falling into the trap of pronouncing my name in the ways in which I’ve heard it being directed at me. I fall into the trap of erasing my Africanness by pronouncing my own name wrong. A move not uncommon to the child of the diaspora. We do this not because we want to but because we have for centuries been conditioned to erase and distance ourselves from our core Africaness. We almost subconsciously participate in the sidelining of a crucial building block of our identity, in the name of fitting in and being palatable to our heavily Eurocentric based environments. This in turn exacerbates the feeling of not feeling African enough when we find ourselves in African spaces and places. Trips back home to the motherland are filled to the brim with reminders of how flitting about two different cultural dichotomies and calling them both home often leaves me feeling without a home. I often experience people pointing out how ‘foreign’ I sound when I speak- in both my native African tongues, Bemba and Tonga and my adopted tongue, English. I often experience the feeling of being too African for Europe and too European for Africa in the sense my identity is always being challenged for neither being concretely based in Europeaness or concretely based on Africanness. Awareness of self is not a pre-programmed path but a series of conscious realizations- which are the seeds of change and growth. A conscious effort to shift the way in which African languages are perceived and manifested needs to be made. Breaking out of the confines which have been built around an entire culture requires a great deal of conscious effort in order to counter the wave which continues to wash fragments of our identity away. We need to pour extensive energy into decolonizing our minds, we need to engage in the processes of unlearning histories and stories that have been spoon-fed to us off toxic silverware. Frantz Fanon wrote, “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land and from our minds as well.” In direct resonance Steve Biko, a South African Apartheid activist encapsulated and reaffirmed the need for the mobilization of the African mind through embracing the concept of Black Consciousness. According to the works of Biko, “Black Consciousness is in essence the realization by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression. Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. What Black Consciousness seeks to do is to produce real black people who do not regard themselves as appendages to white society. We do not need to apologise for this because it is true that the white systems have produced through the world a number of people who are not aware that they too are people.”
The embracing and acceptance of the progressive identity reinforcing concepts of ‘Black Consciousness’ and ‘Decolonizing The Mind’ are being manifested through the rise of a New Wave African Culture which is materializing through the rise of the digital age. The narratives of the new wave African culture being distributed through the internet and through social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter exhibit a new positively powerful wave of Africanness and Afrocentrism- being defined by the more recent generation of diasporans. Through the digital diaspora there has been a rise in solidarity, the uniting of peoples who have for centuries through historical process have been geographically scattered and dispersed from our motherland. The digital element has forged a global community-based platform on which diasporans and Africans alike are able to share, debate and negotiate their experiences in a safe-space environment- and thus nurture and rebuild the fabrics of African and diasporan identities. Without me having engaged in pro-African and pro-Black blogs, pages and general spheres on social media platforms like Tumblr and Instagram I would have never been able to stand as firmly as I do in my identity as a diasporan. Though there is a complex, multifaceted dilemma that has always surrounded the identity of the child of Africa and that of the Diasporan, a gradual shift in the paradigm is being facilitated by the exponential growth in consciousness as well as means to harness and pursue positive changes through this consciousness.
Love and Light,