It’s a question I ask Africans from the continent who show contempt to members of the African diaspora who do not identify as African.
First of all, let us start with the etymology of the word ‘Identity’.
Latin etym. ‘idem’ = the same as
Now as we know it, identity can be a fact. Something biological or legal. However, it is mostly something subjective. Identity is said to be dialogic, meaning its existence relies on there being an ‘Other.’ Your identity exists in relation to something else, something being different to you. This is why the idea of an “African” identity is so challenging because, for the longest time, the African identity was only formed through colonisation. It was the mass grouping of many different types of people with a shared geographical location as the same.
When Jamaicans gained our independence in 1962, it was our opportunity to finally self-identify. We were able to choose and mould who we are and how we want the world to see us. For us to revert back to our former pre-middle passage selves, or to denounce the experiences and cultures we acquired on the journey to emancipation would be bizarre.
I question the motive and end goal of Africans who demand the identification. What do you gain from it? Satisfaction? When I look into the mirror a black face stares back. As I know the history of my people, I assure you, I am well aware of the fact I am black and I am African.
Race and ethnicity are not interchangeable. My race is signified by the pigmentation of my skin. My ethnicity is my culture and geographical location.
Africa will always be cemented in the history of the diaspora, it will never vanish. We can love and appreciate the motherland and simultaneously be proud of a cultural identity we’ve formed from our hardships.
I wrote this post as a response to something said to me at the first event hosted by the University society “AYAL – African Young Aspiring Leaders.” As a closing statement, one of the lovely committee members was encouraging everyone to invite their friends, peers and whomever else to their future events. She specified that nationality or race doesn’t matter, you could be from the Caribbean or white or whatever. All are welcome.
On hearing the Caribbean part, a tiny Kirsty jumped with glee inside my head 🙂 ! I didn’t need to be told to come, I was here, but that little encouragement was nice. I replied externally towards the small group I had sat with and said, “Well, Caribbeans are Africans anyway (haha) :D” I was then met with this reply…
“Good, so you do know. Some of you don’t know that. Go and tell it to your people.”
I don’t really remember becoming a formal representative for Jamaicans or Caribbeans to report back to them something they already know… but hey ho!
This is the same person who had commented earlier that night on a person’s name saying “[it] sounds colonised.”
Think before you speak.
A large majority of African nations were colonies, yes. Correct. Some people may have European or anglicised names. Yes, that is also correct. Some may not have European or anglicised names. Yes, that is true too. But to marginalise or strip someone of their Africanness because of a surname is not ok.
To adamantly claim Caribbeans (I’m talking about the blacks ones btw) don’t know that we are Africans when we gave the world Césaire Aimé, Marcus Garvey, Stokley Carmichael, Louise Bennett (Miss Lou), Jean-Price Mars, Rastafarianism, Mary Seacole, Frantz Fanon, is ludicrous.
“An mi seh Africa fi all true Rasta” – Chronixx
Any Caribbeans who want to participate in a similar discourse are either uneducated and in denial or simply don’t want to be lost in the middle. I say lost in the middle because without creating our own identities, we as Caribbeans would be lost. We are neither British, French, Spanish, Dutch or Portuguese. We aren’t indigenous like the Tainos or Arawaks. We’re too far removed from our native lands. If I were to come out and vehemently state that I am African, that in itself is a reduction of all the cultures, languages, societal norms that are present on the continent. How do I choose from the countries along that western coast to self-identify? To learn or perhaps re-learn everything about the culture which was taken from me in order to assimilate would be taking away what I have now grown accustomed to.
I will speak on behalf of Jamaican descendants who know their history, have visited the island and actually have soaked up the vibes of our people, something which only a few of my black British Caribbeans are able to do – yes those flight prices are way too high!
I am Jamaican and I am proud of my heritage. I’ve read and heard of my ancestor’s tribulations, the ordeals I will not go through and will never truly comprehend. Our Africanness lives on through our patois or creole, through our dancing and music and of course through our appearance. My African identity is always on show.
3fitting words for this post: Motherland, Identity, Pride
Check out one of my favourite recordings from Miss Lou below: ❤